The NHL’s annual trade deadline is scheduled for March 3, 2023. While the deadline may seem a ways off, teams will need to begin assessing and finalizing their overarching strategy for the deadline well in advance.
The Capitals could conceivably go in either direction (buy or sell), or even sit still or play the middle of the road, at this years deadline. Unfortunately, a number of the integral factors to deciding a sound strategy for the deadline are very much unknown at this point, and a timeline for determining those factors is very much still up in the air.
The Capitals are obviously in a tough spot, as key injuries and the lack of firm, projected return dates for injured players has left everything status-quo with regards to establishing any firm plans for the trade deadline and the remainder of the season. Unfortunately, the “wait and see” philosophy has an approaching deadline of March 3.
The Capitals will have seven forwards and six defensemen become free agents at the end of the season. If they don’t plan to re-sign any of those players, the trade deadline is the last chance to get any kind of return/value (prospects, draft picks, etc.) for those players before they “freely” leave at the end of the season, sans any kind of return.
As a result, the Capitals are approaching a huge turning point in the organizations 44+ year history. A lot could change between now, the trade deadline and opening night next season. A lot.
NHL hockey is a business, first and foremost. If a team or a league isn’t making money, it doesn’t exist for very long. Selling tickets and presenting an appealing product on and off the ice is a big part of any team’s financial formula.
As a result, selling-off all aging veterans and calling up the Hershey Bears and all prospects isn’t really a viable strategy. In addition, the Capitals are (rightfully) committed to having Alex Ovechkin finish his career in the District, and committed to rostering a competitive team in the process.
“Our franchise wants him (Ovechkin) to finish his career with us,” Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan told The Athletics’ Pierre Lebrun back in mid-October. “The guy is chasing Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky. Why would we let him walk away and do it somewhere else?” said MacLellan.
“So it kind of sets the direction of your franchise once you do that. Because you’re committing to him to finish his career, and he has some individual goals, but you have to have a competitive team if you’re doing that,” added MacLellan.
“We’re kind of at a turning point in the organization. We’ve had a core that’s won. We’ve stuck with the core. We’ve surrounded them with what we feel are good players,” said MacLellan. “This year will dictate a lot of the decisions we make going forward.”
It’s fairly apparent that Macallean has an overarching vision for the team in place for the remainder of Ovechkin’s career, but the “devil is in the details” – the wide range of decisions that need to be made in supporting that vision. The first set of big decisions is rapidly approaching.
It would make sense that the Capitals make key decisions regarding this year’s roster moves (or non-moves) within the next four-to-eight weeks. That will give them a little more time to see if this years team has any chance at playing in the postseason, as well as provide enough time to begin setting up the best trades/moves for the roster in the time leading up to the NHL trade deadline.
By Jon Sorensen