With the Caps enjoying their Bye Week, we’re sifting through some burning questions facing this team as they head into the stretch run of the season. Today, we’re talking about the Caps’ top priority ahead of the March 3 trade deadline.
What is the Caps’ biggest priority coming into this year’s deadline?
Alex: The Capitals need help on the blueline. With John Carlson’s injury keeping him out until late in the regular season, Dmitry Orlov most likely playing not at 100%, and the struggling third pair that has primarily been some combination of Martin Fehervary, Trevor van Riemsdyk, and Matt Irwin, Washington’s defense could use some bolstering. I don’t think they necessarily need to make a move for a big name, especially because it’s the Caps’ third pair that needs the most help, which might make a trade more feasible. I also think it might be smart for the Capitals to acquire a defenseman who has some term left on his contract. The team only has one blueliner, John Carlson, under contract past July 1, 2023, so acquiring another (hopefully at least somewhat experienced) blueliner who will be around at least through next season could be very beneficial. Of course, if the Caps sign one of Dmitry Orlov or Nick Jensen to an extension before the deadline, this point becomes moot.
J.P.: I’ve got two answers here. First, I think Alex is right. They could use help up front, of course, but it’s hard to envision them landing a real impact forward and it doesn’t make a lot of sense for them to trade for a secondary scorer and hoping he gets hot at the right time… because that’s what most of the rest of the forward corps is right now. So landing another rearguard that can play minutes (and bump a Matt Irwin out of the lineup) should be the focus. If it happens to be a guy with term on his contract, great (as Alex noted, they’re going to need to start rebuilding that blueline real soon), but they’ve done a good job of finding guys like Michal Kempny and Nick Jensen on the trade market, so hopefully they’ve got another one of those types in mind.
My second answer is what their real biggest priority coming into this year’s deadline should be, and that’s not mortgaging much of the future to try to sneak into the playoffs and get their doors blown off by Boston or Carolina. I know everyone loves to say (and believe) that once you get in, anything can happen, and, to be sure, it has. But the reality is that this team has to have one eye on the present and one on the future. They have a ton of expiring contracts, some not-expiring anchors, and players ostensibly returning from injury at some point. They could do a lot worse at the deadline than trading away some players and “acquiring” Tom Wilson and John Carlson, and could be more competitive in both the present and future by doing so.
Rob: Can you get health on the deadline market? This team has done an admirable job hanging in there through injuries but no team can survive like this forever. If you draw out lines with a healthy roster, there aren’t many guys that are even an upgrade, and the guys that are will cost a ton and still not put the Caps into the upper echelon of the league. It’s exciting to think about bringing in a star player but if you look at the conference dispassionately there’s too much ground to gain. The team is already thin on future talent and the last time they shipped out a future to backfill an injured player… it didn’t go well. BMac has been great shopping in the bargain bin and that’s where he should stay this year. Maybe you find another guy that fits in and gives some options over the summer, but the trade that pushes the Caps into elite contention isn’t out there.
Becca: I agree with everyone, which is an uncomfortable place for me to be, but here we are. I think if MacLellan is able to find some sort of addition for the blueline without giving up too much, it’s a move he should absolutely make - because even when John Carlson returns, they’re one injury away from another less ideal situation back there (and frankly you can never have too many defensemen going into the playoffs... or at least that’s what every NHL GM ever would have me believe). And for the forwards, the biggest addition will be (hopefully) a fully healthy Tom Wilson and Nic Dowd, continued health for the old dudes, a return to form for Nicklas Backstrom, etc.