Considering The Capitals’ “Buy/Sell” Decisions Approaching The 2023 NHL Trade Deadline

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

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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20 Responses to Considering The Capitals’ “Buy/Sell” Decisions Approaching The 2023 NHL Trade Deadline

  1. Anonymous says:

    “Fielding” a competitive team, developing prospects and and keeping the superstars is an extreme balancing act. Once you toss a few injuries in there, it’s chaos.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Sell sell sell!

    • Anonymous says:

      Plenty of changes coming, I predict. I mean, unless Caps have an honest shot at postseason (and anything can happen in postseason) I don’t see why they wouldn’t trade Eller. They can get something from him.

  3. Jon Sorensen says:

    An additional notion to consider. A big “sell off” and restructuring of the roster could actually give Ovechkin his best chance at winning another cup before retirement. There is still time. It’s not necessarily “reload” and try for more playoffs, or “rebuild” and develop players in Ovechkin’s final seasons.

  4. hockeydruid says:

    From what I read into the GMs’ statement is they are more interested in getting Ovie a record than in actually fielding a winning team. From my position they first need to address who is going to be the HC next year and do you keep an average GM? Since a rebuild is either here or on the way why not replace some parts with younger players while retaining ALL their picks and maybe picking up a few along the way. Honestly I like Ovie but if the most important thing is a record then the owner has to big an ego and fails to realize that the ultimate prize is a CUP not individual records or awards. Reload, Rebuild, Retool as basically are the same thing…..moving out players for others. Sad to say but this summer is going to play a large part in what they do with 14 UFA/RFA on the roster they can not retain them all and many of the “cheap” players on the roster will be wanting raises. Orlov is probably gone as a UFA, Backy should retire, Eller gone after this year, Jensen could also be gone as a UFA. Thats a lot of money removed from the salary cap but they have to replace them and are there the guys in Hershey to do that? Or do they trade an Oshie or Kuzy who after this year still have 2 years on their contract and take what they can get? Also Wilson will be up for a new contract after next season and Im sure he will want a raise. Sometimes you just cant keep the band together and sometimes you are better off trading pieces while they still have value and retool along the way, like you do with your car in changing the oil, getting new tires and other things rather than buying a new one!

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      I, for one, appreciate your analogy at the end there, Druid. I may have to use that. 😁👊

    • dwgie26 says:

      I don’t know that I agree with much of that. I’ll go back to what Jon said, which is “First and foremost, hockey is a business.”. I don’t think most fans truly understand that. Winning (and being competitive, which we are) is good for business. Building a great culture for players is good for business. Serving those who pay for tickets and spend money at the areana is good for business. Rebuilds empty the arena quickly and builds friction with fan base.

      Sure, HC for sure has to be evaluated. I like Lavi, but he hasn’t gotten past the first round. Lots of circumstances so I really think it comes down to what OV wants. Does he want to endure a coaching change or stick with consistency. I would like to move Eller, but I don’t think they can because there are no 3C options on roster while remaining competitive. Maybe after 10-12 weeks of AHL, CMM is ready to take that role but that is not clear yet. Orlov is a lock to resign as he is part of the OV connection. Same with Wilson. Trading him is just crazy talk.

      To me, players that can be moved, and reasonable replaced during this season while remaining competitive: Mantha (time to just move on) as he has value, and good metrics but doesn’t fit. Snively easily replaces his 3rd line role. Hathaway. Love him, but there is a big market for a guy like that at trade deadline and he can be replaced by Ethan Frank, Rybinski, or NAK if still in org. If clearly out of playoffs, I’d move Jensen because he’ll get paid next year. Same for Sheary. I’d explore a re-sign for Sheary before deadline and if you can’t then move him.

      One thing for sure. These moves are complex and have consequences far beyond trying to move names around a board.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Some teams are in a perpetual rebuild

  6. Pepê says:

    Gotta move a few pending UFAs need to see what you have in Alexeyev, Johansen and to an extent McMicheal. I’d like to see Strome resigned he and Ovi seem to play fairly well together. Can trade MoJo/Sheary/Eller but who other than McMicheal would get called up who do you call up? Maybe Lapierre? Honestly would Lav give him ice time, doubtful.

  7. Anonymous says:

    They need to figure out who they can extend before deadline. Should also have Beck and Wilson back and more info on Nick. That makes more players expendable. Issue is can the extend any of the desirable FAs like Orlov, Milano, TVR and Jensen before deadline.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Must not resign and forward 30 years or older. Backy will retire. You keep oshie and kuzzy while they are signed unless you get a great offer you can not refused. Trade carlson even if you got to pay 50% of his ridiculous high salary. I would re sign orlav and jenson,

  9. GRin430 says:

    If the Caps are not going to make the playoffs, then they definitely need to be in sell mode. They should know well before March 3. By then they will be as healthy as they are going to get this year, and if they aren’t within a few points of a playoff spot, it’s time to get longer term value in exchange for giving another team “the last missing piece they need to win a Cup” (not that I believe Lars Eller is that piece, but some GM might believe that… Orlov, on the other hand, might actually be the final piece for somebody).

    Having a solid, veteran 3rd line C, or even a top-pair defender on an expiring contract, is of no particular value to a team playing out the string. Moreover, there are plenty of us in the fan base who would rather the franchise see what they really have in the system than have them keep playing vets in meaningless games.

    If they aren’t going to be in the playoffs, they need to get what they can for any/all of the UFAs on the roster, including Orlov. Trading Orlov before the deadline does not mean he won’t/can’t come back next year. He’ll be a free agent… if he wants to re-sign with the Caps next year, he’ll do it whether or not they trade him this year. Same for any of them.

    Any value they can get for a player that they could sign back again over the summer is free goods, and they need to take as much free stuff as they can get, even if they lose a few additional games this year. If they aren’t going to play for the Cup this year, then they need to evaluate what the kids in the system can do in NHL games, and even if they see that those kids aren’t good enough players, they should play them anyway. Losing games means more ping-pong balls in a draft that is reportedly very strong at the top this year.

    As to the vets who aren’t on expiring contracts, I’ve indicated in other posts that I’d listen to offers for anybody except Ovechkin and Wilson. They are really the only 2 irreplaceable players left on the roster (Backstrom is a special case and isn’t going anywhere anyway …if he can come back this year and show he’s the player he was before his hip failed, then he shouldn’t/won’t be traded… if he can’t, nobody would trade for him anyway, particularly with $9.2M/yr for 2 years left on his contract). If somebody is willing to overpay in picks/ prospects/young NHL players with upside in exchange for a good — or even very good but flawed — player that the Caps could likely replace for less annual cap hit, I’d take it, because it’s the best way to quickly re-stock, if not rebuild.

    Okay, now I’ll duck from the incoming…

    • Anonymous says:

      I actually agree with most of what you are saying. I guess we both step back and wait for the flames.

      • dwgie26 says:

        Haha. No flames. I appreciate the opinions. I’m just on the opposite side of it. Looking at the whole picture of the business is where my mind goes. I am sure BMAC is looking at all kinds of options. He is a very active GM but that doesn’t mean he pulls the trigger on everything either.

        I don’t have an issue selling off expiring contracts, but not Orlov. Would you let your wife go on a date with someone else just to renew vowels? Plenty of others go first including Jensen and Hathaway. I’d move Mantha for sure. In March if we are out, then move Eller and let CMM/Lapierre play out the season. But even if we go aggressive sell, probably won’t be more than 3 players. And those three will be where they can get the best value.

  10. Richard says:

    I wonder how much they take into account how Hershey is doing. A full March sell off drastically would impact them and the kind of playoff run they can have. Obviously caps come first, but seems like they have to make sure to not decimate Hershey to maintain a good partnership.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      It has to be considered, Richard. I don’t see anything of that nature happening. It wouldn’t be a good move for either team.

    • BrianB says:

      Like Jon said, I hope that is considered, especially if the Bears are still cooking like they are now in March. A lot to consider and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

  11. novafyre says:

    Ahh, the business of hockey. Bally Sports actually has short segments on that and I wish NBCSW would do some.

    Tickets are always mentioned as income but a lot of us watch on tv or listen on radio. So Caps are getting money from us via ads and national tv contracts with the NHL. Caps also earn money via merchandise. To me, young exciting hot guns could sell more merchandise than uninspiring vets. I don’t know how advertisers would feel.

    Jon, any info available on just how a team’s income breaks out? What income does suffer on a rebuild? And I would think that Ovi chasing all his records would certainly be an income wild card that most rebuilding teams would not have.

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