With the NHL Trade Deadline less than a month away, the Washington Capitals and other contenders will be busy making phone calls to see if they can make improvements in preparation for the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. While the Capitals could be buyers, they have no room under the salary cap so they will have to move some players if they want to pick up additional players. The salary cap is and will remain flat for the near future due to the revenue loss over the past year. NoVa Caps ranks the Capitals’ players in trade tiers.
It is important to note that the Capitals are on a tear with the third best record in the National Hockey League. There is a strong case to be made that the Capitals should stand pat and not risk upsetting team chemistry to add a marginally better player. At the same time, several big names could be available at the deadline that could be an upgrade.
These players include future Hall of Famers and players who many view as the faces of the franchise in the next decade.
- C Nicklas Backstrom – After signing a five-year contract that carries a $9.2 million, the 33-year-old leads the Capitals in goals (12), assists (21), and points (33). As one of the leaders and key contributors of the team, Backstrom will definitely be in Washington for the long haul as he has a full no-movement clause.
- F Alex Ovechkin – The 35-year-old can become an unrestricted free agent at the season’s end but has expressed no interest in playing for anyone else than the Capitals or the KHL’s Moscow Dynamo. Ovechkin is showing no signs of slowing down with 12 goals and 23 points in 25 games this season and could very well break the NHL’s goal record with the Capitals in the coming years.
- G Ilya Samsonov – The 24-year-old got into an ATV accident that cost him the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs and he missed eight games with COVID-19 this season but he has recovered nicely, earning a 5-0-0 record, a .921 save percentage, and a 2.22 goals-against average since February 22 to take back the No. 1 job in net.
- D John Carlson – The 31-year-old is coming off of his Norris Trophy nomination last season and remains productive with six goals, 25 points, and a -4 rating in 29 games even though his production has dipped a little bit. After this season, Carlson will have five years left on an eight-year contract and is expected to be a mainstay on the Capitals’ blueline for many years, providing leadership to highly touted prospects like Martin Fehervary and Alexander Alexeyev.
- F Tom Wilson – The 26-year-old is expected by many to replace Ovechkin as captain once the Great Eight hangs up his skates. Wilson has provided offense with seven goals, 17 points, and a +1 rating in 21 games this season while also playing a key role on the penalty kill. He also gives the Capitals a big presence on the ice and has the ability to turn the tide in games with his physicality. This is a special player that the Capitals want to keep around for a very long time.
Staying Put Absent a Crazy Offer
These are players who play a key role and who would only be on the block if a team made an extraordinary offer.
- F Jakub Vrana – The 25-year-old has been one of the Capitals’ most productive offensive players in the past three seasons and has had an admirable campaign with 10 goals, 21 points, and a +10 rating in 28 games up to date. However, Vrana has been held off of the scoresheet and a -8 rating in 15 Stanley Cup Playoff games over the past two seasons. He is in need of a big postseason to cement himself among the Capitals’ core players.
- F T.J. Oshie – The 34-year-old has had a solid season with seven goals and 20 points in 26 games and has recorded at least 47 points in each of his first five full seasons in Washington. While many have him penciled going to the Seattle Kraken in the NHL Expansion Draft, the Capitals may very well protect the fan favorite barring a massive hit to his production at the end of this season.
- D Justin Schultz – The 30-year-old has had a renaissance season in Washington after a couple of injury-plagued seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, recording two goals, 13 points, and a +11 rating in 25 games this season. Schultz fits well in head coach Peter Laviolette’s system and has been key in the Capitals’ defensive turnaround. The Capitals will have some decisions to make in regards to their defensemen over the offseason but expect Schultz to stay put for the final year of his contract.
- D Brenden Dillon – The 30-year-old has had a steady season with one goal, eight points, and a +9 rating in 29 games and provides a consistent defensive presence to the Capitals’ lineup. Dillon also has some grit to his game, allowing Wilson to focus more on producing rather than protecting others on the ice. He just signed a four-year contract last fall.
- F Conor Sheary – The 28-year-old has been a solid fit with the Capitals as he has produced six goals and 10 points in 26 games this season, adding some much-needed scoring punch to the bottom-six forward group. Sheary only accounts for $735,000 against the salary cap so he is not the type of player the Capitals would trade.
- D Zdeno Chara – The 44-year-old has been everything that the Capitals have expected and more with two goals, eight points, and a +13 rating in 29 games this season. Chara’s experience and leadership also help develop younger defensemen. As he is on a one-year contract and the Capitals are in win-now mode, the team is expected to hang onto him.
- F Garnet Hathaway – The 29-year-old has been a key contributor to the Capitals’ shutdown line and penalty kill. Hathaway can be used in all situations and can even produce offensively as he has recorded four goals and 10 points in 29 games this season.
Could Go if the Price is Right
These players include a grab bag of talent and arguments are sure to be made that some of them belong in other categories.
- G Vitek Vanecek – If the Kraken do not take a defenseman from the Capitals, they will likely take the 25-year-old netminder, who is 12-5-3 with a .908 save percentage, a 2.74 goals-against average, and one shutout this season. If the Capitals protect Samsonov, they could trade Vanecek to avoid losing him for nothing even though the preference is to keep him in the organization. The Capitals could add a veteran goalie or call up 25-year-old Zach Fucale, who has a .937 save percentage and a 1.50 goals-against average in four games with the AHL’s Hershey Bears this season.
- C Lars Eller – The 31-year-old is a solid third-line center for the Capitals and has played admirably this season with five goals and 12 points. He also has a fantastic record in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, tallying 14 goals (including the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in Game 5 of the 2018 Final against the Vegas Golden Knights) and 45 points in 86 post-season contests. However, center prospect Connor McMichael is knocking on the door with four goals and seven points in 12 AHL games and the Capitals selected another top-six center in Hendrix Lapierre in the first round of the 2020 NHL Draft. With some major contract decisions coming up and the need to get younger, Eller could be moved if the Capitals get a generous offer.
- D Nick Jensen – The 30-year-old has had a breakout season with two goals, 12 points, and a +9 rating in 26 games this season after being scratched for a couple of games early in the year. He has cemented his place on the Capitals’ third pairing and as one of the team’s best defensive defensemen. It is unclear whether the Capitals will have room to protect Jensen from the Kraken, especially with a couple of young defensemen knocking on the door for ice time, so it is possible that he could be moved at some point especially with his trade value as high as ever.
- F Carl Hagelin – The 32-year-old has been fine this season with three goals, eight points, and a +4 rating in 29 games, playing a key role for the Capitals’ shutdown line. However, with the emergence of forward Daniel Sprong, the Capitals’ need to get younger after this season, and the team in need of room under the salary cap, Hagelin (with a $2.75 million contract) is a possibility to get moved.
- D Jonas Siegenthaler – The 23-year-old has been held off of the scoresheet and has a -3 rating in seven games this season while serving as the Capitals’ seventh defenseman. With top prospects and fellow left-handed defensemen Martin Fehervary and Alexander Alexeyev knocking on the door for ice time next season, Siegenthaler may become expendable at some point.
- D Trevor Van Riemsdyk – The 29-year-old has appeared in only nine games this season, where he has recorded one goal and a -3 rating. As Jensen has played well enough to solidify his spot on the third pairing, there does not appear to be any room for Van Riemsdyk. The Capitals could use him to land a middle-round draft pick as their prospect pool is among the league’s worst at the trade deadline.
- F Daniel Sprong – The 24-year-old has played well when given the opportunity with six goals, eight points, and a +5 rating in 18 games this season but the Capitals could have a hard time finding a spot in the lineup for him once Wilson returns. To give him opportunity, the Capitals could move him if they get an offer to improve their prospect pool.
- F Richard Panik – The 30-year-old has performed admirably this season with three goals, nine points, and a -4 rating in 29 games but could be moved if the Capitals are in need of some spare salary cap space given his $2.75 million cap hit. However, the Capitals would not likely do so unless they got an offer they could not refuse.
- C Nic Dowd – With a couple of center prospects like McMichael and Aliaksei Protas and players like Brian Pinho and Garrett Pilon in the system, Dowd could be moved if the Capitals want to get younger as he is 30. He has recorded six goals, eight points, and a +7 rating in 29 games this season while centering the team’s shutdown line. He leads the Capitals in faceoff percentage, and his salary is just $750,000, so he not likely to be moved unless it is as part of a bigger deal.
Potential Cap Casualties
This category includes some high-dollar contracts in addition to Kempny, who is on Long Term Injured Reserve. If a superstar player is available, the Capitals will have to move players with large contracts.
- D Dmitry Orlov – The 30-year-old has had a nice season, recording three goals, four points, and a -1 rating in 24 games but could be expendable with Fehervary, Alexeyev, and Siegenthaler all in line for ice time next season. The Capitals are expected to protect Carlson, Dillon, and Schultz in the expansion draft, so the team may want to avoid the risk of losing him for nothing. His $5.1 million contract could put him in play if the Capitals need the cap space for a significant upgrade.
- C Evgeny Kuznetsov – After testing positive for cocaine last season, the 29-year-old landed on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list this season and has had a disappointing year with just three goals and 12 points in 19 games. Kuznetsov has 27 goals and 62 points in 78 Stanley Cup Playoff games and was a key part of the Cup run in 2018, but his frustrating play this season and his $7.8 million cap hit could put him in play if a premium player is available.
- D Michal Kempny – The 30-year-old has been out of the lineup for much of the last two seasons with injuries that required two surgeries and the Capitals have four other left-handed defensemen and a couple of prospects knocking on the door. While he is currently on LTIR, Kempny and his $2.5 million contract could be part of a bigger deal.
- Gs Pheonix Copley, Craig Anderson – With Samsonov and Vanecek cemented as the Capitals’ two goaltenders, the Capitals could use another as bait. Copley costs $25,000 against the NHL salary cap despite playing with the AHL’s Hershey Bears, so moving him could free up some spare cash. Anderson could be beneficial with two young goaltenders heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, though.
By Harrison Brown