In the days just before the 2023 NHL trade deadline, the Capitals found themselves in an unfamiliar position: sellers.
Washington traded five players away before Friday's 3 p.m. deadline -- Garnet Hathaway, Dmitry Orlov, Marcus Johansson, Erik Gustafsson and Lars Eller -- all of whom were on expiring contracts.
However, the Capitals opted to keep two other players, Conor Sheary and Trevor van Riemsdyk, who are also on expiring contracts. Washington general manager Brian MacLellan said Friday the team fielded offers for each but ultimately decided not to move either.
"There was a trade-off," MacLellan said. "Between we like the players, we have some interest in bringing them back and what the return is. So if something really made sense, we would've pursued it, but we'd rather have the guys on our team and the chance to bring them back going forward than the return was what we were being offered for."
MacLellan's last point made it clear the team has an interest in singing both players to extensions. Amidst the chaos of trade deadline week, the Capitals have made it a priority to retain some of their own -- both defenseman Nick Jensen and forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel signed extensions with the team this week.
Sheary, 30, has spent the past two seasons with the Capitals and performed admirably. In 2021-22, he finished with 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists) and tied his then-career-high for power-play points (six). This season, Sheary is currently fourth on the Capitals in points (30, 12 goals, 18 assists) and has already totaled seven power-play points, a new career-high.
van Riemsdyk, 31, has spent a significant amount of time on the Capitals' top defensive pairing this season, especially during John Carlson's absence. Carlson has not played since Dec. 23 after taking a slap-shot to his head. In 63 games, van Riemsdyk has notched 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) for the Capitals.
With roughly five weeks to go in the regular season, the Capitals (66 points) are four points back of the New York Islanders for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers are all tied with Washington at 66 points, too. The Detroit Wings lurk just one point behind with 65 points.
Based on the Capitals' deadline moves, conventional wisdom suggests the franchise is prioritizing contending in 2023-24 and beyond rather than the remainder of this season. The Capitals' general manager admitted the team had to make some roster decisions sooner than he would've liked, largely due to Washington's recent struggles.
"We had some good guys, some good players that we didn't really want to part with, but we ended up parting with because I don't know that we were showing the consistency that we needed to show to become a team that was gonna go for it," MacLellan said. "So I think we had to straddle a line of what's best for the future, what's best for our team in the future and try and still add players and stay competitive."
Despite a busy deadline that saw more players leave Washington than players arrive, MacLellan believes the team can still compete at a high level for the remainder of the season, too.
"I think we want to be competitive next year, [but] I still think we wanna be competitive this year," MacLellan said. "I still think we got a pretty good team. We're going through some injuries. Our backend is decimated a little bit. We tried to add a good, young defenseman in [Rasmus] Sandin. So we'll see where we are when we come out of it here."