The NHL trade deadline is on Wednesday which means if general manager Brian MacLellan wants to bolster the roster, he needs to do it now.
But what do the Caps need? Let’s take a position by position look.
Possible need: Third goalie
The Caps arguably have the best goalie tandem in the NHL with defending Vezina winner Braden Holtby and future NHL starter Philipp Grubauer. Both have registered phenomenal numbers over the season. There’s nothing to add in terms of the team’s top two. After them, however, the team is a bit thin. Joe Cannata was signed in the offseason to be the team’s third option if needed, but he has struggled in the AHL this season with a 3.22 GAA and putrid .876 save percentage. Prospect Vitek Vanecek has cooled considerably after a hot start with a 2.69 GAA and .905 save percentage. Both goalies have struggled considerably of late and neither instills much confidence. Granted, this is not a huge concern considering the chances of needing to play your third goalie in the playoffs are remote, but it’s not unheard of. Jeff Zatkoff had to start for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round last season with Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray both out.
Now let’s be clear about what we’re talking about here. This doesn't mean the Caps will be looking to make a deal for Ryan Miller or Marc-Andre Fleury. The team needs a goalie who doesn’t mind playing in the AHL because they are unlikely to use him and who the team would still be confident in serving as a backup in the playoffs just in case of injury to one of the top two guys.
Possible targets: Linus Ullmark (Buffalo Sabres), Scott Wedgewood (New Jersey Devils), Jeff Zatkoff (Los Angeles Kings), Andrew Hammond (Ottawa Senators), Jhonas Enroth (Anaheim Ducks)
Possible need: Right-shooting defenseman
The most glaring need for the Capitals team comes on the blue line where they have only two-right shooting defensemen in Matt Niskanen and John Carlson. Washington leads the NHL in goals against per game, so it hasn’t hurt them yet, but there are two reasons why MacLellan would consider an upgrade for the defense. First is depth. If either Niskanen or Carlson goes down, the Caps are in trouble. Second, a playoff series allows for opposing coaches to exploit a third pair with two left-shot defensemen in a way the regular season does not. When a coach has to focus on one team for a best of seven series, he can find and exploit those weaknesses more effectively than in the regular season when teams face only once then move on to the next opponent. If the third pair is a weakness for the Caps, we’ll see it in the playoffs. MacLellan has already brought in Tom Gilbert as a depth move, but they can bring balance to the defensive pairings with another right-shot defenseman they can plug into the lineup.
The problem is that a top-six defenseman comes with a price tag both in terms of salary cap and the cost to get him. Do the Caps have enough cap space to add another defenseman and is MacLellan willing to trade assets to acquire a player like that? If you’re worried about chemistry, this is a bad move because it would change the team’s D-pairing and probably cost them a player in a trade package.
Possible targets: Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis Blues), Luke Schenn (Arizona Coyotes), Paul Postma (Winnipeg Jets)
Possible need: Scoring depth
There may be no offensive lineup as deep as Washington’s when healthy, but what happens when someone gets nicked up in the playoffs? The plan appears to be to carry Jakub Vrana and Zach Sanford as extras for the postseason which means if there’s any injury on offense, the team will be turning to a rookie. That’s a gamble.
What type of offensive player would the Caps target? Washington currently ranks second in the NHL in goals per game so there’s no point in adding a top six player. The price tag would be too high and it would mean a major shakeup of the lines. Instead, the target would be a bottom-six caliber player who can produce and can be relied upon in the postseason. In my mind, that does not include a 39-year-old Jarome Iginla or a 40-year-old Shane Doan.
Possible targets: Brian Boyle (Tampa Bay Lightning)
MORE CAPITALS: Power Rankings: Trade season