The Washington Capitals are in a tight race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and some smart maneuvering at the deadline might be exactly what they need to get them past the finish line. The Alex Ovechkin factor alone makes the Caps a constant and dangerous threat, but without a supporting cast, there’s little the Russian sniper can do. Ovi leads the league in goals, but Washington needs some serious help on defence if it plans to build a contender around its $9.5-million-a-year man.
Then there’s the looming concern that history will repeat itself. Last time Ovechkin returned from the Olympics he went into a year-and-a-half slump. After Russia was ousted before the medal round in Sochi, the Capitals should be worried about which Ovi will make the return trip to Washington. Beyond Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals have decent help on offence. Mikhail Grabovski was a valuable addition in the off-season and Washington hopes the Olympic break has given him time to recover from an ankle injury.
The Caps have three young and talented goaltenders in its system — all of whom have seen time this season. Down the stretch, Braden Holtby will likely be the go-to guy, but he’ll need more experience in front of him. The offensive-minded Mike Green, Team USA’s John Carlson and Karl Alzner are all proven NHL d-men, but the rest of the defensive core is young and inexperienced.
Click player positions to see depth chart
Areas to address
The Capitals don’t have a lot of selling power, considering the injured Grabovski is the only unrestricted free agent on their books at the end of the season. For the most part the team is saddled with expensive contracts that would be difficult to move. There could be interest in Mike Green, who has value as a puck-moving defenceman. His $6-million-a-year deal expires in 2016. Chances are he’s staying put.
Washington really needs a healthy, veteran defenceman to bring some stability in its own end. Either Michal Neuvirth or Philipp Grubauer might be a value-trading asset for a team looking for a young goalie. Braden Holtby is also a possibility, though less likely to be moved. If any of them can be moved to help shore up the defence, the Capitals will have a better chance of squeaking into the playoffs.
It’d be wise for George McPhee to hang on to his young assets and draft picks. This won’t be Washington’s year to hoist a Cup, but the team has the best goal scorer in the game locked down until 2020. There’s a lot to build around, especially after 2016 when several expiring contracts open up some cap space. A temporary solution might push Washington into the playoffs, but any deadline tweaks will likely be minor.
Possible trade targets
Chris Phillips, Ottawa Senators
Joe Corvo, Ottawa Senators
Dmitry Kulikov, Florida Panthers