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NHL Trade Deadline: Possible needs and targets for the Capitals

NHL Trade Deadline: Possible needs and targets for the Capitals

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.

Goalie

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)

RELATED: Capitals welcome back trio of injured players

Defense

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)

Offense

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

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The 6 most important things Brian MacLellan said about new Caps acquisition Brenden Dillon

The 6 most important things Brian MacLellan said about new Caps acquisition Brenden Dillon

ARLINGTON, Va. --  While the Capitals were on the road, Brian MacLellan was hard at work and finalized a deal on Tuesday to bring San Jose Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon to Washington. On Wednesday he met with the media to talk about the newest Cap.

"He's got playoff experience, he's a veteran player, physicality, the ability to play with top-end guys, a good character guy," MacLellan said. "I think he'll add a lot of energy in our room and on the ice. He's a physical presence. He checked a lot of boxes for everything we thought we needed."

Here are the six most important things MacLellan said about Dillon.

Dillon may be a top-pair player

Dillon is certainly a top-four defenseman, but the Caps added a player they feel can play on the top pair.

"I think we move him around a little bit," MacLellan said. "He could play with [John Carlson], could play with [Dmitry Orlov]. He's played with two good guys in San Jose. I anticipate the coaches trying him at both spots and see what works best for us."

Todd Reirden echoed those thoughts after practice.

When asked if Dillon playing with Brent Burns made him a natural fit to play with Carlson on the top pair, Reirden said, "That's my first initial thought. That is a similar type of player for sure."

Either Kempny or Jensen is going to get bumped out of the top four

When you re-read MacLellan's comments on Dillon playing in the top four, he said he could play with either Carlson or Dmitry Orlov. Adding a player into the top four means taking someone out and, based on those comments, that player is either going to be Michal Kempny or Nick Jensen.

Dillon is not the solution for the team's problems on the right

Right defense has been an issue for the Caps this season, but it does not sound like the plan is to plug Dillon in on the right side.

MacLellan was asked if Dillon could play on his off-side and he gave a tepid endorsement.

"He could, yeah," MacLellan said. "I think he's played a little bit on the off-side, but Orly's had some experience playing on the off-side. There's a number of different combinations we could try."

Reirden was asked who would play the right if Dillon and Orlov played together, and he said it would be Orlov.

While both MacLellan and Reirden said it would be an option to try Dillon on the right, it did not sound like that was the long-term plan at all.

This was not a reaction trade

Washington has lost four of its last five games and is 11-11-0 since Dec. 23. The team suddenly no longer sits in first place in the Metropolitan Division and trails the Pittsburgh Penguins by a point in the standings. The Caps' recent struggles, however, did not influence this deal, at least according to MacLellan.

MacLellan stated twice that he would have made this deal "regardless because I think it's a great fit for us — I think his skillset and the group we do have. I think one of the things that's been frustrating for me is the play in front of our own net, the compete level in front of our own net, and this is something he brings to the table here. I think he does a great job in front of our net. So I think we addressed that through him."

It should be noted that MacLellan has previously stated he was only looking for depth at the trade deadline and now has acquired a player who may well end up playing on the team's top pair. If you take him at his word, however, MacLellan liked Dillon and liked the upgrade, and that's why this deal got done — not because of the team's current struggles.

Dillon's playoff experience is a major reason why he is now with Washington

Last season, MacLellan traded for a defenseman playing a significant role on a bad team in Nick Jensen. Jensen had zero playoff experience and that showed in the team's postseason series against the Carolina Hurricanes. This year, MacLellan elected to go a different route.

Dillon has 62 games of playoff experience under his belt and helped the San Jose Sharks reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 and the Western Conference Final in 2019.

MacLellan was asked how much that experience mattered to him, and he said, "A lot. A lot. I think he’s been in the final. He’s been on good teams, similar to us. I think San Jose and Washington had top teams for a long time and he’s been in that environment, so I think it’s a good fit.”

Physical play is still a major part of the team's identity

Dillon is not the type of player you go out an acquire if physicality is not a priority.

For the season, Dillon ranks ninth in the NHL with 178 hits. His acquisition means the Caps now have five of the top 21 hitters in the league.

"I think we're all attracted to size as long as it can play," MacLellan said. "We like having the big bodies and playing a heavier game, and he's a good skater for his size, too. He has that physical presence, and we're excited to see how it fits for us."

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Here's how you can score free Chipotle by wearing your Caps jersey Friday

Here's how you can score free Chipotle by wearing your Caps jersey Friday

Now's your chance to score some free Chipotle, Caps fans!

By wearing your favorite Capitals jersey on Friday, you can earn a free entree through Chipotle's "suit up and score" campaign with the purchase of another entree of equal or lesser value.

While all jerseys qualify for the promotion, we recommend Alex Ovechkin's as he goes for goal No. 700.

So rock your red, grab a friend and head to Chipotle for this awesome deal redeemable Friday, Feb. 21 only.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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