The Washington Capitals have assembled one of their best teams in franchise history. This team is built and structured to do some great things. A little over halfway through the 2015-16 season, the Capitals are sitting at the top of the NHL with a remarkable 35-8-3 record.
The Capitals sit 16 points ahead of the 2nd place Florida Panthers in the East. In the Metropolitan Division, the Capitals are 18 points ahead of the 2nd seed NY Rangers. With 36 games left for the Capitals, they will most likely secure the Metropolitan Division barring a meltdown. The Capitals lead is so great, they could play .500 hockey the rest of the way and still get into the playoffs.
It is highly unlikely the Capitals will play poorly down the stretch and completely tank it. This Capitals team is loaded with a lot of talent in every aspect of the game. They have shown that they can win games in various ways. They can win using their speed and skill in fast games. They can also win the physical, grinding games.
ALL THE CHIPS ARE IN
With a little over a month away until the NHL Trade Deadline, Capitals GM Brian MacLellan should be looking to load up. The hottest teams heading into the NHL Trade Deadline always look to make improvements to their lineups for the stretch Cup run.
While there is no guaranteed formula for winning in the NHL Playoffs, the healthiest teams always seem to make the longest runs in the spring. Health is something that Capitals management will have to think about when they make some tweaks to the roster.
The most important thing for Brian MacLellan to think about is the chemistry of the team. The Capitals probably do not want to make any significant moves, but they will want to add depth in certain areas. The more healthy bodies a team has down the stretch, the better off they will be in the spring.
DECIDING ON THE FUTURE
The Capitals will have some important decisions at the upcoming NHL Trade Deadline too. The main decision they will have to think about is the status of upcoming restricted free agent Marcus Johansson. Johansson is having a career year, and he has bounced up and down the Capitals lineup.
Marcus Johansson is coming off a 1-year deal worth $3.75 million that he signed last summer. It will be another interesting negotiation coming up for the Capitals. Johansson will surely get some sort of raise, but how much more? Will Johansson finally land a long term contract from the Capitals? Heading into the NHL Trade Deadline, Brian MacLellan not only has to think about what he is going to do for the short-term, but he will have to think about what the Capitals will look like in the long-term.
Marcus Johansson is only 25-years old, and he would draw a lot of interest around the NHL. If Brian MacLellan does not see Johansson in the Capitals future plans, does he pull a major move to trade him for another young player?
THE BROOKS LAICH ALBATROSS
While Brian MacLellan will be busy contemplating the future of Marcus Johansson, he is also dealing with a horrid contract on his books. With a $4.5 million cap hit, Capitals forward Brooks Laich is not living up to his contract standards. In 45 games this season, Laich has only produced 1 goal and 5 points. He has become a very expensive 4th line player.
Laich has 1-year left on his deal, but that contract is really haunting the Capitals. It is highly unlikely the Capitals could deal that contract anywhere without retaining some salary. The extra little bit of cap space that the Capitals could have with Laich’s contract off the books at the NHL Trade Deadline would be major.
Getting rid of Laich’s contract will be a very tricky situation for MacLellan. But every penny does matter in a salary cap sports industry.
ADDRESSING THE NEEDS
It is safe to say that the Capitals will want to make the safest moves possible for their stretch run. The Capitals have been a little banged up on the blueline this year with the Brooks Orpik and John Carlson injuries, so they will probably need to add another depth defenseman via trade.
The Capitals have been linked several times to Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien in trade talks. While “Big Buff” would be a slam dunk for the Capitals, it will be very difficult to get a deal like that done. Byfuglien has a $5.2 million cap hit, so the Capitals would have to shed some big money somewhere. Byfuglien is a big physical defenseman that has a cannon of a shot. He is also a former Stanley Cup winner and Big Buff has the ability to play forward.
The Capitals will most likely also be in the market for another forward. With the Capitals top 6 group set, the Capitals could use a little bit more consistency from the bottom 6. Besides Michael Latta, the Capitals have not gotten any push from their 4th line. The Capitals could probably use another depth 4th line forward who can provide some added depth on the penalty kill. A guy who can play either centre or wing would be an added bonus.
By George Foussekis