Defensive Trade Targets: Candidate Tiers For Defensemen The Capitals Could Acquire At The Trade Deadline

Photos: Getty Images/USA Today

Halfway through the month of January, we can start getting a clearer picture of the teams that are going to be willing to sell NHL roster players at the NHL Trade Deadline on March 3rd. With the standings picture a bit clearer in terms of who will be buyers and sellers, the trade market for players — especially those on expiring contracts — will be set.
Historically, the Washington Capitals have shown a propensity to acquire defensemen at the trade deadline, and with a deep forward group that effectively has no room for a new acquisition, defense is more than likely going to be the position group targeted for an upgrade at the 2023 deadline.


In terms of cap and roster space, the trade picture becomes a bit more complicated for the Capitals. With John Carlson on the shelf “long-term”, the Capitals currently have $5,002,117 in cap space (via CapFriendly). The complication comes into play with the uncertainty of just how long Carlson will be out of the lineup and on the long-term injury list.

If the Capitals activated Carlson and sent Matt Irwin through the waiver wire and potentially to the AHL, the Capitals are still over the salary cap ceiling by $221,667 and would have a full 23-man roster. That predicament would mean that the Capitals would need to free-up considerable cap space if there’s even a chance that Carlson returns prior to the regular season ending, if they’re looking to add a difference maker on the blue line.


Before we step into the tiers of potential trade targets on the blue line, let’s check out how the Capitals’ defensemen are performing in terms of Goals Above Replacement (GAR) via Evolving Hockey. [If you’d like to learn more about GAR and other advanced statistics, please check out our NHL Analytics Glossary.]

The top five defensemen in Gustafsson, Jensen, van Riemsdyk, Fehervary, and Orlov are performing at a solid clip. They’re all above the replacement watermark that GAR measures against, which means they’re not as easy to replace.

The issue for the Capitals is, whether Carlson is out of the lineup or playing, he’s performing at a below-replacement level, and so is Matt Irwin. In fact, Carlson’s -1 GAR is by far the lowest in the last five seasons of his career, where he posted 19.2 in 2018-19, 7.6 in 2019-20, 6.4 in 2020-21, and 6.3 in 2021-22. The Capitals could use an upgrade on the blue line to help bridge the gap there.

It’s unrealistic to expect that Carlson will be out of the lineup when he’s healthy. The issue is, if another defenseman were to get injured on the stretch run or in the playoffs, the Capitals lack experienced depth that drive positive GAR value. The Capitals could surely use an upgrade on the blue line in the mean time as well.


Tier 1 includes players that will very likely stay in the lineup when Carlson returns. They’re high-performing players that can help the Capitals get better on the blue line.

Shayne Gostisbehere – Arizona Coyotes

The former Philadelphia Flyer has had a really strong 2022-23 season, posting 9 goals and 19 assists for the Coyotes. He has posted a 6.7 GAR so far this season, which would slot him in at second on the Capitals if he were to join the team today. The issue in acquiring Gostisbehere would be his $4.5M cap hit. The Coyotes could retain 50% of his salary, but the Capitals would still have to move a contract to make the money work if Carlson were to return. Gostisbehere would add another offensive defenseman to the mix, which could help the power play.

Jake Walman – Detroit Red Wings

Walman is posting career-best marks in GAR, with 5.4. He’s had an immense turnaround after posting a -6.8 GAR last season and a -4.8 GAR in 2020-21. Walman is only 26, and could potentially be a player that the Capitals try to keep around for the future, considering Carlson is only signed to a contract past this season. Walman has 5 goals and 3 assists in 26 games played this season. Walman carries a cap hit of $1.05M, which might be a bit more palatable for the Capitals.


Tier 2 includes players that are likely to stay in the lineup when Carlson returns from injury. They’re likely second or third pairing players as the roster stands, but could be relegated to a depth role if Carlson returns during the season.

Kevin Shattenkirk – Anaheim Ducks

This would be a blast from the past. Since the last time the Capitals acquired Shattenkirk at the trade deadline didn’t exactly pan out as hoped, it’d be really surprising to see the Capitals go after him, again. But, Shattenkirk has performed well in Anaheim, posting a 3.2 GAR this season and 6.6 GAR last season. Shattenkirk carries a $3.9M cap hit.

Olli Maatta – Detroit Red Wings

Maatta is a solid defenseman whose value is driven mainly by his even-strength defense. He has posted a 2.8 GAR so far this season, and would be a solid option for the third pairing, or potentially a solid partner for Carlson if/when he returns to the lineup. Maatta has posted 4 goals and 11 assists in 38 games played this season. He carries a $2.25M cap hit.

Jarred Tinordi – Chicago Blackhawks

Tinordi is another defenseman on this list that is performing at a career-high rate in GAR. So far this season, he has posted 2.5 GAR, with a solid 3.1 defensive GAR this season on a woeful Chicago team. Tinordi is pretty much solely a defensive defenseman, posting -0.9 offensive GAR this season. Tinordi carries a $900k cap hit, which is very affordable for the Caps.

Lawrence Pilut – Buffalo Sabres

Pilut doesn’t have a large sample size in terms of experience in the NHL, even at 27 years of age. He has only 63 games played in his career, including 17 this season. That being said, Pilut has a solid 1.9 GAR this season in Buffalo. He’s relatively balanced in terms of style of play, posting 0.2 offensive GAR and 0.8 defensive GAR. He also stays out of the penalty box, with zero penalty minutes so far this season. Pilut has a goal and two assists in 17 games played this season and carries a cap hit of $750,000.


These are players that have some value, but are likely not going to stay in the lineup when Carlson returns from injury. They should perform decently when they are in the lineup, but would be useful in the case of more injuries, or injuries in the playoffs.

Nathan Beaulieu – Anaheim Ducks

Beaulieu is an above replacement level defenseman, posting 1.1 GAR in 22 games this season. He’s offensively focused, with his only positive GAR value being offensive GAR, at 1.8. The Capitals could use some depth in the offensive defenseman role since Gustafsson is effectively the only offensively focused defenseman in the Capitals lineup with Carlson out. Beaulieu has 3 assists in 22 games this season and carries a cap hit of $850k.

Scott Harrington – San Jose Sharks

Harrington is another defenseman whose sole value in GAR is their offensive GAR. He’s sitting at 0.9 GAR this season, and he’s posting 1.2 offensive GAR. Harrington would be similar to Beaulieu here, could just add some offensive defensive depth. Harrington has a goal and 5 assists in 16 games played this season. He carries a cap hit of $750k.

Nick Holden – Ottawa Senators

Holden is an absolute black hole offensively (-1.7 GAR), but really solid defensively (2.1 GAR). His total GAR value sits at 0.6, largely because of his lack of offensive value, but the Capitals surely wouldn’t mind an above-replacement level defensively focused defenseman who is above replacement level on the penalty kill. Holden carries a $1.3M cap hit.

Justin Braun – Philadelphia Flyers

Braun is another defenseman who has abysmal offensive value (-1.6), but is rather solid defensively (1.5 GAR). With that offset, Braun is sitting at 0.1 GAR this season, which narrowly puts him above replacement level. Braun could be valuable because he’s a right handed defenseman. With Carlson out of the lineup, the Capitals only have two right handed defensemen in the lineup (Jensen and van Riemsdyk). The balance of right and left shots on defense is valuable to NHL teams. Braun carries a $1M cap hit.


The Capitals’ trade deadline strategy really hinges on John Carlson’s health and ultimately when he can return to the lineup. Once he’s deemed healthy enough to play, he has to be activated off of the long-term injury list.

As it stands, if Carlson is likely to return to the lineup before the end of the regular season, the Capitals need to clear cap space to be cap compliant when Carlson exits the long-term injured list. The Caps have a couple of contracts they could trade, such as Lars Eller’s expiring $3.5M cap hit or Anthony Mantha’s $5.7M contract, to offer a bit more flexibility in acquiring players at the deadline.

If the Capitals are expecting Carlson to be back during the season, it’s likely General Manager Brian MacLellan will acquire a depth defenseman that’ll cost less to acquire. With the Capitals at the tail-end of their current core’s window, it’s less likely that MacLellan will be as willing to give up high draft picks or top prospects to take the team over the edge.

By Justin Trudel

About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager. Justin enjoys geeking out over advanced analytics, roster construction, and cap management.
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20 Responses to Defensive Trade Targets: Candidate Tiers For Defensemen The Capitals Could Acquire At The Trade Deadline

  1. Luka says:

    Depth defensemen we have plenty, hope Caps do not get rid of middle round picks for some warm bodies. Either trade for first pair defenseman with term or do not trade at all. Half a season gone by and we still do not now much about LuJo or AA or Nardella. Criminal considering next season we have 3-4 open spots on D.

    • Agreed, they need to provide oppportunities for their prospects and like you, hope they do not trade many or any draft picks. They will need them in the not-too-distant future.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      I think we have a good idea regarding Johansen. He’s a fringe player at best. Alexeyev is getting occasional games to get in some experience, but he’s definitely not ready for a full time roll. Maybe next year. Nardella is one we haven’t seen, but he’s been dealing with an injury and really not ready for any kind of look by the Capitals.

    • I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said here. I’m wondering if MacLellan is going to be interested in getting a defenseman with term considering Carlson is the only one in the group with term remaining on his contract. On one hand, you get the security knowing that you’ll have Carlson plus the new acquisition. On the other hand, you’ll have a lot more flexibility in free agency to build out the pieces on the blue line.

      The other piece is, acquiring a true top pairing defenseman is going to cost picks and prospects. We’re at the point in the lifecycle of the team’s core where parting with firsts or seconds plus prospects is essentially going to make the impending rebuild even longer. If it means another Cup, sure. If you come up short, then you’re looking at an extended rebuild when this core moves on.

      Really just depends on what the front office sees in the younger guys like AA, Johansen, and Nardella. There’s also Gabriel Carlsson and Vinny Iorio in the AHL who are on the fringe too.

      • KimRB says:

        I think Iorio needs to marinate in Hershey some more. Maybe till the end of next year. You can see the talent there, but he’s very raw. For every good thing he does, he pulls a boner.

        Carlsson is 26, and will probably never be more than a defensive defenseman. Doesn’t seem his offensive game will ever come around, and that may not translate to an NHL career

  2. Anonymous says:

    We definitely need to add a blue liner and quick.

  3. KimRB says:


    He probably should be listed

  4. hockeydruid says:

    Trade? Unless you can get one of those players for Mantha and Eller there should be NO TRADE! This team is what it is a marginal playoff team and why lose assets from Hershey or worse picks just to make a trade to lose again in the first round. Use the capital that they have to either resign aplayer or wait until after the season and they have secured a good draft pick then trade players. This team is not and should not be a buyer but is a seller! With a lame duck HC and 13 UFA’s or RFA’s for next season and the window for winning a Cup closed on this group it is time to start the rebuild. To be honest it is not a pleasure to see them make the playoffs only to fall on their faces in the first round. Now is the chance to dump salary and get younger and rebuild so that in 3 or 4 years this team can make a run at the Cup!.

  5. Anonymous says:

    What this list tells me is that the GM should be working on extending Orlov and possibly one of Jensen or TVR.

    • Anonymous says:

      Both Jensen and TVR should be resigned for 2-3 years each. If Orlov takes a team deal he should stay, but he’s played lots of hard minutes and the injuries are creeping back in. However, the pending UFA class of LD is thin.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Klingberg will be too costly.

    Shattenkirk is a perfect fit: Caps need a right handed PP QB, which he did well last time around. As long as he’s protected, and not asked to be what he’s not (#1 D), then he’d be fine; and TVR can slide to the left if/when Carlson returns.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Any thoughts on making a move on Erik Karlsson? Haven’t put much thought into the cost or if it would just curious if it’d work.

  8. Lance says:

    The Caps are in fairyland regarding a playoff run. Fairyland is fun! But the Caps should mostly be sellers. What could we get for Orlov? Jensen? Eller? Strome? I’d love to re-sign Orlov for 3 years. But he might ask for too much $$$ and term. I think there’s a way to add youth and draft picks and still give yourself a longshot chance in the playoffs.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Orlov has been a monster lately. To me,men’s improved each of the last 3-4 seasons, looking forward to seeing where he tops out. I don’t think we’ve seen it yet.

  9. Jerry Levine says:

    Given Carlson’s GAR, age, and salary the trade deadline would be a good time to trade him. He is not a defensive defenseman.and cost them the playoff series against the Panthers.. Caps could use the cap space to /obtain another offensive defenseman such as Shayne Gostisbehere and have dollars left over for the D-men whose contracts are up.

  10. dwgie26 says:

    A couple of weeks ago I was in the get RHD camp. I have softened, but if there is a good value with a traded player going out, then I would do that. But I’d like to see if Alexyev can fill that void, get his NHL game matured, and can be used in playoffs if needed.

    I think Luke Schenn would be a good, cheap add. Has some playoff experience, low cap hit, and can probably be had for relatively cheap. And he can sit at 7th dee when JC74 comes back.

  11. Anonymous says:

    This list is frustratingly difficult to consider given that the players are not clearly listed as LD or RD. Laviolette generally doesn’t like using D on their offside.

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