Submitted by Patrick O’Connor, and can be found on twitter at @PatOConnor28
With the trade deadline fast approaching, after the Olympic break the Capitals should be very active if they want to make a run this season. The Caps currently find themselves sitting in fifth place in the Metropolitan, however only three points out of a playoff position. The Capitals fall in the middle of the pack in just about every statistically team category except for their fifth ranked power play. The sore spot comes with the 19 regulation/overtime wins, only five teams in the league are worse, Florida, Buffalo, New York Islanders, Calgary, and Edmonton. If this team wants to make a playoff run, they are going to need be better 5 on 5 play and avoid overtime games.
George McPhee finds himself in a very difficult position to make moves that will really benefit the team this season. Three roster players have requested trades at one or multiple points this season, Michal Neuvirth, Martin Erat, and Dmitry Orlov. Neuvirth and Orlov have seen their playing time increase and have proved that they belong on the roster for now. Orlov has been playing with Mike Green and Neuvirth has been splitting the net with Holtby since the rookie Phillip Grubauer was sent back down (where he will probably remain for the rest of the season barring injury). Leading up to the Olympic break Martin Erat had been playing like he did not want to be on the team, taking foolish offensive zone penalties and showing little to no heart in games. Although he has played close to 800 games in the NHL his trade value may be at an all time low. Erat has one goal this season, an empty netter, and has seen playing time on the fourth line for long stretches at a time.
One thing that is very important to understand about the Capitals coaching system is that Adam Oates prefers to play wingers on their strong sides. For example last season he moved Alex Ovechkin from the left side where he played his whole career to the right side. So if the Caps are looking to make moves that will be addressed by Oates and his coaching staff.
The Capitals have had a logjam at Right Wing all season and will be looking to relieve that clog. Right Wingers include Alex Ovechkin, Eric Fehr, Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward, Tom Wilson, and Erat who played right wing his whole career before being traded to Washington. It is unlikely that Ward will be traded, in fact an extension may be in order in the near future for him as he has developed chemistry with left winger Jason Chimera. Ward is also second on the team in goals. Wilson is a young nineteen year old who plays like a man with years of experience in the NHL. He has the potential to be a top six forward so he is unlikely to be moved, especially after Filip Foresberg was moved the last trade deadline. Of course Ovechkin is as close to untouchable as anyone in NHL. That leaves Brouwer, Erat and Fehr who could be moved for the right-wingers.
Other potential players that could be moved include Neuvirth, who is still considered the back up to Holtby. Marcus Johansson is a 23-year-old Swedish left-winger who has played with Ovechkin and in the Olympics. Some young assets such as Connor Carrick, Nate Schmidt, and Patrick Wey could be added to a package as well.
George McPhee has publically said that he thinks the Capitals could have an additional ten points if they had better goaltending. Most fans that follow the Capitals would beg to differ however. Holtby and Neuvirth are both very capable goaltenders. The real weakness lies in the Capitals defense and the left wing scoring depth. On defense John Carlson and Karl Alzner play a great game together and are solid in all three zones. Mike Green is still looking for a playing partner that can bring him back to his superstar level that he once played at. Green is one of the best offensive minded defenseman in the league but has been plagued with young inexperienced playing partners that he cannot trust enough to play aggressive. Green has been paired with Orlov, Schmidt, Carrick, and John Erskine, none of which are on his skill level. The number one priority for the Capitals should be to find a defensive minded left-handed d-partner for Green to play with and complement his game. On the offensive side the Capitals need to find secondary scoring to support Ovechkin, ideally a left-handed winger. Current left-wingers include Marcus Johansson, Jason Chimera, Martin Erat, and Aaron Volpatti. The arrival of Evgeny Kuznetsov will add to that list but he is likely to slot into either the second line left wing position or the third line center position. Look for the Capitals and McPhee to try and add a scoring left winger and/or a strong defensive d-man.
Matt Moulson: Left Winger with the ability to get into the dirty areas and score garbage goals. Could be perfect to collect Ovechkin’s rebounds and might encourage Nicklas Backstrom to shoot more. A small side note George McPhee is Alicia Moulson’s godfather, Moulson’s wife.
Moulson is being rumored to command a 1st round pick and maybe a minor prospect. He would be a rental that the Capitals could afford to resign.
Andrew MacDonald: Defensive minded d-man; leading the league in blocked shots; having the best offensive season of his career. He could make a perfect partner for Green as he would not only make up for Green’s defensive liabilities but also be capable to distribute the puck in the offensive zone. MacDonald might also be the biggest bargain in the NHL at only $550,000 this year.
MacDonald could command anywhere from a 3rd to a 1st based off different rumors. For a team weak in goaltending and forwards the Islanders could consider a package of Capitals assets and a lower pick.
According to George McPhee the Caps are planning on playing without worrying about when the highly anticipated Kuznetsov is going to be coming over from Russia. Deemed the best prospect not playing in the NHL he is going to be a huge addition to a roster weak with lefties. Depending on the KHL playoffs we could see Kuznetsov anywhere from early March to late April. His club Traktor currently sits in the final playoff spot three points ahead of the next closest team.
Throughout his tenure George McPhee has done a great job at keeping trade rumors quiet in the organization. Any rumors that come from the Capitals must be taken with a grain of salt for that reason. Look for the Capitals to be very active in the days to come.