After losing Nate Schmidt in the Expansion Draft and Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner via Free Agency, the Capitals have two spots open on the blueline for defensemen. One of them is on the second-pairing next to John Carlson and another on the third-pairing alongside Brooks Orpik. In this piece, NoVa Caps’ Harrison Brown takes a look at potential trade options if the Capitals were to explore that route.
The Capitals are willing to give prospects Christian Djoos, Madison Bowey, Tyler Lewington, and Lucas Johansen, as well as veteran Taylor Chorney, a shot at filling those roles, but what if none of them work out? The Caps could always make a trade before the trade deadline or in the middle of the season, but for who? Here’s a list of potential defensemen the Capitals could target if they decide to explore that option.
The New York Rangers are reportedly looking to ship defenseman Nick Holden out of the Big Apple. After being traded to the Rangers by the Colorado Avalanche for a fourth-round pick, Holden, 30, had a breakout season, scoring 11 goals and finishing with 34 points in 80 games played for the Rangers last season.
Along with that, Holden was a plus-13. After signing Shattenkirk in free agency, and trading for Anthony DeAngelo from the Arizona Coyotes this offseason, the Rangers would be more than open to trading Holden.
The Caps could potentially trade goaltender Philipp Grubauer, especially with Rangerss starter Henrik Lundqvist turning 36-years old in March and backup Ondrej Pavelec having been put on waivers by the Jets last season, despite having one of the league’s best defenses in front of him. Grubauer could potentially take the workload off of the aging Lundqvist like former backup Antti Raanta did last season before getting traded to the Coyotes this summer. Lundqvist is also somewhat injury-prone, so Grubauer would have a great opportunity playing in front of defensemen like Shattenkirk and captain Ryan McDonough.
Julius Honka, one of the Dallas Stars’ best defensive prospects, is also a good player the Caps could pursue. Honka, 21, was selected by the Stars with the 14th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
Honka had eight goals and 31 points in 50 games played with the Texas Stars, the Stars’ AHL affiliate, and got called up for 16 games last season, in which he scored a goal and five points. The Caps could add to their impressive collection of young defensemen with an addition of Honka. One option to pry him from the Stars could be to trade John Carlson, whose contract expires at the end of the 2017-18 season. The Capitals would hate to lose a defenseman of Carlson’s caliber for nothing, so if they want to trade him at the deadline for a young defenseman, that could be another path to pursue.
With the Carolina Hurricanes having some talented young defensemen of their own, veteran Justin Faulk could be another target for Washington.
The Hurricanes just signed defensemen Jaccob Slavin to a seven-year contract extension worth $37.1 million, and Brett Pesce to a six-year, $24 million extension, and they have to pay youngster Noah Hanifin next summer. The Hurricanes have a lot of contract expirations to core members of their team over the next few years including Jeff Skinner and Sebastian Aho. With all of those contracts coming off the books, the likelihood is that they won’t be able to afford Faulk when his contract is up in three seasons. The Caps have a lot of talented forwards and forward prospects they could give up to get a Top 4 defenseman, and the Hurricanes still need more offensive help. The Caps could potentially give up a first-round pick or a rookie to help them with their scoring touch.
The last potential target the Capitals could pursue is Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie. Barrie, 26, had seven goals and 38 points this past season with a minus-34 rating.
According to Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic, every player on the team except for forward Nathan MacKinnon is available. Barrie is an offensive defenseman that could see his value go even higher playing next to Carlson. Barrie would be an offensive upgrade over Alzner and he’s even younger than Alzner. The Avalanche gave up 276 goals last season, the most in the league. They might have signed goaltender Jonathan Bernier in the offseason, who may have had a good year last year, but he struggled when he was with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs’ defensive core was as weak as Colorado’s is now. His value will go down unless Colorado makes significant changes to their blueline. Even if he struggles, starter Semyon Varlamov only played 23 games last season and has had injury problems in the past. He is also coming off of the worst year of his career when healthy. Colorado could use Grubauer to help stabilize the crease and give the Avalanche more insurance if Varlamov gets hurt.
The Capitals lost three of their best defensemen in the offseason for nothing in return and despite having some of the best defensive prospects, that could backfire. The Capitals need a backup plan if Djoos and Bowey afren’t ready for the NHL just yet. Acquiring guys like Barrie, Faulk, Honka, or Holden in the middle of the season are good options for the Caps if the rookies fail to prove they are ready for the NHL.
By Harrison Brown