The Washington Capitals are in a very tricky spot organizationally. They lost a lot of talent during the offseason and were committed to a “retool”. But now, slightly more than halfway through the regular season, the team is sitting in first place in the Metropolitan Division with the trade deadline fast approaching. However, the team still isn’t swimming in assets to trade away, especially given the relatively thin farm system. That means trading away high picks and top prospects for rentals isn’t the best route. In this piece, Brad Krakowitz, proposes a trade that could benefit the Capitals in the short and longer-term.
Another option would be to sell off pending unrestricted free agents for draft picks and prospects. Defenseman John Carlson and center Lars Eller could each fetch hefty returns on the trade market, but should those two be traded, General Manager Brian MacLellan would basically be saying that this team has no shot at winning the Stanley Cup. Anything can happen come playoff time, so trading away assets that hurt the team’s chances now doesn’t make sense either. With that in mind, what is a good option for MacLellan to pursue? It would have to be a deal that sends out only expendable assets in exchange for a quality piece that helps now and in the future. First, which assets are expendable? Right now, the Caps’ most tradeable asset is backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who deserves a shot at being a starting goalie somewhere. Since an area of strength in the prospect pool is left-handed defensemen, perhaps the Caps can part with someone like Jonas Siegenthaler. There are other prospects like Beck Malenstyn and Tyler Lewington that the Capitals could part with a third-round pick could also be thrown in to push a deal over the top.
The Caps would also have to have a target that would make them willing to give up those pieces. Ya know, a shutdown defenseman would be nice, someone under contract that can help kill penalties and relieve some pressure from starting netminder Braden Holtby. Arizona Coyotes defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson fits the bill perfectly. However, Washington would need to also be receiving a backup goalie in the deal as well, after (theoretically) trading Grubauer (prospect Pheonix Copley is better served in the minors for now). Arizona would also have to send [goalie] Scott Wedgewood to the Capitals to backup Holtby, as well as receiving a player [with a substantial cap hit] such as Brooks Orpik to fit Washington under the salary cap.
Here is the full trade:
- Niklas Hjalmarsson ($1 million retained)
- Scott Wedgewood
- Philipp Grubauer
- Brooks Orpik
- Jonas Siegenthaler
- Beck Malenstyn
- Tyler Lewington
- 2019 third-round pick
Losing Grubauer would hurt, especially if (heaven forbid) something were to happen to Holtby. But he’d have to be going the other way if it means the Capitals acquire a defenseman of Hjalmarsson’s caliber. He is a true shutdown defenseman that kills penalties and has excellent shot suppression metrics. He doesn’t generate a lot of offense, but if partnered with either rookie Madison Bowey or Carlson, he could stay back, which would allow his partner to jump up and make some plays offensively. He’s also won three Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks, for what that’s worth.
Another positive of acquiring Hjalmarsson would be that he’s under contract next year as well. If Arizona were to retain a small portion of salary on him (as proposed), then the Caps have a little bit more cap space to work with next season, which would allow MacLellan to potentially bring some offensive help in free agency. As a result, Washington would be getting a significant defenseman for roughly $2.5 million cheaper.
In Grubauer, Arizona is receiving a goalie that has the upside to be an above average goalie. This is something that they drastically need, as none of their goalie prospects have any chance of being as good as Grubauer is. He is also younger than their current starter, Antti Raanta, who is also a UFA at season’s end. Another area of need for the ‘Yotes is defensive prospects. Siegenthaler and Lewington instantly become two of their better defensive prospects. Malenstyn isn’t anything super special, but he’s more competition and depth in the prospect pool. While Orpik is still overpaid, he’s a serviceable third-pairing defenseman on a young team. And the cherry on top, a third-round draft choice is always valuable.
Now back to the good guys. In the postseason, [Capitals head coach] Barry Trotz can roll his defense in this “cycle”. The point of this is to avoid pairing the two rookies, Christian Djoos and Bowey, together.
If either Djoos or Bowey earn more minutes in the playoffs, Trotz can adjust the minutes accordingly. That’s just a rough layout of how the defense could potentially look if Hjalmarsson were to be acquired from Arizona. It certainly looks a lot better than having Orpik in that spot. The only thing that the Caps may miss from Orpik is his ability to clear the crease and take the body, but the overall shot suppression more than makes up for it. These two teams are perfect trade partners. Each team has expendable assets that the other team would benefit from having, both in the short and long-term. A goalie of the future + more assets in exchange for a high-end, shutdown defenseman. Washington’s Cup chances for both this season and next season go up without sacrificing a significant part of their future, while Arizona gets the goalie that could bring them out of the NHL’s basement along with some future pieces that can impact their team. Everybody wins, right?
GMBM, let’s make it happen.
By Brad Krakowitz