Photo: Photo by Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images
The Fourth Period’s David Pagnotta came up with his top-35 candidates to be dealt before the NHL Trade Deadline, which is four weeks from Monday. The Washington Capitals were linked to one goalie and three forwards.
As has been known for weeks, the team is still interested in Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who is 16-18-4 with a .912 save percentage, a 2.80 goals-against average, and four shutouts this season after winning the Vezina Trophy with the Vegas Golden Knights last campaign. The 37-year-old is 508-294-84 with a .913 save percentage, a 2.56 goals-against average, and 71 shutouts in 921 career regular-season games with the Blackhawks, Golden Knights, and Pittsburgh Penguins.
In 162 career Stanley Cup Playoffs, the 2003 first overall pick is 90-70 with a .912 save percentage, a 2.53 goals-against average, and 16 shutouts. Fleury faced the Capitals in the postseason twice with the Penguins (both in the second-round; 2009, 2017) and once in the Stanley Cup Final (with the Golden Knights in 2018). Fleury helped the Penguins win both of those series in seven games.
Because of his past history against the franchise and the fact that Pittsburgh remains in his heart, Fleury has been hesitant to waive his no-movement clause to come to Washington despite numerous attempts by the Capitals to acquire him. He has one year left on his contract that pays him $7 million per season.
The forwards Pagnotta linked the Capitals to included Winnipeg Jets center Andrew Copp (who has 12 goals, 28 points, and a 53.85% faceoff-winning percentage in 47 games this season and 73 goals and 177 points in 458 career regular-season games), Seattle Kraken right-wing Calle Jarnkrok (10 goals, 20 points in 40 games this season and 104 goals and 231 points in 548 career regular-season games with the Kraken and Nashville Predators), and Montreal Canadiens left-wing Arturri Lehkonen (seven goals, 20 points in 48 games this season and 68 goals and 140 points in 386 career regular-season games).
Before this season, Jarnkrok, who carries a team-friendly $2 million cap hit for the rest of this season and is 30-years-old, reached the double-digit-goal plateau in each of the past six seasons (hitting 15 in four of them) and 30-point plateau four times over that span with the Predators. He can also play center and hails from Gavle, Sweden, Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom’s hometown.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman recently reported that the Capitals were eying the Kraken and Vancouver Canucks as possible trade partners to improve their forward group.
Lehkonen, 26, comes with a $2.3 million cap hit for the remainder of the season before he can become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. Before scoring seven goals in each of the past two seasons, Lehkonen hit at least 11 goals in each of his first four NHL seasons.
Copp, 27, set career-highs in goals (15), assists (24), and points (39) in 55 games last season and has scored at least nine goals in six straight campaigns and 10 in four straight. He has also won nearly 52% of the faceoffs he has taken in each of the past six seasons. Copp comes with a $3.64 million cap hit before becoming eligible for unrestricted free agency on July 17.
The Capitals have had goaltending issues this season even though their .9256 five-on-five save percentage ranks seventh in the NHL. Vitek Vanecek won the starter’s job out of training cap and started the season with a .946 save percentage and a 1.30 goals-against average in his first three games but coughed it up after going 2-2-3 with an .897 save percentage and a 2.87 goals-against average in his next seven. Ilya Samsonov appeared to take the starter’s crease when he went 7-1-0 with a .929 save percentage and a 2.11 goals-against average over the next 11 games but went 2-3-2 with an .875 save percentage and a 3.46 goals-against average in his next seven. Zach Fucale even got a chance to take the reigns after going 2-0-1 with a .980 save percentage and a 0.42 goals-against average in his first three career NHL starts, including a shutout in his first one on November 11 in Detroit, but got reassigned to the AHL’s Hershey Bears after getting pulled 27:53 into a 7-3 loss to the Boston Bruins on January 10, when he allowed four goals on 16 shots, and has not played since.
Vanecek reclaimed the starter’s job as he is 5-3-0 with a .925 save percentage, a 2.21 goals-against average, and two shutouts since December 16 but has not played since suffering an upper-body injury in the first period of a 4-3 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 1. Samsonov has gone 4-2-0 with a .917 save percentage and a 3.03 goals-against average since Vanecek, who practiced with the Capitals on Tuesday, went down. The Capitals have not had a true No. 1 goaltender they could look up to since Philipp Grubauer was traded to the Colorado Avalanche after winning the Stanley Cup in 2018 and need one as they try to salvage one of their final runs with their current core.
While Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller, and Nic Dowd make up one of the league’s best center depth, each one has missed time this season due to COVID-19 and injury. Prospects such as Connor McMichael and Aliaksei Protas have performed well in their rookie seasons, but the Capitals may prefer them on the wing where there is less pressure to be as stout defensively. Backstrom and Kuznetsov both missed time during the last two Stanley Cup Playoff tournaments (and Backstrom played through a hip injury in 2021), where the Capitals have gone 2-8.
In addition, top-six forwards Anthony Mantha and T.J. Oshie have missed 42 and 34 games, respectively, this season and neither have a set timetable though both have started practicing with the team. Mantha has not taken contact and will not travel on the Capitals’ upcoming two-game road trip but Oshie did on Tuesday.
The Capitals currently have $1,913,334 in NHL salary cap space with Mantha on long-term injured reserve.
By Harrison Brown