Photo: Bleacher Report
The Washington Capitals may have one of the best top-four center units in the NHL this season with Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller, and Nic Dowd as their every-night centers. However, if someone gets hurt, the Capitals do not feel comfortable enough with their depth beyond that as they are not confident in Michael Sgarbossa to step in for Eller when he has missed five games (and counting) with the lower-body injury.
They are currently giving Richard Panik and T.J. Oshie the bulk of the responsibility to replace Eller but those are two natural right-wingers. To put themselves in a position to go all-in for the Stanley Cup this season, the Capitals may want to consider adding a center before the NHL Trade Deadline on April 12 at 3 PM ET. NoVa Caps takes a look at centers that are on teams expected to be sellers at the trade deadline and set to hit the unrestricted free-agent market this or next offseason.
Mikael Granlund – Nashville Predators
The 29-year-old has seven goals, 13 points, a -5 rating, a 53.16% Corsi-for percentage, a 52.6% expected goals-for percentage, and 51.6% scoring chances-for percentage in 30 games this season and can become an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Granlund has shown potential in the past as he recorded 69 points (including 43 assists) in 81 games with the Minnesota Wild in 2016-17 and 67 (46 assists) in 77 games the following season. Playing on a Capitals’ offense that averages 3.38 goals-per-game (fourth in the NHL) could help him get closer to that level.
Granlund would give the Capitals an additional top-six forward and a versatile option as he has primarily played wing during his tenure with the Predators. Such an addition would help take some pressure off of forwards Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie, who are all over age 33. Granlund has also played on the penalty kill, where he averages 2:24, and power play (2:39).
However, adding Granlund would be a challenge as he has a $3.75 million cap hit and the Capitals do not any room right now. They would have to send money (defenseman Dmitry Orlov?) the Predators’ way and or would need Nashville to eat around 50% of his remaining salary to make such an acquisition work.
Graphic: Tableau Public
Erik Haula – Predators
The 30-year-old has three goals, 11 points, a -1 rating, a 49.53% Corsi-for percentage, a 44.79% expected goals-for percentage, and a 47.04% scoring chances-for percentage in 30 games this season and could hit unrestricted free agency on July 28.
Haula has had success in the past as he posted 12 goals, 22 points, and a +1 rating in 41 games with the Carolina Hurricanes last season before being dealt to the Florida Panthers at the trade deadline and 29 goals, 55 points, and a -16 rating in 76 games with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18. A trade from a team that averages 2.44 goals-per-game (27th in the NHL) could provide Haula with a spark.
Haula would be a significant addition to the Capitals’ third line, where he would slot in on the left-wing and step in at center when needed. He has averaged 1:25 on the power play and 2:04 on the penalty kill this season. Haula could also slide up the lineup when needed as he was part of the Golden Knights’ top-six forward unit.
Unlike Granlund, the Capitals could have an easier time making room for Haula under the salary cap as he is only making $1.75 million this season, but it still may require some cap gymnastics.
Chart: Tableau Public
Brad Richardson – Predators
The 36-year-old has been held to just 12 games this season, where he has recorded one goal, three points, an even rating, a 45.25% Corsi-for percentage, a 47.98% expected goals-for percentage, and a 43.24% scoring chances-for percentage.
Richardson has never been a scoring center as he has hit the 30-point mark just once in his NHL career (31 in 82 games with the Coyotes in 2015-16) but he does other things as he leads the Predators with an average of 2:57 shorthanded ice time per game and ranks fourth among Nashville forwards with an average of 2.84 blocked shots-per-60, third with an average of 1.22 takeaways-per-60, eighth with an average of 4.47 blocked shots-per-60, and second with an average of 0.40 giveaways-per-60.
In Washington, Richardson would most likely serve as the 13th forward but could be useful when needed as he is mostly a shutdown forward.
Richardson only makes $1 million this season before becoming eligible for unrestricted free agency, so the Capitals would not have to clear much money to make room for an acquisition like him.
Cody Eakin – Buffalo Sabres
The 29-year-old has had a rough regular season as has the rest of his team as he has recorded just one goal, four points, a -9 rating, a 41.99% Corsi-for percentage, a 35.91% expected goals-for percentage, and a 34.47% scoring chances-for percentage.
Eakin has had a few productive offensive seasons as he recorded 22 goals and 41 points in 78 games with the Golden Knights during the 2018-19 season, 19 goals and 40 points in 78 games with the Dallas Stars in 82 games during his 2014-15, and a couple of 16-goal, 35-point seasons with the Stars in 2013-14 and 2015-16.
Eakin, who averages 1:43 of penalty-killing ice time per game (third among Sabres forwards), would likely slot in on the third or fourth-line in Washington, who drafted him 85th overall in 2009. In 2012, the Capitals traded Eakin (along with a second-round pick) to the Stars for center Mike Ribeiro. He played just 30 games for the Capitals in 2011-12, his rookie season.
Eakin makes $2.25 million this season and next before he is eligible for unrestricted free agency, which would require a move by the Capitals.
Photo: Tableau Public
Ryan Dzingel – Ottawa Senators
The 29-year-old has recorded seven goals, 10 goals, a -1 rating, a 50.73% Corsi-for percentage, a 48.53% expected goals-for percentage, and a 46.84% scoring chances-for percentage this season. Dzingel will be eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season.
Dzingel had three straight seasons with at least 14 goals and 32 points before notching just eight goals and 29 points in 64 games with the Carolina Hurricanes last season. The Hurricanes traded him to the Senators for centers Cedric Paquette and Alex Galchenyuk on February 13.
Dzingel, who has averaged 1:41 on the power play this season, would likely slot on the third-line with the Capitals but could move up the lineup.
The Capitals would likely have to make at least one move to accommodate Dzingel’s $3.375 million cap hit through the end of the season.
By Harrison Brown