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Capitals Trade Deadline Options

Breaking down some potential blueline targets for the Caps ahead of the deadline.

Washington Capitals v Ottawa Senators Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images

As the Washington Capitals went into the All-Star weekend, they were flying high, leading the league in points and probably not in need of any additions to the roster. But as the trade deadline has drawn closer, the Capitals have been sputtering, with a record of just 10-7-0 since the start of the new year (and looking less than strong in far too many of those wins).

The glaring issue for the Caps right now is the defensive side of the game. There’s an argument to be made that it isn’t so much the personnel as the system and/or coaching; regardless, there have been reports out there that Brian MacLellan was looking to add to his blueline even before the All-Star break.

If the Caps were to make a move, it’s likely that they’d be looking to upgrade their second- or third-pair.

Right now, that position is currently being held by Nick Jensen, who spent most of last season playing - and doing fairly well - on Detroit’s top pair against the toughest matchups. Since arriving in DC, however, he has had less responsibility and yet struggled much more. As a comparison:

It hasn’t been all bad — he and Dmitry Orlov actually made for a pretty decent second pair earlier this year (although they have gone from an xGF% of around 54% in 2019 to just under 41% since January 1).

This is where MacLellan has to choose: does he go with what he knows has worked at least moderately well, or does he gamble and try to make a move to really boost that second pair? Let’s assume he goes with the latter — what are some names out there that would be a decent upgrade?

DYLAN DEMELO (OTT)

Let’s start off with what is likely the best option: Dylan DeMelo. DeMelo ticks just about every box the Caps might want in a potential rental: he’s youngish (26), cheap ($900k), will be a free agent this summer, and is very good. He’s improved upon last season’s solid numbers this year while facing more elite talent with more defensive zone starts, and he’s done this while playing on a pretty bad team:

Now, the caveat here is, of course, that Jensen looked exactly the same way before the Caps brought him in - and that’s part of the risk of a deadline move in general. There’s just no way to tell how a player will fit in the system and with his new teammates — but if the Capitals want to take the risk (and avoid disrupting too much of the team’s chemistry), DeMelo is probably the best option because they don’t need to move out any contract to make him fit.

MATT ROY (LA)

Staying in the realm of low cap hits, Matt Roy would be a good add to any team. He’s a 24-year-old on a cheap deal of $700K that goes through next season. Last season was a little rough but this season he’s been very strong:

There are two potential knocks against Roy. First is that he hasn’t been particularly tested this season in terms of facing other teams’ top talent or zone starts. So it would be a gamble to trade for him then instantly put him on a second pair in the toughest division and hope that he can keep up.

Secondly, since Roy is on an entry-level contract and is still an RFA next season, he won’t be cheap. The Kings are rebuilding and Roy is the kind of young talent they’d likely want to keep and build around, not trade for picks.

COLIN MILLER (BUF)

Now we get into moves that would be slightly more complicated additions when it comes to salary-cap implications. After successful stints with Boston and Vegas, Miller was moved to the Sabres this past summer, where he has... well, not done great:

Of all the potential options on this list, Miller does have the most offensive upside. In his last two seasons with Vegas he averaged 39 points, and could resume that pace if paired up alongside Dmitry Orlov. He’s only 27 and has a relatively low cap hit of $3.875M through next season, which is a great deal if he works out.

While a reasonable cap hit in general, it would be a higher price than the Caps can currently fit - so they’d need to move a contract or two while also probably having Buffalo keep some of his salary. Given his role, that would likely mean a swap of either Jensen, Radko Gudas, or Michal Kempny, all of whom fall into the $2.3M-$2.5M range.

The price for Miller alone probably isn’t high, since he has been a healthy scratch often this season — but if Buffalo has to eat salary not just this season but next as well, that could drive up the ask.

LAWRENCE PILUT (BUF)

The Capitals are likely keeping their focus on right-handed defensemen, especially with Christian Djoos waiting in the wings on the left side — but if they were to look for a lefty, Pilut would fit the bill:

Pilut has been very good since joining the Sabres despite not really being properly used. He’s consistently going up and down between the NHL and AHL (he’s played only seven games this season) when he’s probably good enough to be a full-time NHLer.

Because of that, the sample size on Pilut is small — just 40 games played — but the numbers are strong. He’s been getting few offensive zone starts while playing against good talent yet still driving play. Again, Kempny, comes to mind when watching Pilut.


There are other names that are floating around out there as potential rentals as the deadline looms — players like Sami Vatanen, Greg Pateryn, or Mike Green (you know you want to) are expected to be available. But between their cost, age, UFA status, and other potential issues, it’s unlikely that they’d be as good an option for the Caps at this time.

With the Caps slumping and MacLellan having a reputation for making at least some sort of depth move at the deadline, the names above could be good targets for the Caps’ stretch run.