What To Do With The New-Found Cap Space...

As you're well aware by now, Chris Clark will have surgery on his injured right wrist and may miss the rest of the season, an announcement that sparked a significant amount of discussion among visitors here at The Rink. For Clark, the injury is another setback in his efforts to return to being the player he was two seasons ago. For the Capitals and their fans, the injury may be a blessing in a not-so-subtle disguise: Clark's placement on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) opens up an additional $2,633,333 in cap space and, consequently, a whole new range of possibilities in terms of personnel moves as the trade deadline approaches. [Ed. note: by my math, the current Caps roster of 22 players is around $3.2 $2.4 million under the cap; down from $4  $3.3 million before accounting for recently recalled Michal Neuvirth.]

Before starting any discussion it should be noted that the biggest question here is what to do with Karl Alzner. The rookie defenseman has shown that he's capable of playing regular NHL minutes, and the Capitals have shown they're willing to give them to him. However, with Tom Poti back in the lineup and the team's other defensemen playing well, it's not as obvious as it once was that keeping King Karl in Washington should be the team's top priority.

What we've done here at Japers' Rink is constructed five scenarios that we could see playing out in the next several weeks. Obviously they're not set in stone and each of the scenarios could play out slightly differently, but the scenarios are designed to be starting points for discussion. With that in mind, feel free to chime in: What are the Capitals most pressing needs? How should they fill them? Are there any players who have more value as trade bait than as members of the Capitals organization? By the same token, are there players who would provide an especially big boost by fitting in well with the current team or by filling an especially pressing hole? And, most importantly, what course of action gives the team the best chance at the Stanley Cup, not only this season but down the road as well?

Scenario #1 - Do nothing.
Transactions: None.
Pros: For the NHL club, no transactions means no opportunity to damage the team's chemistry, which seems to be strong. Alzner would probably get more ice time in Hershey than in Washington. The biggest positive in this scenario is that the team would be able to accommodate Brian Pothier's return to the lineup, should he become healthy enough to play without having to make any roster moves.
Cons: $4 million in cap space is an awful lot of cap space to sit unused for a team that expects to make a deep playoff run. Alzner might play more in Hershey, but at this point he's probably better off playing 19 minutes a night in the NHL than 25 minutes a night in the AHL.

Scenario #2 - Add a scoring wing.
Transactions: The Capitals trade for an offensively talented winger to add offensive depth.
Pros: You can never have too more scoring depth in the playoffs and given Michael Nylander's season-long struggles, Brooks Laich's inconsistency, Alexander Semin's lack of durability, and Viktor Kozlov's playoff stat line (zero goals, six assists in 23 games), the team might find itself regretting not taking the opportunity to add more offense.
Cons: As it is, the Caps are fifth in the league in both goals per game and powerplay conversion rate, so upgrading the offensive might not be the best use of resources. It seems like every playoff contender is looking for secondary scoring as the deadline approaches so the asking price for any player of value is likely to be high. Eric Fehr still has a significant amount of offensive upside and has been waiting for an extended chance to show what he can do and Chris Bourque looks to be NHL-ready.
Potential Targets:  Nik Antropov (28, Center/Right Wing/Left Wing, Toronto, $2.05 million through 2008-09, UFA thereafter); Jussi Jokinen (25, Left Wing, Tampa Bay, $1.81 million through 2008-09, RFA thereafter); Mark Recchi (41, Right Wing, Tampa Bay, $1.5 million through 2008-09, UFA thereafter).

Scenario #3 - Add a depth forward
Transactions: The Capitals trade for a gritty, third-or-fourth line player.
Pros: The Capitals don't have a lot of grit and attitude at the forward position beyond Donald Brashear and Matt Bradley.  Depth forwards are generally inexpensive both in terms of salary and trades and thus acquiring such a player might allow the Capitals to fill a hole and keep Karl Alzner in the NHL.
Cons:  Eric Fehr and Chris Bourque are both still buried on the depth chart in this situation.  With as much scoring talent as the Caps have it may be difficult to find space for a grinder or agitator.
Potential Targets:  Adam Hall (28, Right Wing, Tampa Bay, $600,000 through 2010-11, UFA thereafter); Ian Laperriere (35, Right Wing, Colorado, $1.15 million through 2008-09, UFA thereafter); Dominic Moore (28, Center, Toronto, $900,000 through 2008-09, UFA thereafter); Jed Ortmeyer (30, Right Wing, Nashville, $750,000 through 2008-09, UFA thereafter); Samuel Pahlsson (31, Center, Anaheim, $1.4 million through 2008-09, UFA thereafter); Richard Park (32, Right Wing, New York Islanders, $750,000 through 2009-10, UFA thereafter); Jon Sim (31, Left Wing/Right Wing, New York Islanders, $1 million through 2009-10, UFA thereafter).

Scenario #4 - Add a defenseman without changing the current roster.
Transactions: The Capitals trade for a depth defenseman to shore up their blueline depth going into the playoff run and postseason.
Pros:  Boosting depth at defense is always a plus, especially the grind of the playoffs.  As admirably as Tyler Sloan, Sean Collins, and Bryan Helmer filled in, the Caps are going to be in trouble if they have to ask those guys to play 15 minutes a night in the postseason.
Cons:  With Alzner included, the Capitals already have seven NHL caliber defenseman and adding another might just create a logjam.  As with scoring depth, it seems like everyone is looking for depth defensemen in January and February so the asking price may be higher than what's worth it for the Capitals.
Potential Targets:  Greg de Vries (36, Nashville, $2.5 million through 2008-09, UFA thereafter); Bret Hedican (38, Anaheim, $870,500 through 2008-09, UFA thereafter); Jordan Leopold (28, Colorado, $1.5 million through 2008-90, UFA thereafter); Marek Malik (33, Tampa Bay, $1.25 million through 2008-09, UFA thereafter) Jason Smith (35, Ottawa, $2.5 million through 2009-10, UFA thereafter); Anton Volchenkov (26, Ottawa, $2.5 million through 2009-10, UFA thereafter).

Scenario #5 - Upgrade the defense, moving a current player and acquiring a better one.
Transactions: The Capitals would first trade away Shaone Morrisonn and then make another trade for a defenseman to retain depth at the position and increase the overall talent level on the blueline.
Pros:  The combination of taking Clark's $2.63 million and Morrisonn's $1.975 million salary off the books would give the Capitals $4.605 million in space to work with, and a total of $6.05 million.  Recalling Alzner would take $1.675 million of that away, but the team would have $4.38 million left to work with - more than enough to land a quality defenseman.
Cons:  As with any move that involves taking a player off the current roster, chemistry is a concern.
Potential Targets:  Greg de Vries (36, Nashville, $2.5 million through 2008-09, UFA thereafter); Jordan Leopold (28, Colorado, $1.5 million through 2008-90, UFA thereafter); Niclas Havelid (35, Atlanta, $2.7 million through 2008-09, UFA thereafter); Bret Hedican (38, Anaheim, $870,500 through 2008-09, UFA thereafter); Tomas Kaberle (30, Toronto, $4.25 million through 2010-11, UFA thereafter); Jay McKee (31, St. Louis, $4 million through 2009-10, UFA thereafter); Chris Phillips (30, Ottawa, $3.5 million through 2010-11, UFA thereafter)  Jason Smith (35, Ottawa, $2.5 million through 2009-10, UFA thereafter); Mike Van Ryn (29, Toronto, $2.9 million through 2009-10, UFA thereafter); Brendan Witt (33, New York Islanders, 2.77 million through 2008-09, $3 million from 2009-10 until 2010-11, UFA thereafter); Anton Volchenkov (26, Ottawa, $2.5 million through 2009-10, UFA thereafter).

So what do you think? Should the Caps sit tight or make a splash, however small?

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