As Monday’s trade deadline drew closer to a close, there reportedly was an increased interest in Vancouver Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis. The Caps, apparently, were not among the teams interested in acquiring the 32-year-old blue liner.
That lack of interest had a lot to do with the Capitals’ confidence in John Carlson returning to full health in three or four weeks.
“We were comfortable,” Caps general manager Brian MacLellan said when asked about his blue line depth. “With Mike (Weber) and the guys we have … (Dmitry) Orlov’s playing well, (Nate) Schmidt’s playing well. I think we’ve got a lot of depth there.
“We can handle the three weeks that Carly’s out. It’s not a serious procedure. If we had concerns over him missing the rest of the season we would have approached it differently. Because of the injury, I think he’ll be 100 percent and he’ll be good. We’ll have a stretch of 10 games where he can play at the end of the year so I expect him to be full-go come playoffs.”
With the Rangers loading up at the deadline with the addition of forward Eric Staal, and the Florida Panthers adding up front with forwards Teddy Purcell and Jiri Hudler, the Capitals seem confident that Weber can provide the size and strength they could use in the playoffs, depending on their opponent.
“Yeah, I think acquiring Weber gives us the flexibility to play against heavy teams,” MacLellan said. “If we need a bigger, stronger defenseman – guys that have the ability to stop the cycle, guys that play hard in front of the net – we’ll use Mike Weber in those situations.”
As for the Caps’ defensive depth beyond Washington, the organization seems confident enough in the development of prospects Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos and Tyler Lewington to part with Connor Carrick in the trade that send Brooks Laich to Toronto.
“Obviously, Bowey’s going to be a good player, he’s going to play for us,” McLellan said. “We have Carlson on the right side and Niskanen. I would anticipate that Bowey would move into that spot (third pair, right side). It was a little easier when we have that being developed in the minors to trade Connor Carrick.”
More on Winnik: MacLellan says he envisions a fourth line of Daniel Winnik, Jay Beagle and Mike Richards, with Beagle and Richards alternating between center and right wing.
“I don’t think Barry (Trotz) or the coaching staff is going to have any worries about putting them out in the defensive zone or playing against tip lines,” MacLellan said. “I think it’s a pretty good luxury to have. All three of them are good defensive players and they’re always responsible, so I’m excited to see the fourth line.”
MacLellan said he tried to add a 13th or 14th forward with NHL experience on Monday but struck out.
“It seemed to be a little quieter today than I expected it to be,” he said. “There’s a little bit of frustration but still we’re comfortable with where we’re at as a team. I like where we are. We’re well-balanced. I like our four lines, I like our eight D. So I’m comfortable going forward.
So what are McLellan’s expectations for his first-place Capitals?
“I expect us to continue to evolve, to play well down the stretch and then peak at the playoffs,” he said. “And have a long run.”