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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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Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing a long-term contract?

Tarik: When a player has a career year and it coincides with the final year of his contract, the reaction from some fans and media is often a sarcastic, ‘Well, of course he did.’

And I’m sure there are some folks who wonder about Carlson’s breakout season and whether there was a connection between the uptick in his production and the potential of an enormous payday.

Indeed, the 28-year-old established highs in goals (15), assists (53), points (68) and ice time (24:47). He was outstanding in the postseason, too, amassing five goals and 15 assists while playing solidly in his own end to help lead the Caps to their first championship.

The financial reward came a couple of weeks later when he signed an eight-year, $64 million contract to remain in Washington.

Which brings us to today’s question.

It’s obviously impossible to say for sure what’s going to happen, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had another big season. Why? A few reasons:

  • As good as he was, last year wasn’t a total outlier, either. Carlson racked up 55 points (12 goals, 43 assists) in 2014-15, which was tied for fifth best among blue liners that year.
  • He was at his best last season skating with trade deadline addition Michal Kempny. Kempny, of course, also re-upped, agreeing to a four-year extension. So, in theory, Carlson should be able to pick up where he left off.
  • Carlson has credited Todd Reirden with helping him take his game to new heights. Well, Reirden is now the guy in charge of the whole operation. How could that not help?
  • A major reason Carlson puts up so many points is his role on the power play. And that unit, which really hit its stride in the postseason (29.3-percent), returns all five skaters.
  • Carlson has also been pretty durable, which is critical to being productive. In fact, last season he skated in all of the Caps’ games for the sixth time in eight full-time seasons.

So, yeah, it’s all setting up nicely for Carlson to have a strong 2018-19.

To me, the only unknown is whether he’ll have the same hunger and determination now that he’s got long-term security and that previously elusive championship ring.

Again, that’s impossible to predict. But I can tell you this: Over the course of two decades in this business, I’ve covered lots of players who inked life-changing contracts. With a few of them, I had immediate concerns.

I have no such reservations about Carlson's ability to play up to his new deal, particularly in the first several seasons of it.

JJ: There's nothing wrong with a player being motivated by a new deal, but I am always wary when players have career years on the last year of their contract.

The issue is whether or not a player can continue to play at the level they showed when a new contract is no longer a motivating factor. After signing a new deal for eight years and $64 million, Carlson won't have to think about money or contracts for a long time.

When it comes to motivation, a lot of the questions surrounding the Capitals this year will depend on how they react to winning the Cup. Of course everyone wants to repeat, but psychologically will they come into camp more motivated than ever to defend their title or will they be satisfied with finally winning it all?

For Carlson, there are several reasons to be hopeful. Tarik went over a number of those reasons above, but the two biggest for me are Michal Kempny and Todd Reirden.

This season, Carlson will have Kempny as his partner to start, rather than a cycle of practically every left-handed defenseman on the ice depending on the situation. Second, what Mitch Korn is to goalies, Reirden is to defensemen. With him as the head coach, I believe the ceiling for Carlson will only continue to climb.

Let's also go beyond the numbers. Matt Niskanen suffered an injury early last season that forced Carlson into a primary role on both ends of the ice. He was playing nearly 30 minutes a night and, with two rookies on the blue line who Barry Trotz did everything he could to shelter, those were very hard minutes. Yet, Carlson excelled. The offensive upside was always there, but the way he played defensively was a revelation.

While Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen will remain a solid pair for the Caps, I believe Carlson will be the guy heading into the season which will mean more minutes and more responsibility.

Plus, despite what he meant to the team's defense and despite leading all defensemen in points with 68, Carlson was not selected to participate in the All-Star Game, he was not one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy and he was not among the four defensemen named to the end of season All-Star team. His incredible season earned him no recognition at all other than his new contract. A $64 million contract is a heck of a consolation prize, but his season deserved more recognition than that.

You don't often see a player of his caliber enter a season with a chip on his shoulder, but Carlson should have a fairly sizable one.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?
Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?
Has Evgeny Kuznetsov made the jump from really good player to superstar?

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Capitals re-sign Madison Bowey leaving Tom Wilson the lone remaining RFA

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals re-sign Madison Bowey leaving Tom Wilson the lone remaining RFA

Defenseman Madison Bowey re-signed with the Capitals on Thursday, inking a two-year extension that will carry an average of $1 million.

Bowey carried a cap charge of $703,333 last season.

The 23-year-old appeared in 51 games for the Caps in 2017-18, amassing 12 assists, 24 penalty minutes and a plus/minus rating of minus-3.

Bowey also suited up in nine contests for AHL Hershey, though he finished the season as one of the Black Aces during Washington's run to the Stanley Cup.

With Bowey back in the fold, the Caps now have six of seven defenseman from last season’s roster under contract. (Veteran Brooks Orpik remains an unrestricted free agent.)

Bowey had an uneven first year in the NHL—he didn’t play following the late-February addition of Michal Kempny—but the Caps expect that the 6-2, 198-pound right-shot blue liner will become reliable full-time player with more seasoning.

Bowey’s deal leaves Tom Wilson as the Caps' only remaining unsigned restricted free agent. The sides are in discussions on a multi-year extension.

Including Bowey’s extension, the Caps have roughly $7.3 million in salary cap space remaining, according to CapFriendly.

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