Lightning’s 2023 Trade Deadline Target: The Washington Capitals?

With the Tampa Bay Lightning looking to beef up their roster in response to trades made by their rivals leading up to the 2023 Trade Deadline, one should expect general manager Julien BriseBois to get creative with the players he targets. While there are some obvious big-name candidates that the Lightning would love to add at the deadline, the reality is that they lack the draft/prospect capital to get the biggest fish on the market after swinging a blockbuster deal in 2022. Due to this, it would make sense for Tampa Bay to add a low-cost rental that could have an impact in a depth role without costing the team many of their limited resources.

Nick Paul Tampa Bay Lightning
With limited resources, the Tampa Bay Lightning will be looking to find their next Nick Paul at the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

When looking around the league for selling teams with players that fit this billing, the Washington Capitals jump off the page in a way you may not expect. While they still are very much in the playoff hunt, the Capitals have been skidding down the standings in recent weeks due to a cavalcade of injuries and unfortunate circumstances they have been fighting through all season long.

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If Washington decides to write off this year as a loss, then they would be in an incredible position to become one of the top sellers at the deadline. Right now, they feature seven forwards who will become unrestricted free agents (UFA) this offseason, along with six defensemen who are also UFA’s in 2023.

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Needless to say, that is a massive amount of talent that could be turned into future assets, and the Lightning could very easily find a player or two that would help them for a postseason run. So, let’s take a look at a few potential trade targets on the Capitals’ roster should they decide to sell in the coming weeks.

Capitals’ Feature Tradeable Forward Depth

In terms of forwards, Washington has a lot to offer, but there aren’t players that I would expect the Lightning to give up much in the way of future assets for. While anyone would love to add a name like Tom Wilson to their roster, his contract extends until 2024 and is paying well above what Tampa Bay could afford even if they could trade for him.

Instead, we are left with a list of bottom-six forwards who could add solid depth but aren’t game breakers, by any means. The two players who stand out the most to me are Garnet Hathaway and Conor Sheary.

Conor Sheary Washington Capitals
Conor Sheary is a solid depth forward whom the Lightning could target off the Washington Capitals roster. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Coming in at 6-foot-3, 208 pounds, Hathaway is a tough-as-nails winger who has put down close to 200 hits this season, and would add some fantastic grit to the Lightning’s bottom six. Sure, he isn’t much of a scorer, but when you need a tough body to throw on the ice, you could do a lot worse than what he brings.

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Sheary, on the other hand, is a smaller winger who brings more skill to his game. This season he has posted 12 goals and 30 points, which are solid scoring numbers, especially for a player who would be taking on a limited bottom-six role with Tampa Bay. In either case, both players make a palatable $1.5 million against the cap, so if Washington retained 50% of their salary, they could easily fit under the Lightning’s cap with minimal work required.

Lightning Could Score Big With Capitals Defensemen

Now, where the Capitals could make their money this trade deadline is on defense. Of their six UFA defensemen, I could see the Lightning being interested in three: Nick Jensen, Trevor van Riemsdyk, and Erik Gustafsson.

Trevor van Riemsdyk, Washington Capitals
When it comes to depth defensemen, Trevor van Riemsdyk would be a perfect addition for the Lightning, who could use his steady veteran presence for a postseason run. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

First let’s discuss Jensen, who would arguably be the biggest addition. This season, the veteran defender has put up 21 points while playing more than 20 minutes each night. For a team that has a relatively weak right side on defense, he could immediately slot into Tampa Bay’s top-four, and even take big minutes alongside Victor Hedman. Plus, he is making $2.5 million this season, so his contract could be easily retained to a manageable $1.25 million or the Lightning could send back the necessary salary in order to make ends meet on this trade.

If the Lightning are looking for a potentially cheaper defensive option, then van Riemsdyk or Gustafsson could be a solid target for BriseBois. Both of these players make under $1 million and are veterans with hundreds of regular-season games under their belt. While neither would be considered a game-breaker, they could bring a reliable 15 to 18 minutes of ice time each night on the third pairing, and they could take on a bigger role if injuries strike.

Of these three players, Jensen is the clear prize, but the Lightning could do a lot worse than van Riemsdyk or Gustafsson for a deadline acquisition. Even with the handful of resources they have left, I could see them landing any of these players.

If Capitals Sell, Lightning Should Call

For the Lightning, waiting to make a decision may be the best option. Should the Capitals decide to sell, it would flood the market with talent, potentially lowering prices overall. As a team that is looking not for a blockbuster deal but just to add postseason depth, this would be a bit of a best-case scenario.

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If Tampa Bay can turn a mid-round pick or prospect into a roster player, even if they are just a rental, then it will be a successful deadline. I could see them going for a package of Hathaway-van Riemsdyk or Jensen-Sheary in order to fill two needs at once. It’s not that they have to make a trade, but I would also look at either of those packages and believe that the Lightning are a better team with those players on their roster.