* With a week off between games for the Capitals, it seems like a good time to take stock of the team and its season. Here are some key mid-season questions for Capitals writers Andrew Gillis and JJ Regan to discuss.
What is the biggest need at the trade deadline?
Andrew: My thought process for the Capitals' need(s) at the deadline is pretty simple, albeit an unpopular one: Damn the torpedoes.
I think their biggest weakness on the roster is goaltending, and in order to bring on a playoff-proven netminder, I think they should do (almost) whatever it takes to make it happen. Does that involve trading a first for Marc-Andre Fleury? Sure. Or do you trade a few more assets for a guy with some term? Makes sense to me. If you can find a legitimate upgrade, I think you have to make that happen.
The last five goalies to hoist the Stanley Cup have been: Andrei Vasilevskiy (twice) in Tampa Bay, Jordan Binnington in St. Louis, Braden Holtby in Washington and a combo of Matt Murray and Fleury in Pittsburgh. In each playoff run, those goalies posted save percentages of: .937, .927, .914, .922, .937 and .924. Can you get that level of production from either Vitek Vanecek or Ilya Samsonov in May and June? In my eyes, if there's even a speck of doubt that can happen this year for the guys in the organization, you have to swing big for a more seasoned goalie.
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But I'm not sure that's enough on its own.
If you can make the money work, I think it might be best to bring in another forward to help solidify the middle six. Think players like Artturi Lehkonen, or Phil Kessel on a retained salary trade. I think this team needs another goal-scorer and possession-driver in the forward group because, as much as goaltending is discussed come playoff time, you don't win a Cup without depth scoring (read: Devante Smith-Pelly). Really, anything that is an aggressive move to go for a Cup run would make sense to me.
I realize not many people are in the business, or like being in the business, of trading quality assets for rentals or players that might not be here long-term. But no one needs a reminder this team is getting older. Are the Capitals one of the Cup favorites? No. In fact, of the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams, they have the worst Stanley Cup odds according to PointsBet.
If you want to maximize the Alex Ovechkin era each and every season, these are the moves you have to make. Will it come to bite them down the line? Absolutely. The team isn't bereft of draft picks at the moment and with a few RFAs on the team now, there's potential for more assets coming in. I don't think that should matter. Banners hang forever, and if you want a chance at another one, nearly everything should be on the table.
JJ: The very obvious answer is goaltending. Andrew spells out the importance of a good goalie in the playoffs. It is the most important position in hockey because it is the position that can have the greatest impact on a game. If you look at the other seven playoff teams in the Eastern Conference, just in terms of this postseason, I would take the goalie tandems of all seven of them over what the Caps have now. Can the Caps be considered legitimate contenders knowing they will have the weakest goaltending in the conference heading into the postseason? No, they can't.
The goaltending is a question mark, it has been a question mark for a year and a half now and I don't see another month changing that so you cannot just cross your fingers and hope that it will work out. MacLellan must do something as the window for contending continues to close.
The second need is depth scoring. For much of the first half of the season, the offense has been largely the top line and then whatever rookie decides to get hot on any given night. There just has not been much offensive consistency. Outside of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson, the team's leading scorers are Conor Sheary with 11 goals and John Carlson and Garnet Hathaway each with 10.
I keep hearing that getting Anthony Mantha and T.J. Oshie back healthy will solve that problem, but, at this point, I do not think the team can afford to make that assumption. Mantha has not played since November, continues to recover from shoulder surgery and we have a limited sample size on him with the Caps of only 24 regular-season games plus an additional five games in the postseason. Oshie has dealt with multiple injuries this season that have limited him to just 18 games. The Caps should not think of either player as a surefire offensive boost for the playoffs.