Most fans would probably agree that any trade talks involving the Washington Capitals should start with goaltending. That said, based on the rumors of the Caps being in on the Evander Kane “sweepstakes”, it does seem as if - among other things - GM Brian Maclellan is putting out feelers for some extra offensive help, as well.
The Caps’ offense, while hot at the beginning of the season, has cooled off in recent months and with both Anthony Mantha and T.J. Oshie, two important top-six pieces, having been sidelined for most of the season so far, it seems like MacLellan is looking for a little insurance for the playoff push. While it’s possible the answer may lie in the current Caps’ lineup in the form of more ice time for guys like Connor McMichael and Daniel Sprong, they have yet to earn the trust of the coaching staff.
It’s possible that MacLellan was only kicking the tires on Kane because of his perfect mix of skill and potentially low cost (at least monetarily), and isn’t actually interested in looking elsewhere for a top-six winger. If he is, however, there are a couple of potential options out there who might be a good fit.
Let’s start with the big dogs, who, it should be noted, are unlikely to actually be targets because of what would probably be a prohibitively high cost plus they would then need to pay a team to take a contract or two. That said, MacLellan has been known to go fishing for players like this - so it’s never out of the realm of possibility.
Tomas Hertl, C/W, 28yo, $5.625M, UFA this summer
Hertl might be the most sought-after player this deadline. It’s still uncertain if San Jose will be able to re-sign him before the deadline or if they want to keep him to try to push for a playoff spot (they are just barely on the outside right now). Hertl is a high-end first line player who can play both center and wing. He’s strong at both ends of the ice (though his defense has taken a bit of a hit this season, but shouldn’t be concerning) and drives play extremely well. He’s fast, smart, can shoot and pass, and just does everything at a high level. Even if the Caps don’t go after him at the deadline they should do all they can to sign him in the offseason. He’d be a huge add for a team going all in for these last Ovechkin years.
JT Miller, C/W, 28yo, $5.25M, UFA 2023-2024
Miller is perhaps the only player as potentially coveted at this deadline as Hertl will be. Miller is the same age and has the versatility as Hertl but has an extra year on his deal and is a bit cheaper, making him more sought after. He probably isn’t as strong as Hertl overall, but is still very talented. The rumor is new management in Vancouver really wants to keep Miller, meaning they will have to move some other interesting pieces (which we’ll look at later), and he’s probably going to be way too pricey for what he’s actually worth so the Capitals should stay out of it. Anything you throw at Miller might as well be thrown at Hertl.
Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, 30yo, $7.5M, UFA 2023-2024
Tarasenko and his agent made it known over the summer that they wanted a trade out of St Louis, after Tarasenko suffered multiple shoulder injuries that limited him to just 34 games over the last two seasons - injuries that he felt the organization didn’t handle well. Tarasenko was never traded and was passed over by Seattle in the expansion draft, but while he has been having a strong season in St. Louis with 40 points in 40 games, the rumor is he still wants out. His analytics aren’t the prettiest but he gets the job done offensively.
The difference between Tarasenko and most players on this list is he’s on a playoff team so a trade for him couldn’t just be prospects and picks - the Blues would want something now to help. That said, if MacLellan could make it work and not spend too much, Tarasenko would be a great addition to the Caps’ growing Russian squad.
Claude Giroux, C/W, 34yo, $8.275M, UFA this summer
We won’t spend too much time on this one. As nice as it would be to bring on Giroux, he would cost a lot just by himself. The Flyers would need to eat half the contract, probably take on a contract, AND charge the extra tax it would take to trade him within the division - making it simply too high a price to pay for the Capitals. Maybe they can take a crack at him during the summer.
Joe Pavelski, C/W, 37yo, $7M, UFA this summer
What a year Pavelski is having as a 37-year-old. He’s been pretty dominant in every facet of the game this season. Pavelski’s hard-working, tough-nosed but skilled style would gel incredibly well with the Caps. The issue is it would probably cost a good chunk to get the Dallas Stars to eat half his contract, although the asking price might not be as high to send him to an Eastern Conference team. Still, the assets the Capitals could spend on Pavelski could be better used on a younger, longer-term piece instead.
So those are the so-called “big fish” who could be available - but with the cost of all of these players likely pricing the Caps out, let’s take a look at a group of players who could provide assistance and be a good fit without costing the Caps too much.
Conor Garland, LW/RW, 25yo, $4.95M, UFA 2026-2027
As mentioned earlier, if Vancouver wants to hang on to Miller, they’ll have to move out a contract this summer and the rumor is Garland is one of the names on the block. If that’s true the Capitals need to be all over him. Garland is a young, talented two-way player on contract that is paying him middle-winger money but he brings top-six skill.
(And it’s a bonus that his contract runs right through the length of Alex Ovechkin’s contract.)
Go get him, Caps.
Brock Boeser, RW, 24yo, $5.875M, RFA this summer
Another player that could get squeezed out of Vancouver is Brock Boeser. He’s a high-end shooting winger with one of the better shots in the league. He’s young and an RFA this summer so he can be cost controlled... of course that also means he’ll cost a lot to acquire and if the Caps are willing to pay that price, it might be more worthwhile to go after Garland who is a year older but is a better play driver and on an amazing contract.
Reilly Smith, LW/RW, 30yo, $5M, UFA this summer
The Vegas Golden Knights went big this season and acquired Jack Eichel and his $10M a year contract, but once Eichel comes off LTIR the Knights will need to make room for him. One of the players being shopped, supposedly, is Smith. Smith has been one of the most underrated wingers in the game for years now. He’s strong at driving play in the offensive zone and can be used in any situation. He’d fit like a glove for the Caps. He’s also a UFA this summer so no team will be stuck with him if he doesn’t work out, and with the Knights strapped for cap space, he may not cost much to pry loose.
Jonathan Marchessault, LW/RW, 31yo, $5M, UFA 2023-2024
The other player being rumored to get moved out of Vegas, maybe even more than Smith, is Marchessault. He is a speedy two-way winger and though his strength leans more towards offense than defense, he’s still reliable. He’s a year older than Smith and has two more years on his deal, so he should be even cheaper than whatever Smith will garner. It could be a little dicey to get into a longer-term deal for the Caps but he will be cheap to acquire and his hard working ways would fit the Caps well. And don’t let those defensive numbers scare you too much, as he’s asked to do a lot more defensively in Vegas now than he likely would be in DC.
Max Domi, C/W, 26yo, $5.3M, RFA this summer
Domi has had an up-and-down career since he first came into the league as a 20-year-old. In his first four seasons he averaged 56 points over a full season, a number that’s dropped to a still-respectable 45 points per season average over the last three. Domi is a very good offensive player both at passing and shooting but he leaves a lot to be desired defensively and that caused the infamous butting of heads with former Columbus coach John Tortorella and has even had him on the fourth line under Tortorella’s replacement, Brad Larsen. While Laviolette isn’t as severe as Tortorella, he still demands defensive effort to earn playing time, so it’d be interesting to see what he’d do with Domi.
One thing to consider with Domi is that he’s never really beenThe other thing to consider, is Domi has never been on a good team. He went from the One thing to note about Domi is that he’s never really been on a good team. He went from the Coyotes to the Canadiens to Columbus, spending two years at each stop and with just one playoff run in that time. Columbus isn’t in love with him so it may not cost much to get him despite being in the same division - plus he’s young and will be cost controlled being a RFA this summer. Domi would certainly be a gamble but has the ability to really break out offensively on a strong team.
Tyler Toffoli, LW/RW, 29yo, $4.25M, UFA 2024-2025
The report is the Montreal Canadiens are open for business on basically everyone but Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, and some prospects. Everyone else can be traded for for the right price. A player the Caps should look at is Toffoli, a top six winger being paid middle six money for two more seasons after this one. Tyler isn’t the quickest of skaters but he drives play well at both ends of the ice and has a nice shot. Since leaving the LA Kings and spending time with the Canucks and Canadiens he has averaged 60 points per 82 games. Even on a terrible Canadiens team this season he has 25 points in 33 games, leading the team in points per game. To get a strong top six winger for the cheap the next two seasons after this one would be a strong add for the Capitals.
Artturi Lehkonnen, LW/RW, 26yo, $2.3M, RFA this summer
Lehkonnen has been an analytical darling now for many seasons. He’s incredibly strong at both ends of the ice, getting the puck out of the defensive zone quickly and keeping it in the offensive zone. The concern with him is how big his offensive ceiling is. True he’s mainly played bottom six minutes but it’s hard to tell if his lack of production is due to that or he just doesn’t have the skill for it. But he’s incredibly cheap and re-signing him would be cheap as well. At worst you have a strong, smart play driving winger you can use all over your lineup (like a Conor Shear) that can get you 30+ points and at best you have the same thing but he solidifies himself in the top six, able to put up 50+ points. The rumors going around is a lot of teams want him, meaning his price could be crazy high to the point you might as well spend the same assets on more certain offensively productive players. O yeah he’s also Finnish, so the chances of him ending up in Washington is slim to none.
This last group of players are basically scraping the bottom of the barrel, the Capitals should probably stay away. But if the price is right for the following players then they could certainly be good depth adds.
Rickard Rakell, C/W, 28yo, $3.789M, UFA this summer
It’s been awhile since Rakell tore up the NHL in 2017-2018 with his 34 goals and 69 points in 77 games. He hasn’t lit up since, but it’s hard to argue against the skill he has. He doesn’t drive play all that well but he’s incredibly cheap and if money is eaten he can be even cheaper. He shouldn’t be the Caps first choice if they are looking for top six help but he would fit under the cap without losing too much.
Phil Kessel, RW, 34yo, $6.8M, UFA this summer
Now wouldn’t this be a fun pickup. Kessel is far gone from the years he was arguably the Conn Smythe winner for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015-2016 Cup winning season, but he still has some good legs and a dangerous wrister. He won’t drive his own line but put him in a depth role and he could probably pot some big goals. He’s also done well offensively for the Arizona Coyotes, a terrible team, the last two seasons, averaging 58 points over an 82 game season. There’s probably some gas in that tank still and he wouldn’t cost too much too get. Like Rakell, he probably shouldn’t be the Capitals first choice if they are looking for help but he isn’t the worst choice either.
Domink Kubalik, LW, 26yo, $3.7M, RFA this summer
Kubalik took the league by storm in the 2019-2020 season scoring 30 goals in 68 games, but since then he hasn’t lived up to potential scoring just 27 goals in his last 102 games. There’s no doubt that Kubalik has the NHL shot but the rest of his game can be suspect. Like Kessel and Rakell, this guy won’t drive his own line by any means, but could be a great complimentary piece on a strong team with depth, like the Capitals. He shouldn’t cost much and if he ends up working out the Caps will have him cost controlled since he’s a RFA this summer.
There are some other names out there like Dylan Strome, Jake DeBrusk, and Andreas Johnsson that our being rumored to getting shopped but they probably don’t tilt the Caps too much in improving their team, at least in terms of what you would pay to get those players.
The Capitals are a very deep, strong team offensively when healthy, but health is a big question mark with important names already spending so much time on the injured shelf. If MacLellan thinks that issue will run into the playoffs then don’t put it past him to go out and get help, like he did with Kane.