With the Feb. 29 NHL trade deadline fast approaching and the Capitals sitting atop the NHL with a 41-10-4 record, general manager Brian MacLellan finds himself in an envious but difficult spot.
Does he roll the dice and acquire a high-profile player who could, theoretically anyway, put the Capitals over the top in their pursuit of their first Stanley Cup?
Or does he stand his ground and let the deadline pass without a major move?
“I wouldn’t want to be a GM just for that reason,” Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie said. “I mean, you’ve got a team going good and maybe you think someone can help the team and it might mess with the mojo. Or you make that trade and something special happens. That’s why they’re up there (in upper management) and we’re down here.”
Late in the 2011-12 season the Los Angeles Kings acquired center Jeff Carter from the Columbus Blue Jackets, reunited him with Mike Richards, and the Kings won their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Two years later, they acquired Marion Gaborik from Columbus at the trade deadline and won a second Cup.
But for every move that puts a team over the top, there are dozens that don’t. The Blues saw that two years ago when they acquired goaltender Ryan Miller from the Sabres, only to fall in the first round of the playoffs to the Blackhawks.
Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik recalls the Penguins acquiring forwards Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow and defenseman Douglas Murray before the 2013 trade deadline and seeing that team swept by the Bruins in the conference final.
“Media members and fans were crowning us champions right away and it’s a tough transition for some guys,” Orpik said. “With Jarome, it was his first time being away from his family and his first time playing with another team (other than Calgary) and he played really well for us.
“It’s tough. It’s a fine line when a team has a lot of success. How much do you want to tinker with it? That’s what GMs get paid to do. I wouldn’t want to have that job, especially with a team going as well as this one.”
Last season the Caps acquired forward Curtis Glencross and defenseman Tim Gleason, with mixed results.
“Curtis probably didn’t work out as good as we would have liked, unfortunately,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said. “And Gleason probably worked out better than maybe even we hoped for.”
This season the Caps are at or near the top in nearly every meaningful statistical category and already addressed their need for forward depth with the January signing of Mike Richards. Trotz said he views that acquisition and the return from injuries of Orpik and center Jay Beagle (hand, approximately two weeks) as three additions without subtractions.
But that hasn’t stopped Trotz and MacLellan from exchanging lists of players they think could give the Capitals the depth they may need for a long playoff run.
“(Team chemistry) is part of the consideration,” Trotz said. “If we find the right piece we’ll add it. If it can put us over the top and give us a huge advantage we’ll forgo the chemistry a little bit and go for it. But I think for the most part the group knows we want to move forward and we can’t move forward until we get our game totally in order.”
In all likelihood the Caps will set their sights on a depth defenseman in the $1 million range who can fill in as a sixth, seventh or even eighth blue liner.
“Obviously, you try to make your team as good as possible,” said Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “If you see something you think you can pick up to help that, you go for it. I think it depends on the chemistry you have in the room.
“If you have a lot of good leaders and mentally tough players it doesn’t matter what you do. But that’s why (general managers) are in the position they’re in, to make tough calls like that and I haven’t disagreed with one call the front office has made with all the guys they brought in, so I’m pretty happy about that.”
Brooks Laich, who came to the Capitals in a trade from the Ottawa Senators 12 years ago, said regardless of whether the Caps make a big move, a small one or none at all, the players need to continue to play at a high standard.
“There are no guarantees,” he said. “You can trade for a fantastic player and maybe it just doesn’t work out. And then you can make a small trade that you maybe think won’t have an impact on your team but all of a sudden it makes a huge impact. It’s just on us as players to play, whether we make a move or not.”
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