With the NHL trade deadline, which falls on February 25 this season, a little over a month away, teams are beginning to finalize roster plans for the remaining part of the season, and to position themselves for this summer’s contract negotiations. NoVa Caps discusses how the Capitals should approach this year’s trade deadline and what they should do to gear up for hopefully another long playoff run, as well as the offseason ahead.
Bryan Hailey – Brian MacLellan has acquired players at the trade deadline in each of his five seasons as the Capitals’ General Manager, but I think this year he should stand pat. The work he did last summer to bring back most of the roster for another Cup run makes deadline tinkering unnecessary. Pheonix Copley’s emergence as a capable backup makes the goaltender position solid.
On the blueline, where “GMBM” worked his magic last year bringing in Michal Kempny, the depth is a little more suspect. The third pairing has been in flux with injuries to Brooks Orpik and Christian Djoos, which has allowed some youngsters to gain experience on the fly. While Madison Bowey and Jonas Siegenthaler may not be the third pair the team would want to rely on during another long playoff run, their continued development can provide depth. Hopefully, Orpik can once again deliver a sturdy performance in reduced minutes. MacLellan told The Washington Post yesterday that Djoos could soon return to on-ice activities as his recovery from compartment syndrome progresses. His eventual return to the lineup would essentially be the same as trading for a depth defenseman.
Forward is the one area where Maclellan has signaled he could make a move. I wouldn’t. Yes, T.J. Oshie unfortunately appears one hard hit from retirement. Yes, Andre Burakovsky is struggling to stay in the lineup, let alone make an impact. However, Tom Wilson’s offensive growth and Jakub Vrana’s dynamic rise more than make up for Burakovsky’s shortcomings. The rotating fourth-line continues to impress. And, don’t forget Burakovsky stepped out of the doghouse to be the hero in Game 7 versus Tampa Bay last Spring. Given the team chemistry, the strong overall roster, and salary cap implications, if I were Brian MacLellan, I would stay off the phone as the deadline approaches.
Harrison Brown – The Capitals’ forward lineup is overflowing into the press box as they arguably have 13 legitimate everyday NHL forwards. While general manager Brian MacLellan did say he wanted to shop for a forward at the trade deadline yesterday, I think the team should go for a seventh defenseman that they would be comfortable enough to step in as a sixth if necessary, as they are a little thin after their top-six core. If MacLellan does decide to go after a seventh defenseman that could step in as a sixth, he should not give up more than a third-round pick. However, if he wanted to further bolster the Capitals’ lineup like he did when he acquired defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk two years ago, and it makes sense, he should do it.
While Orpik was solid in the playoffs last season, he has been exposed of speed during the playoffs in the past and he’s not getting any younger at age 38. While I would be content with the defense as it is now, the Capitals should get some as a safety cushion in case someone gets hurt and to take some pressure off of Orpik.
I would see what the market is for forward Andre Burakovsky, who will be a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game and sixth time this season against the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight, and try to package him with an older prospect and a draft pick if the Capitals want to upgrade their forward group in a trade to insert more scoring depth into the lineup. I would explore Carolina Hurricanes forward Micheal Ferland as he has 12 goals this season and has a team-friendly $1.75 million cap hit.
Michael Fleetwood – Judging by General Manager Brian MacLellan’s recent comments, it doesn’t appear as though the Capitals will make a trade at the trade deadline just to make one, but given that he has made some transaction at the deadline in the five seasons he has been at the helm of personnel decisions for the team, I expect him to do something, whether it be a swap of draft picks or adding depth by dealing one of the team’s numerous defensive prospects.
One thing I think the team must do, but ONLY if it will help them in the immediate and distant future is to deal Andre Burakovsky. It’s clear his game is regressing and having him (a soon-to-be 24-year old former first-round pick) sitting in the press box for a handful of games at a time isn’t healthy for his confidence/mind, nor for the development of his game. If MacLellan can get a player that can fill the same role and could be an impact player for another season or two, then I think a move should be made. If MacLellan can’t find a player that he doesn’t find suitable for that, or teams are not willing to give up for any potential asking price, then I say hold on to Burakovsky; as I said, they shouldn’t make a trade just for the sake of making a trade or getting even decent assets in return, only if the trade will benefit them.
I do think the surplus of defensive prospects in the system gives MacLellan a little wiggle room when it comes to acquiring more forward prospects, something he admitted the team is short on. The team should only make a trade if it makes sense, and shouldn’t make one for the sake of doing so if it doesn’t benefit them.
Luke Adomanis – As Brian MacLellan put in his latest presser, the Capitals don’t really have any glaring weaknesses. But no team is perfect and for a contender, it can’t hurt to make your team the best it possibly can before going into the gauntlet that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But if they add where should it be to the lineup?
Since MacLellan has been the General Manager, he has grabbed a defenseman around every trade deadline, but with the emergence of Jonas Siegenthaler, a short but impressive showing from Tyler Lewington, and the improved play of Madison Bowey, there shouldn’t be a need for adding a defenseman; unless Christian Djoos doesn’t return at all this season and the Capitals face another injury on the back-end. Maybe if there could be a defensive add for a late pick it’s worth looking into, but the Capitals can’t be spending first-fourth round picks on defensemen anymore, it’s not needed.
The Capitals have the sixth-best offense in the league, which is surprising considering their power play has been ineffective for over a month now. If they are missing one thing, though, it’s having a threat on the third-line. What they need is an Andre Burakovsky: a fast, skilled, game-breaking talent. Unfortunately, at least as it’s looking now, Burakovsky can’t be consistent enough to keep the threat ongoing. So if MacLellan makes a trade it would most likely involve Burakovsky and maybe more to add that player that can make the third-line really dangerous. But don’t look for MacLellan to give away Burakovsky. If there isn’t a great offer out there for him then they need to keep him and hope he can be that playoff clutch performer he showed in the past.
Jon Sorensen – I’ll go against the grain on this one, for the sake of hockey debate. The industry media “big wigs” have already gone on record stating the Capitals will look to replace Burakovsky in kind. In other words, find a player who can contribute now, and help in the postseason run, and that the Capitals are not interested in “futures”. However, one could make the case that “futures” are the organization’s greatest need right now, for long-term organizational health.
Replacing Burakovsky “in kind” would mean replacing him with a middle of the road player, which the Capitals have no real need for at this time (hence, Burakovsky has been a healthy scratch). The Capitals “system” has great depth at the goaltending and defenseman position and should be solid, for five or more years to come. However, the Capitals are extremely thin at the forward position. A strong indication of this is the fact that Hershey is dead last in the AHL in goals scored right now. GMBM has always maintained that his draft philosophy is to draft the best player available, regardless of the position. A sound strategy to be sure, until an imbalance develops and that is what is occurring with the Capitals organization right now.
The Capitals have drafted a lot of defensemen recently and are in desperate need of forward prospects. In addition, it looks like Madison Bowey has become the defacto eighth defenseman, when Christian Djoos returns. A decision will need to be made regarding him and may also be trade-worthy for this deadline. Move Burakovsky and Bowey for organizational depth at the forward position.
What are your thoughts regarding this season’s NHL trade deadline?