How To Stay Competitive With A “Blow Up”: A Search for Solutions

Photo: Washington Capitals

opinion I finished this article nearly a month ago, but couldn’t get myself to turn it in because it’s awful to think about, but it must be discussed. The Caps have some major decisions to make next summer, there are a lot of UFAs and RFAs that need signing, and not all of them will return. 

Graphic: @Doug3PO

More than likely Oshie and Williams will not stay because of the cap and both are big reasons why the Caps window has been wide open. According to Brian MacLellan, this upcoming season is the last year of the 2 year window for the Stanley Cup. And if the Caps do not win the Cup this season, we will more than likely see a shake up of the core that hasn’t won a Cup the last 10 years. And with Ovechkin and Backstrom, the major parts of that core, there is a chance they could be moved.

nicklas-backstrom-marcus-johansson-alex-ovechkin-washington-capitals-jpgAt first, I thought if the Caps fail once again to snag the elusive Stanley Cup and Ovechkin and Backstrom move on, then a full blow up is in order; might as well sell Carlson, Alzner, Niskanen, and Holtby. In that case, the Caps would probably be out of playoffs for the next 4-5 years. But after thinking it over, I believe the Caps could shake things up by departing with just Ovechkin and/or Backstrom, two key cogs over the last 10 years, and still stay competitive. Because if you have a defensive unit made up of Carlson, Alzner, Niskanen, Orlov, Schmidt, and Bowey, backed up by Vezina winner Braden Holtby, and coached by coach of the year Barry Trotz, then every game the Caps have a chance to win.

It’s just a matter of replacing Ovechkin and Backstrom’s offensive ability (not easy), which they should be able to do with the right trades. They could even save some money to keep someone like T.J. Oshie.  Here are 5 teams that the Capitals could trade with, some in the realm of possibility, others in the “you should stop watching hockey, Luke” area. Here are some notes first:

-All ages and contract lengths are stated as they will be NEXT offseason.
-The important part of these trades are the immediate roster players. All the picks and/or prospects I suggest are interchangeable, and it’s about who the Caps will get now. Feel free to switch up the extras to make the trade work.

-Ovechkin is worth more than people think. He is possibly the best goal scorer in NHL history. He will be a 40+ goal scorer for the rest of his current contract and maybe beyond. Yes, he’s on the wrong side of 30 but as long as he’s putting up goals, which are hard to come by, he will be worth a lot.

Montreal Canadiens
Max Pacioretty LW, 28 years old, 2 more years @ $4.25M
Alex Galchenyuk C, 23 years old, RFA in 2017, making $2.8M now

Proposed Trade/s:
Ovechkin + Backstrom for Pacioretty + Galchenyuk + Mikhail Sergachev/two 1sts
Ovechkin for Pacioretty/Galchenyuk + 1st + 2nd + 2nd
Backstrom for Pacioretty/Galchenyuk + 1st

Why It Works:
This will be the only trade I suggest that involves both Ovechkin and Backstrom. Ovechkin has publicly stated that if he didn’t play in Washington he would like to play for Montreal, so that makes the trade an easy transition. A better fit is Pacioretty because he’s basically an “Ovechkin lite ”. You’ll never be able to replace Ovechkin’s shot or goal totals because he is the best, but Max is close. He came in 3rd last season with shots (303) and was 19th (30) in goals, but was 5th (37) the year before that, and 4th (39) the year before that. If the Caps can add another 20 goal scorer with the extra space, then they shouldn’t lose a step.

Galchenyuk is a young, progressing center who, like Lars Eller, was not properly used in Montreal. He spent most of his time on wing giving more center time to less skilled players like Plekanec and Desharnais. He should settle more into a center position this upcoming season so this year we should really see what he can do. But having a 1-2 punch of fast, skilled centers like Kuznetsov and Galchenyuk would be hard to stop.

For Montreal, they get two better players since they are, mistakenly, in a “win now” mode. Plus, last season they ranked 25th in power play. Could you imagine what a power play unit would look like with Backstrom on the wall, Weber on the blue line, Ovechkin in his office, and Gallagher sitting in front of the net? That would easily become one of the best in the league.

Why It Won’t Work:
Honestly, of all the trades proposed in the article, this one makes the most sense and there isn’t a reason it shouldn’t get done. The only thing Caps fans shouldn’t like about it is that Ovechkin and/or Backstrom will stay in the Eastern Conference, which means they’ll be in Verizon Center more than most would like. Plus, as stated before, Montreal is under the terrible belief that they are in a “win now” mode, and they are not, which means Ovechkin and Backstrom will not win a Cup with them, and they deserve that if we can’t give it to them. Also, Montreal would be VERY close to the cap, so the Caps might have to eat some money, if so, they should get Sergachev.

Florida Panthers
Jonathan Huberdeau LW, 24 years old, RFA in 2017, making $3.25M now
Aleksander Barkov C, 21 years old, 4 more years @ $5.9

Proposed Trade/s:
Ovechkin for Huberdeau + 1st
Ovechkin for Barkov + 2nd

Why It Works:
Unlike the Pacioretty and Galchenyuk trade, Florida would not be able to fit both Ovechkin and Backstrom under the cap, and there really isn’t a need for Backstrom since Florida has the depth of Barkov/Bjugstad/Trocheck, so this trade only involves Ovechkin.

The Florida Panthers are a team on the rise with a lot of young talent and should place top 5 in the Eastern Conference. They are also located in the state that every pro-athlete likes to play in because of the weather and the added bonus of no personal income tax.

Huberdeau is a talented young player that put up 59 points in 76 games last season, 20 of those points were goals, and he’s on track to get even better. For Florida, Ovechkin’s goal scoring can really put them over the top and help their power play, which ranked 23rd last season.

Who the Caps would probably want more though is Barkov. He’s going to be a superstar center one day. He put up 59 points in 66 games last season, and as stated above, if they lose Barkov, a Bjugstad/Trocheck center depth with Ovechkin, Huberdeau, Smith, and Crouse as wingers could be really strong.

Why It Won’t Work:
From a Florida standpoint, they will be giving up one of two young, rising talents for a 32-year-old goal scorer. No doubt about it Ovechkin is the better player now, but 4-5 years down the road both Huberdeau and Barkov will probably be more potent. The question is does Florida think they can win now with Ovechkin in that time frame? How they do this year will determine that. What if they get to the Conference Finals and lose due to a poor power play or just not enough goals? Then I could see them making one of those trades.

Ottawa Senators
Mike Hoffman LW, 27 years old, 3 more years @ $5.2M
Mark Stone RW, 25 years old, 1 more year @3.5M

Proposed Trade/s:
Ovechkin for Hoffman/Stone + 1st + Colin White
Backstrom for Hoffman/Stone + Colin White

Why It Works:
According to Ottawa’s GM, much like Montreal, he thinks they are a playoff team, and the Caps can exploit that. There are some very good pieces in Ottawa and two of them are 30 goal scoring/potential wingers: Hoffman and Stone.

Stone is younger and will be on the last year of his RFA deal which means the Caps will have control over his next deal, but he is a right winger. That certainly isn’t the end of the world because both Burakovsky and Vrana can play both wings. As for Hoffman, he’s more expensive and older, but his stats ameliorate that and he’s a natural left winger. Either way, both would be great additions to help replace Ovechkin’s goal scoring. They are pure scorers and could steadily hit the 30 goal mark for years to come.

Why It Won’t Work:
It’s hard to see either Ovechkin or Backstrom wanting to go there. Ovechkin has a list of 10 teams he won’t go to and Backstrom has a 7 team list that he won’t go to. I would bet money that Ottawa sits on both their lists. According to Craig Custance, Ottawa ranks 4th on a team list that most players don’t want to go to. Maybe Backstrom would go there to be with fellow countryman Erik Karlsson, but that’s hard to see.

Nashville Predators
Filip Forsberg LW, 22 years old, 4 more years @ $6M

Proposed Trade/s:
Ovechkin for Forsberg + 1st
Backstrom for Forsberg + 2nd

Why It Works:
Yes, I know this is weird, very weird. Forsberg should be Caps property in the first place! But here we are, talking about trading two of the top elite players in the league for someone that should already be on our team. Anyway, I believe the Predators could use one of either Backstrom or Ovechkin.

Right now, their center depth is Johansen-Ribeiro-Fisher, which is pretty solid. But all 3 of those players are either UFA or RFA next offseason. Ribeiro and Fisher will be 37 so it’s hard to imagine Nashville re-signing either of them and they would be dumb not to resign Johansen. They also don’t have a center prospect that will be ready for the top 6 time any time soon. So they will need to grab a top 6 center via free agency or trade. That makes Backstrom a perfect fit. A Backstrom-Johansen center depth with their amazing defense is a Stanley Cup core, they just need Pekka Rinne to return to even half his form.

If the Predators don’t want Backstrom then they would probably be more than willing to take Ovechkin. Ovechkin would love a city like Nashville, especially since the Predators acquired one of his buddies this summer, P.K. Subban. Speaking of, imagine those two on the ice at the same time. Scary.

Why It Won’t Work:
…It’s just weird, right? David Poile would probably think it’s a trap. He stole Forsberg from us and might be hesitant to give him back, even if it is for a better player like Backstrom or Ovechkin. But, for the sake of argument, say Forsberg wasn’t drafted by us, then those deals seem perfectly plausible.

Colorado Avalanche
Nathan MacKinnon C, 21 years old, 4 more years @ $6.3M
Matt Duchene C, 26 years old, 2 more years @ $6M
Gabriel Landeskog LW, 24 years old, 4 more years @ $5.5M

Propose Trade/s:
Ovechkin for MacKinnon + 2nd
Ovechkin for Duchene + 1st
Ovechkin for Landeskog + 1st + 2nd

Why It Works:
The Colorado Avalanche are an odd team; they have some really good young talent but are held back by poor coaching and thin defense. Luckily for them, their coach, Patrick Roy, has quit. They have some great center depth with MacKinnon-Duchene-Soderberg-Grigorenko so I don’t think Backstrom would be a good fit here but they, like most all teams, could use Ovechkin.

The first player Washington should attempt to obtain is MacKinnon. He’s only 20 and should be able to hit 80+ points a season one day, especially if he comes to Washington. The Caps could definitely snag Duchene who has been rumored to be on the trading block. He has put up more points than MacKinnon but he’s also 5 years older with more experience. On a team like the Caps, Duchene could very much be a 30+ goal scorer with 40+ assists which help lower the blow of losing Ovechkin. Lastly, there is Landeskog who is a great captain that has put up 20+ goals every season he’s played (besides the shortened season) and is still only 23. He would look really good crashing the net on the wing of Kuznetsov and Vrana.

Why It Won’t Work:
I highly doubt Colorado would move MacKinnon, but it won’t hurt to see how much they value Ovechkin. It’s like Florida: If they think they can do better with Ovechkin now then maybe they will be willing to move MacKinnon. But unlike Florida, Colorado is nowhere near winning a Cup. There shouldn’t be any issue snagging Duchene or Landeskog for Ovechkin. But there is an issue with the destination; is Colorado one of the 10 teams Ovechkin won’t go to? That’s hard to say, but it would be understandable as Colorado doesn’t really have a pull for him: the team isn’t a contender and there’s no he knows personally besides Semyon Varlamov, who could go to the expansion team.

In terms of trades this makes sense. I think the Ovechkin for Galchenyuk and Backstrom for Forsberg could happen. That would make a top 6 of Forsberg-Kuznetsov-Vrana, Burakovsky-Galchenyuk-Barber/Wilson, which looks really good. It’s young, fast, and very skilled. Combine that with the Caps strong top 4 on defense and Holtby behind them, there’s no reason not see the Caps fight for a Cup once again, even after losing 2 elite players like Ovechkin and Backstrom.

There are about a hundred other trades that could be made, but the ones listed above give the Capitals assets in return that can keep them competitive instantly. Hopefully this never happens. Every DC fan wants the Cup here with Ovechkin lifting it over his head, but it’s always good to have an alternate plan if something doesn’t go to plan.

By Luke Adomanis

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About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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