Five Potential Trades To Upgrade Capitals’ Defense

Photo: Sportsnet

After a third consecutive first-round exit in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, change is almost certainly coming to the Washington Capitals as they had the NHL’s oldest roster this past season.

While the Capitals are likely to call up a player or two from Hershey — defenseman Martin Fehervary and possibly center Connor McMichael could make the jump to the NHL roster, the Capitals could benefit from looking outside the organization to bring in younger players on cheaper contracts as they have just $9,491,667 left in cap space to re-sign captain Alex Ovechkin and goalie Ilya Samsonov.

One area where they could look for change is on defense after the blueline has arguably underperformed over the past three seasons, where they have averaged 3.00 goals-against per game. NoVa Caps analyzes five potential trades that would help the Capitals get younger, better, and have more cap flexibility.

The Capitals‘ top-pairing of Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson appears set after a strong season from Orlov and with Carlson not likely going anywhere. Nick Jensen had a solid season so the two defensemen who might be in the mix are Brenden Dillon, who carries a $3.9 million cap hit through 2023-24, and Justin Schultz, who counts $4 million against the salary cap through next season.

Colin Miller – Buffalo Sabres

With center Jack Eichel and forward Sam Reinhart on the block in Buffalo and likely to be traded in a matter of weeks, the Sabres may be likely to listen to offers for Miller. The 28-year-old right-hander has not fit in as well with the Sabres as he did with the Vegas Golden Knights from 2017-19, where he recorded 13 goals, 70 points, and a -4 rating in 147 games.

Miller is coming off of a season where he recorded four goals, 12 points, a -20 rating, a 48.56% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 44.82% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 45.34% five-on-five scoring-chances for percentage. While those are anything but solid, Miller was on a Sabres team that finished last in the NHL with 37 points and tied for 29th with an average of 3.50 goals-against per game.

Miller, who carries a $3.875 million cap hit in 2021-22 before becoming eligible for unrestricted free agency, is known for his heavy shot and has had offensive success in the past as he scored 10 goals and 41 points in 82 games with the Golden Knights in 2017-18.

Miller finished the season with 91 hits, 51 blocked shots, 25 giveaways, 14 takeaways, and a 48.5% shot-attempts percentage while averaging 18:00 per game, including 58 seconds on the power play and 50 on the penalty kill.

Potential Trade: Schultz for Miller + Sabres’ 2022 fifth-round pick

Comparison: Natural StatTrick

Markus Nutivaara – Florida Panthers

In 30 games during his first season with the Florida Panthers, the 27-year-old had 10 assists, a +1 rating, a 54.69% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 54.76% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 55.85% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage.

Nutivaara carries a $2.7 million cap hit in 2021-22 before becoming eligible for unrestricted free agency. He has steadily improved his defensive play over the past three seasons. Nutivaara missed time this season due to an upper-body injury this past season and had an injury-plagued 2019-20 season with the Columbus Blue Jackets but played in at least 61 games in each of his first three NHL seasons.

The best season of Nutivaara’s career came in 2017-18 with the Blue Jackets, where he set career-highs in goals (seven), points (23), and plus-minus (+13). He tied his career-high with 16 assists also set the following season.

While averaging 15:59 per game, including 30 seconds on the power play and 19 on the penalty kill, Nutivaara tallied 35 hits, 13 blocked shots, 11 giveaways, eight takeaways, and a 55.1% shot-attempts for percentage.

As a bonus, Schultz would fit in perfectly with the Panthers’ system of being a high-risk team as an offensive defenseman with defensive deficiencies.

Photo: Natural StatTrick

Potential Trade: Schultz for Nutivaara + Panthers’ 2022 fourth-round pick

Connor Murphy – Chicago Blackhawks

The 28-year-old posted three goals, 15 points, a +1 rating, a 47.6% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 47.13% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 45.22% scoring-chances for percentage in 50 games this season but was on a team that finished with an average of 3.29 goals-against per game (tied for 24th).

Murphy makes $3.85 million against the salary cap through this upcoming season. He has made strides with his offensive game over the years while consistently being near the top defensively.

Unlike Schultz, Murphy has not been as successful offensively throughout his NHL career as he set a career-high in points (19) in 58 games during the 2019-20 season when he came one shy of his career-high in goals with five and assists with 14 that season too.

While averaging 22:09 of ice time per game this past season, including a team-high 2:45 on the penalty kill and just eight seconds on the power play, Murphy posted 102 hits, a Blackhawks-high 123 blocked shots, 37 giveaways, and 10 takeaways.

Potential Trade: Schultz for Murphy + Vegas Golden Knights’ 2022 third-round pick

Photo: Natural StatTrick

Josh Manson – Anaheim Ducks

In 23 games this past season, the 29-year-old recorded one goal, seven points, a -3 rating, a 41.28% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 38.24% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 40.98% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage but was injured for a majority of it. He struggled but in his defense, the Ducks ranked 23rd in goals-against (3.16 per game).

When the Ducks were having success before their downturn, Manson had success as you can see in the chart below but fell off when the team was getting older and defense core started to deteriorate. Perhaps, a change of scenery would benefit Manson.

Photo: Natural StatTrick

The best season of Manson’s career came in 2017-18, when he finished with career-highs in goals (seven), assists (30), points (37), and plus-minus (+34), which was tied for the third-best in the NHL that year.

The 6’3″ defenseman would fit into the Capitals’ system as a big body who can throw his weight around as he had 61 hits this season despite playing just 23 games. While averaging 17:59 per game this season, including 2:35 on the penalty kill, Manson tallied 31 blocked shots, 13 giveaways, six takeaways, and a 41.1% shot-attempts percentage.

Photo: Natural StatTrick

Potential Trade: Schultz + Capitals’ 2023 fourth-round pick for Manson

Vince Dunn – St. Louis Blues

 

The 24-year-old posted six goals, 20 points, a -8 rating, a 49.35% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 45.04% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 47.69% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 43 games this season. Dunn has been on the trade block since last offseason.

Dunn can become a restricted free agent on July 28 and could get a short-term contract with around $3 million on his next deal. He has continued to improve defensively while his offense took a hit this past season. Dunn hit at least five goals and 20 points, respectively, in each of his first four NHL seasons.

The best season of his career came in 2018-19, when he put up 12 goals, 35 points, and a +14 rating in 78 games.

Photo: Natural StatTrick

While averaging 19:15 per game this past season, including 1:42 on the power play, Dunn was credited with 36 hits, 51 blocked shots, 26 giveaways, and 10 giveaways. With the Capitals in need of getting younger, Dunn fits the bill perfectly as he is under-25.

Potential Trade: Dillon + 2023 Capitals’ third-round pick + 2021 Capitals’ sixth-round pick for Dunn

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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2 Responses to Five Potential Trades To Upgrade Capitals’ Defense

  1. Anonymous says:

    Caps net to cut age and space space, so this is addressing the right issues. The trades are not over-appealing, but maybe there aren’t a lot of options?

    • Harrison Brown says:

      You saw Schultz’s card. I don’t think we can get a Norris caliber dman in return.

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