The Washington Capitals have been steamrolling the NHL at a historic rate this regular season. As we've all (painfully) learned, that doesn't mean jack when it comes to predicting playoff success - there are always ways to upgrade a roster, and Brian MacLellan has already made one move, acquiring Mike Weber, to add to his team's depth on the blueline. And depth would seem to be the name of the game this time around. As Mac told reporters yesterday, "We’re just trying to cover ourselves in case something happens. As deep as we can get our team, we’re going to get it."
Specifically, the Caps' front office is looking to add "a guy that can go up and down" between the NHL and AHL (a la Zach Sill earlier in the season), "a depth guy that’s done it a little bit, that has some experience doing it. They can come up and play six or seven minutes and not hurt you." So you can probably bet on that type of player being added (after all, this is the GM that has called his shots on addressing the blueline and top-six right wings over the past two summers).
But don't expect a big splash - the Caps needs and wiggle room under the salary cap would seem to corroborate Mac's strong implication that such a move would be unlikely. The Caps, for all intents and purposes, did their shopping in July. Still, pundits across the media landscape can't help themselves, suggestions are coming in from all corners. Do any of them make sense? Let's take a look.
In theory, Dale Weise would be the depth added up front akin to Mike Weber on defense, but he can provide so much more than that. And at just a shade over $1 million, and speaking solely to contributions on the dollar, he might be the most valuable asset on the rental market.
There's no obvious place to slot Weise, but he can fill in on wing up and down the lower nine, providing energy and defensive contributions in a quality scheme (ahem, Trotz). And with career-best totals on the horizon, he's proven to be of value offensively. [Source; see also]
Why it makes sense: Depth is always a good thing to have in the playoffs (are you sensing a theme?), and Weise's speed and hustle could help develop a dominant fourth line along with Jay Beagle and Mike Richards. We'll just edit that "bottom nine" to "bottom three" in the case of the Caps, but it does appear that they're open to upgrading that fourth line.
Why it doesn't: The Caps already gave up a third round pick for a guy that may not even be a regular, so how much more can they afford to pay for marginal upgrades? A guy looking at career-best totals is probably riding a golden horse shoe, and who knows how much longer that will last? He wouldn't break the bank or cost too much in outgoing assets, but with cap space at a premium is it really worth adding a guy in a buy-high situation?
Canucks UFA defenceman Dan Hamhuis would be a catch for teams at the deadline because he’s playing well, but he has a no-trade clause and he signed for less money in Vancouver because he was born in B.C. He wants no part of leaving, although his old Nashville coach Barry Trotz is behind the Washington Capitals bench right now, and they might need another piece if Brooks Orpik isn’t back and contributing. [Source; see also]
Why it makes sense: Hamhuis has familiarity with Trotz and is a veteran presence, if that's how we're going to describe players whose best days are behind them.
Why it doesn't: The Caps already added Weber and Hamhuis is a shell of the player that Trotz once coached. Plus, Brooks Orpik is back and contributing. This one simply isn't happening.
Parenteau would cost the most among the three players we’re talking about here, but he’d be worth it. If the Caps rolled a third line of Chimera-Johansson-Parenteau, it would be one of the best third lines in the NHL and would be better than some second lines around the league. He’s an offensively talented player who has positively impacted his team’s share of the goals when he’s on the ice for the past 6 seasons.
He’s a strong puck possession player too, having posted a relative shot attempt percentage of plus-2.5 percent or higher in five of the last seven seasons. While he doesn’t shoot the puck at a prolific rate, he’s above average in individual shot generation. [Source; see also]
Why it makes sense: Parenteau is a guy that has been used to playing in the middle lines but has top line skill. He could slot throughout the lineup and add a ton of depth, though I do agree with Pat that the third line makes the most sense (although... who is shooting the puck on that line?). It gives the Caps some contingencies on the power play and in the top six, which is certainly a good thing to have considering how both have gone quiet for the Caps in playoffs past. He somehow only makes $1.5M on the season so it wouldn't take too much work to fit him into the salary cap.
Why it doesn't: The Caps are loaded with pass-first guys up front and, if anything, could use a shooter. He's also the farthest thing from the Heavy Game that Barry Trotz wants the team to play so there's a definite question as to how his style would fit on this team. He's bounced around a bit and received a reclamation contract, which always sets off warning alarms for me. Fair or not, when you see teams refusing to commit to such an obviously talented player you have to start asking questions about what's causing their hesitation.
Are [the Caps] interested in giving Hershey Bears center Scott Gomez, who has four goals, 18 assists and is a plus-11 in 15 AHL games, an NHL contract? [Source]
We've already discussed this one, so get educated. But as for an answer to the apparently not-rhetorical question, no.
If the Flames can't come to terms on a new contract for Russell, they're going to trade him by the deadline. Many teams are interested, and are waiting. [Source]
Why it makes sense: Russell is a mobile defender who has solid puck skills and has been underrated for most of his career. He's not a game breaker, but he's a bit like a guy the Caps already have, one that has played very well this season - Nate Schmidt. Those type of guys are valuable in the puck possession game.
Why it doesn't: The Caps already added a defender, and Taylor Chorney is a luxury in the 8th slot on the depth chart given how he's played this year. The coaching staff would have to be very disillusioned with Dmitry Orlov's defensive miscues to even make this a pipe dream, and Russell is much more expensive than the guy they just acquired while forcing the their trade partner to retain salary. Seems like a tough fit.
If the Canucks feel they're out of the mix come late-February, Vrbata's surely on the move. He's a UFA-to-be, and Vancouver might be going in a new direction. [Source]
Why it makes sense: Vrbata is highly skilled and could end up a very productive player among the pass-happy players the Caps have accumulated up front. It would be an absolute luxury, but if you allow yourself to dream about a top-nine with Vrbata it starts to look more like an All-Star or International tournament roster than a salary capped NHL roster. This team would be extremely dangerous up front with this type of addition.
Why it doesn't: Vrbata makes $5,000,000 and even a pro-rated share would be tough to fit into the current lineup without substantial money going the other way. Does it make sense to make such a major change for a guy that ideally would be in the top six when the team's top six is already humming? On top of that, he's a right wing, and the Caps are already loaded down the right side (though I'm sure some wouldn't mind seeing Tom Wilson bumped down to the fourth line and see less ice time - and by "some" we mean "Islanders fans"). He's also been banged up lately and is sporting a plus/minus that would make Old School Barry Trotz cringe... it just doesn't look like a move that makes sense for the Caps.
Why it makes sense: McGinn would fit the mold of the fourth line upgrade that the team is apparently eyeing, and would be a classic depth addition to the lineup. He's on the left side so he does address the only forward position where there's even a conceivable question mark.
Why it doesn't: Adding a $2.95M salary to the roster would take some work, especially when Jay Beagle gets healthy. And as Brian MacLellan said, if the guy you're getting isn't clearly better than what you have, why bother?
The Capitals are unstoppable. All they do is win, and they win in every way imaginable. They are in the top four in the league in all the major statistical categories: goals for per game, goals against per game, penalty kill, power play. So, what does GM Brian MacLellan do at the deadline? Our guess is he adds, but judiciously. Some defensive depth would be a priority. Mike Richards, who on Monday scored his first goal since joining the team in January, has been a nice fit for the fourth line, and MacLellan would have to be wary of adding a top-six forward given the emergence of Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky. Who could be added on defense? If Dan Hamhuis didn't cost a fortune, he'd be a nice add, or even a lower-profile veteran such as Fedor Tyutin. Source
Why it makes sense: Tyutin has been around and has played top-four minutes for most of his career. If the Caps are concerned that they need another defensively responsible addition, this could make sense in theory. Plus, he's Russian, so Caps.
Why it doesn't: In theory. But in reality Tyutin has $4.5M remaining for two more years on his contract. That's not the kind of player or contract the Caps need to be adding. Plus, if Tyutin were still the guy that got him that contract, the Blue Jackets probably wouldn't have traded a franchise center for help solidifying their defensive corps. Pass.
All of the Oilers:
"There were some (players) who should be embarrassed when they leave here." - Oilers coach Todd McLellan, after a 4-1 loss to the Senators— Rob Tychkowski (@Sun_Tychkowski) February 24, 2016
Ok, maybe "all of the Oilers" is a little hyperbolic, but it seems like the team is in a selling mode, as they always are this time of year. The Caps aren't going to be shopping for the top talent, but there are spare parts to be had.
We've talked a bunch about the concern for the locker room chemistry, but one guy that seems to fit the bill is our old friend Matt Hendricks. We haven't seen him directly linked to the Caps, but he knows the team, they know him, and he's a good character guy that could fit MacLellan's desire for an upgrade on that fourth line. Maybe it's just nostalgia for the days when he was busy embarrassing Tim Thomas, but it would be nice to see a Matt Hendricks victory lap.
And heck, if the Caps are looking for a defensive upgrade somewhere, they could do worse than a guy like Edmonton's Mark Fayne (a big righty who looks like a Trotz/Mac type). Of course, that would likely require a salary dump and a dowry, but the former, at least, seems more likely today than it did two days ago. (See, we told you us pundits can't help ourselves...)