The NHL trade deadline is less than a week away coming on Monday, March 21. That means rosters across the league could look very different over the coming days. But what should we expect from the Capitals?
Here's a breakdown of everything you need to know and watch for this week leading into the deadline.
When is the trade deadline?
The NHL Trade Deadline is 3 p.m. ET on Monday, March 21. It's important to keep in mind that this is just the deadline for all teams to send the required paperwork for a trade to the league so some trades do not actually become official until after 3 p.m.
How much cap space does the team have?
None. The return of Anthony Mantha off of long-term injured reserve means Washington is very tight to the cap ceiling. Teams cannot bank space when using LTIR so it's not as if the Caps could bank space for the deadline as they have done in years past.
This does not mean GM Brian MacLellan has zero options, however. There are currently eight defensemen on the roster so placing someone on waivers to reassign to Hershey is certainly a possibility. A big trade, however, is likely going to need a player (and his cap hit) going in the other direction to make it work.
What are the team's needs?
Goaltending is the top need. Ilya Samsonov has been far too inconsistent. Vitek Vanecek, meanwhile, has been very good. Since Dec. 1, he has a .925 save percentage and a 10-4-1 record in 17 games played. He also has less than 14 minutes of playoff experience. Even if the team has faith in him as their No. 1, it would be fair for MacLellan to be wary of his current tandem heading into what may well be this team's last kick at the Cup. If you are in, you have to be all-in at this point.
Beyond goaltending, scoring depth would also be on the wishlist. Beyond the top line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson, the Caps have not gotten much in the way of consistent offensive production. Outside of the top line, Conor Sheary leads all other forwards in points with 29. Yes, that is partly due to the fact that Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Anthony Mantha have missed a lot of time this season, but that's another reason to add depth. How durable are those three heading into the postseason?
What assets could be on the trade block?
The Caps may be buyers at the deadline, but with the cap situation as tight as it is, MacLellan may need to ship out a contract to make the money work. Daniel Sprong would be the player to keep an eye on here.
At 24, Sprong is still young and has shown he has goal-scoring capabilities. He also seems to have fallen out of favor with head coach Peter Laviolette as he has played only once in the past nine games.
In terms of draft picks, Washington has a pick in each round of the 2022 draft. Their second-round pick is from Winnipeg, but the other six are the team's original picks. The Caps also have all seven of their picks in the 2023, 24 drafts.
In terms of prospects, MacLellan does not sound like he would be in favor of selling the future.
"I'd be less inclined to trade prospects because they're going to be playing here sooner rather than later," he said.
How aggressive will MacLellan be on the trade market?
When MacLellan spoke with the media, he made it sound as if the team would not be aggressive at all.
"My mindset would be is we're not as aggressive as we normally are. I think [a trade] really has to make sense," he said.
MacLellan added, "Sometimes just to add depth pieces we might overpay a little bit because we felt we have a good team and we’re going to go a long way and we just need players. I don’t know that we’re in that mode, but we’d still like to improve the team.”
Even when referring to goaltending, MacLellan said, “I think it's got to be an obvious upgrade for us for it to make sense, or otherwise we go with our guys."
That was on March 2 with the team in the midst of a two-month slump. Since then, Washington has gone 4-0-1 so it is fair to wonder if MacLellan has shifted his approach a bit and will be more aggressive than he originally anticipated. If so, watch for the team to pursue goaltending and offense. In terms of the defense, MacLallen sounded satisfied with the team's current blue line.
"I think we've got good depth this year," he said. "Normally, we need eight [defensemen]. Maybe more than eight so maybe you stretch it for adding depth pieces, but I think we're good this year. ... I think we've got 10 guys that can play. So I'm not looking in that area."