Trade Grades: Evaluating The Capitals Trades Prior To The 2023 NHL Trade Deadline

Following a white-hot month of December, the Washington Capitals entered the new year by erasing the ground they made up in the playoff race. Since January 1st, the Capitals are the second-worst team in the NHL in standings points, just edging out the Vancouver Canucks after the overtime victory against the Anaheim Ducks Wednesday night.

In the weeks leading up to the trade deadline, it appeared that the Caps and General Manager Brian MacLellan were teetering on the edge of buying or selling assets. After suffering five straight losses from February 12th through February 21st, the decision to sell was clearly made.

In this post, we’re going to grade the trades that MacLellan has made leading up to the trade deadline. We will also take a look at the big picture regarding roster construction and the salary cap situation the Caps will have to work with to complete the roster retool. Salary cap and contract information are via CapFriendly.


Garnet Hathaway and Dmitry Orlov (50% salary retained) to the Boston Bruins for Craig Smith, Boston’s 2023 1st round pick, 2024 3rd round pick, and 2025 2nd round pick

The first move in selling-off players on expiring contracts was a rather big one: the Caps traded long-time defenseman Dmitry Orlov and beloved fourth liner Garnet Hathaway to the league leading Boston Bruins. In return, the Caps received a nice bounty of draft picks to add to their trade chip pile. In order to make salaries work, the Capitals took back pending unrestricted free agent Craig Smith.

If you look around the league at other defensemen traded at the deadline, Orlov basically cost the Bruins a 1st and a 3rd rounder, and Hathaway netted a second round pick, likely as a sweetener, for taking on Craig Smith’s contract. You might wonder if the Caps could have received a bit better of a return on Hathaway and Orlov if he decided not to package them together.

Grade: B+

Marcus Johansson to the Minnesota Wild for the Wild’s 2024 3rd round pick

After becoming somewhat of a journeyman after being traded to the New Jersey Devils by the Caps before the 2017-18 season (poor MoJo), Johansson put together a solid year, posting 13 goals and 15 assists in 60 games this season. For an expiring asset who’ll likely slot into Minnesota’s middle six forward group, the return is pretty much as expected.

Grade: B

Erik Gustafsson and Boston’s 2023 1st round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Rasmus Sandin

At first glance, some Caps fans might have been concerned that the Caps already turned around and sold the top asset they received from the Boston Bruins when they traded Hathaway and Orlov. But, this is exactly the kind of move that MacLellan should have made; he acquired a 22 year-old, proven NHL defenseman, that’s in need of a bigger role than he was currently getting in Toronto.

Gustafsson had a resurgent year in Washington this season, but the soon-to-be 31 year-old defenseman is going to be looking for a pretty substantial pay raise from his $800k contract this season.

This was a very shrewd move by MacLellan. He capitalized on the reinvigorated Gustafsson and flipped a likely very late first round pick for a former first round pick in Sandin. On top of that, Sandin has another year on his contract at $1.4M, and then he will be a restricted free agent. The Caps get a defenseman that’ll likely be in their top four for at least the rest of the Ovechkin Era.

Grade: A

Lars Eller (31% salary retained) to the Colorado Avalanche for the Avalanche’s 2025 2nd round pick

This is an absolute coup for MacLellan. Getting a second round pick (albeit a few years away) for an aging and less effective Eller is an excellent return. We’ll all remember the two huge goals that Eller scored for the Caps in the 2018 Stanley Cup run, but it was time to move on.

Grade: A+

Looking ahead to the off-season

As MacLellan looks to retool this roster on the fly, look for him to be aggressive on the trade market and in free agency, to plug the gaps in the roster. The Capitals need to get younger NHL-caliber talent on the roster to support the aging veteran group of players.

On top of that, there are some key types of players the Caps should be targeting this off-season. The trade market will likely be the best place to acquire those players, so look for MacLellan to address team needs using the assets gained from selling this season.

The state of the current roster for 2023-24

As it currently stands, the Capitals have 11 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 2 goaltenders from the current NHL roster under contract for next season. With the extensions of Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Nick Jensen, the Caps filled slots in the roster on the fourth line and the second pairing, respectfully. The Capitals need to re-sign Alexander Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary, who are restricted free agents, to secure a young left side of the defensive corps along with Rasmus Sandin.

The Capitals will need to target a right-handed defenseman for the third pairing if they don’t extend Trevor van Riemsdyk or if they think Vinny Iorio needs another year of seasoning in the AHL. There’s another forward slot available in the lineup that the Caps could use on a middle six forward.

Realistically, the Caps need to add two forwards (one for depth) and a right handed defenseman to the roster for next season. After the extensions to Aube-Kubel and Jensen, the Caps will have $10,369,166 in cap space (if the cap ceiling rises to $83.5M). That kind of cap space can be plenty if you’re acquiring younger players on their entry level contract or on an inexpensive second contract.

The question becomes, if you want to make a splash for a more expensive younger player, how do you make the space work? Fehervary will likely command a decent raise from his current cap hit of $791,667.

The Capitals will have to make a decision on Anthony Mantha and his sizable cap hit of $5.7M. This is a tough one. Do you trade him for a middling return like the Detroit Red Wings received from the St Louis Blues for Jakub Vrana? Do you wait it out to see if he performs better? Do you buy him out in the off-season to save $4,333,333 against the cap next season?

Mantha hasn’t performed to expectations since becoming a Capital, so something is bound to happen there. The Capitals need to add more scoring touch to the lineup. The only pure goalscorer on the roster is Ovechkin, and the Caps need more scoring depth to be successful.

[Related: Finishing Form: The Leading Indicator Of The Capitals Lack Of Success In The 2022-23 Season]

Overall, the Caps and MacLellan are entering a key stretch this off-season. There’s a lot of questions facing this lineup in terms of supporting the aging core in hopes of extending the competitive window before the Ovechkin Era ends.

This off-season will likely be MacLellan’s defining legacy as the general manager of the Capitals. If he fails, the Caps will fail hard, and the Caps will likely be looking for a new general manager.

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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42 Responses to Trade Grades: Evaluating The Capitals Trades Prior To The 2023 NHL Trade Deadline

  1. KimRB says:

    I guess Sheary will be here for the rest of the year. Smith too

    • The bright side is if the Caps are interested in re-signing Sheary, they get a few more months to negotiate. I was pretty surprised that Sheary wasn’t moved, though. Figured someone would throw a pick at MacLellan for Sheary to play in their middle six.

  2. Lance says:

    I like what BMac did. Sandin is the kind of D man to bring in. Young with upside. It’s almost impossible to find those guys. We have enough 2nd and 3rd rounders to trade for 2-3 NHLers this summer if we have the Cap space. For goodness’s sake keep the first round picks!

    I can imagine next year’s team being more competitive than this year’s. We could be even worse…but this TDL was a move toward getting younger.

    • I agree, Sandin is likely the mold of player that MacLellan is going to look to add this summer. I don’t have a ton of bones to pick about trading Boston’s first round pick in the package to acquire him, mostly because it’s almost certainly going to be a very late first. Plus, there’s a rather high likelihood that Sandin is going to be better than the prospect selected at that spot in the draft (at least for the next couple years).

      • Jonathan says:

        Even if Sandin does end up being better than the player selected in that draft spot, what is the likelihood that the player the Caps could have drafted in the late 1st Round being better than the combination of players the Caps could/will draft in the 2nd and/or 3rd Rounds? Assuming Toronto was open to the idea, should the Caps have tried to package a combination of 2nd and 3rd Round picks so it could hold onto Boston’s 1st Round pick?

        • KimRB says:

          The Caps have actually done much better drafting in the 2nd and 3rd rounds in the McLellan era:

          2015 1st, Ilya Samsonov, not qualified, mediocre starter in Toronto
          2016 1st, Lucas Johansen, borderline bust
          2018 1st, Alex Alexeyev, fringe NHLer
          2019 and 2020 1st, Connor McMichael and Hendrix Lapierre, neither able to secure NHL roster spot, as yet

          2015 2nd, Jonas Siegenthaler, top 4 D in NJ, voted best defensive D in league
          2018 2nd, Martin Fehervary, established top 4 D on Washington
          2019 3rd Aliaksei Protas, well regarded prospect, with high upside
          2022 3rd Alexander Suzdalev, highly regarded, skilled prospect

          • Anonymous says:

            Great post!

          • Jonathan says:

            It may be true that the Caps historically done better in the 2nd and 3rd Rounds. However, I would think the Caps would have more flexibility in terms of trade value by still having that late 1st Round pick in its back pocket particularly if the Caps don’t love any of the prospects remaining on the board enough to use that pick on him. At least I am not sure the Caps will be able to trade a 2nd or 3rd Round pick if they find themselves in a position where they don’t love any of the remaining prospects left on the board to use that pick on him.

        • KimRB says:

          Oops, forgot Vanacek, 2014 2nd round, starter on playoff team NJ

          • novafyre says:

            Back when Hertz was #1 and Avis was #2, Avis had the slogan “We’re #2. We Try Harder.” Sometimes looking at past NFL or NHL drafts I think that is often true for players.

      • Esteban says:

        I like the Sandin trade but giving up the Boston #1 was too much. Toronto will have cap issues nect season and was not in a strong position for any new contracts. They would have taken EG and a second rounder.

    • KimRB says:

      I’d rather keep the 2nd and 3rd round picks, and deal the 1sts. Under McLellan the Caps have drafted 2 current NHLers, one who wasn’t qualified, Samsonov, and another who was just traded for a 7th round pick, Vrana. In the 2nd the Caps have drafted 2 top 4 defensemen, Fehervary and Siegenthaler, a starting goalie for a playoff team, Vanacek, and a future top 4 D, Iorio, and two highly regarded forwards in the 3rd, Suzdalev and Protas

  3. Anonymous says:

    I thought Mac did well this week. The signing were also top tier in my book.

  4. Mark Eiben says:

    Justin, this is excellent. Thank you for laying this out so succinctly.

  5. With all due respect to the Caps, they were out-skated during their losing streak. Buffalo really made them look slow, so now was as good a time as any to get younger and get picks for draftees. Caps fans feel loyal to the 2018 SC winners, but we all see the business end too–we have to get younger and faster since NJ, CAR, NYI, NYR, and PHI are all younger and faster. Let’s hope the Caps can resign MF & AA on D. I’m not sure about Mantha’s role either. The big concern is injuries–this has been another season where Washington was near the top in games lost to injuries.

    • hockeydruid says:

      LMAO…..what 2018 Stanley Cup winners…..there are only 6 left on the team and 1 is on IR.

      As for Mantha as no one wants him and he is signed through next year I don’t see him going anywhere until after next season. Reminds me of the Nylander situation. Understand the trade but in the end it has not worked for either team. At least Detroit was able to trade Varna and get something for him.

      As for as injuries that is what comes with older aging players. They keep retooling just to get a record for Ovie but each year that they retool adds at least 2 years to the rebuild time as more and more of the guys in Hershey are going to walk to other teams as they see no future path to the NHL here.

    • It’s hard to imagine that the Caps wouldn’t be able to bring back both Fehervary and Alexeyev during the summer. Youth and speed are definitely going to be at the forefront of MacLellan’s strategy this off-season.

      • novafyre says:

        Youth and speed will only work if we have the right coaching staff and coaching philosophy.

  6. franky619 says:

    They suck since Backstrom came back plane and simple. Hey Justin, can you pull out Backstrom WAR chart. If you dare.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Would give away Mantha for nothing and would include the 2nd round pick from the Eller trade to incentivize someone to take him. Need that cap space for a true top 6 scorer.

    • hockeydruid says:

      Understand your frustration however I cant think of one team that would take on that salary for an unproductive player. So we are stuck with him for next season. A better use of the 2nd rounder would be to draft a player who will be ready in 1 or 2 seasons. Remember that Wilson is a UFA after next season and is he going to get paid here or elsewhere and how many years will he want? Wilson might just end up like Orlov as he will be 29 at the end of next season and be looking for 6-8 year deal for $7-8.5 a year. On another note I was surprised that we received a 2nd for Eller which is what we paid for him several years ago. Also not going to get a top 6 scorer for Mantha and a 2nd.

    • The Caps would probably buy out Mantha’s last year of his contract instead of trading a good asset as a sweetener for someone to absorb his cap hit.

      I could also see a team below the cap floor (looking at you, Arizona) taking him on for “future considerations” to see if they can reinvigorate his game to flip at next year’s deadline.

      But buying him out seems like the most likely scenario to me.

  8. novafyre says:

    “look for him to be aggressive on the trade market and in free agency, to plug the gaps in the roster”

    Jon et al, now that the trade deadline has passed, could you all provide a brief analysis of players already in the pipeline who could fill those gaps? Sort of an addendum to your monthly prospect report? Who do you realistically feel GMBM should be looking at to fill gaps starting when the season starts. Which gaps could be filled internally?

    I still wonder about the salary cap with all the RSN uncertainties.

    • hockeydruid says:

      What gaps? There might be 1 forward slot after the season unless the resign Brown. And if the resign Sheary that will be 14 forwards. Not counting on any D slots opening as I think they will resign both Fehervary and AA. So Unless they make a trade after the season there are no slots for free agents.

      • KimRB says:


        ? – Dowd-?
        Extras: ? -?



        Gee, I count up to 6 spots still up for grabs. There’s your gaps right there, Spanky

        • novafyre says:

          Why did you leave out Sheary, Brown, and Smith?

        • dwgie26 says:

          Yep… spot on. 6 spots open. And the goal is to get younger which we have already done. Going to have 3 dee 23 and under. Milano, Strome, and NAK in the 26-27 range. Snively at 27 likely to come up. Malenstyn at 27. Wilson and Mantha at 29. Ethan Frank at 27. Much younger roster an a lot more speed. Still need to find a way to get a legit young Top 6 forward. Don’t know how BMAC will do that but like the unexpected Sandin trade he will cook something up. I suspect it may be draft picks and prospect (McMichael or Lapiere), and moving out some salary somewhere. But i am sure of this… there is more change to come.

      • Gaps also doesn’t necessarily mean roster spots. The Caps are lacking in scoring production in their middle six. There are bodies for the roster, for certain, but the Caps need to make upgrades or the retool is a failure.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Please get the new younger guys a new coach!!!

  10. Esteban says:

    I’m amazed that Dowd and Sheary were not dealt. Teams need a face off specialist and a decent goal scorer.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      We were debating this as well. How much (draft pick round) do you think they could have got in return?

      • novafyre says:

        I just got the feeling that the rule followed was extension negotiation. If GMBM felt it was going nowhere, they were put up for trade. If they re-signed or he felt a deal was possible, they were kept. Fig leaf — he was not directing a rebuild as those players would have left this summer anyway. They were just leaving early.

  11. BEAGLE83 says:

    I’m going to miss Hathaway. I think we always need an aggressive and feisty player since Wilson’s playing a more scorers role. Hathaway plays like a pissed off wasp. I guess Dowd can play the role now.

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