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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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At Lake Tahoe celebrity golf tournament, T.J. Oshie continues to chug beer

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USA Today Sports Images

At Lake Tahoe celebrity golf tournament, T.J. Oshie continues to chug beer

If you know anything about Stanley Cup champion T.J. Oshie, it's probably that he has a thing for chugging beer.

At his second American Century Champions celebrity golf tournament out on Lake Tahoe, Oshie kept his reputation alive and well by funnelling a beer from a fan in between holes.

The Caps winger signed a jacket amidst a crowd of fans cheering "C-A-P-S, Caps, Caps Caps" before being accepting a beer.

At last year's tournament, the freshly-minted NHL champ stuck with his signature celebration and chugged beer through his golf polo before sinking a put with a beer helmet on.

Oshie finished 51st this year, while Tony Romo took back-to-back first place titles.

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20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can Alex Ovechkin hit 50 goals again?

20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can Alex Ovechkin hit 50 goals again?

The long, endless summer is only halfway done. The Capitals last played a game on April 24 and will not play another one until Oct. 2. 

But with free agency and the NHL Draft behind them now, the 2019-2020 roster is almost set and it won’t be long until players begin trickling back onto the ice in Arlington for informal workouts.  

With that in mind, and given the roasting temperatures outside, for the next three weeks NBC Sports Washington will look at 20 burning questions facing the Capitals as they look to rebound from an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, keep alive their Metropolitan Division title streak and get back to their championship form of 2018.   

The list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain futures. We begin with Alex Ovechkin, for whom 50 goals is always the expectation. But how much longer can the captain keep this up?  

Alex Ovechkin is already back running up mountains and pushing giant tires down tracks. 

It’s become a summer training ritual documented on social media for Ovechkin, who has had more downtime than he would have liked in 2019. Instead of partying with the Stanley Cup well into July, he has already had plenty of vacation time with wife, Nastya, and son, Sergei, and his family all while plotting how to get the Stanley Cup back to Washington.   

That extra time for rest and training is necessary with Ovechkin’s age-34 season approaching. His birthday is Sept. 17. It is his 15thNHL season. The question: Can Ovechkin defy the odds and make a run at yet another 50-goal season?

We’re getting close to the historical limit. Johnny Bucyk scored 50 goals at age 35 for the Boston Bruins in 1970-71. Jaromir Jagr turned 34 toward the back end (Feb. 15) of a 2005-06 season when he scored 54 goals for the New York Rangers. 

But that’s the list Ovechkin is working with. Otherwise, we are in uncharted territory. He could pass Jagr by hitting 50 again during a season he will actually begin at age 34. He can’t yet catch Bucyk, who was 35 for the entirety of that 1970-71 season, to become the oldest 50-goal scorer in NHL history. 

That honor – if it happens - would actually have to wait until 2021-22, which is a year Ovechkin is not even under contract. He has two years remaining on the 13-year deal he signed with the Capitals way back in 2008. We were all so much younger then. 

But looking ahead, a 50-goal season at age 35 for Ovechkin would still fall short of Bucyk, who had a May birthday and was just a few weeks shy of his 36thbirthday when he scored 51 for Boston in 1971. Neither Bucyk nor Jagr even led the league in goals those years – something Ovechkin has done a record eight times. 

Jagr’s 54 goals came in an offense-happy year after a lockout canceled the 2004-05 season. There were five 50-goal scorers that year alone. This entire decade since 2010 there have been five players total who have scored 50 goals, including Ovechkin. And he’s the only one to hit 50 more than once. He’s done it four times this decade and just missed a fifth when he hit 49 in 2017-18. So close.  

"I’m sure he had some doubters out there that think it’s going to stop," Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamos said in March. "But [Ovechkin] just finds a way. He’s motivated. He loves to score goals."

Becoming the league’s oldest 50-goal scorer can wait a while. There’s a big contract negotiation that must take place before then. For now, there’s the small matter of catching Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy for most 50-goal seasons all time. They both have nine. Ovechkin has eight. 

It wouldn’t shock anyone to see Ovechkin put together a few more 50-goal campaigns well into his 30s. Who would doubt him at this point? But expecting him to do it is another thing. Bodies age, injuries accrue, skills erode, speed diminishes.

Washington scored 274 goals last season. That was fifth in the NHL. It could probably withstand some erosion from Ovechkin, especially if its defensive play is better. The Capitals gave up 238 goals last season, which ranked 16th. The team made moves to improve its penalty kill and did its best to keep its scoring depth – though it remains to be seen if keeping Carl Hagelin and signing free agent Richard Panik was the right move while letting Brett Connolly walk and trading Andre Burakovsky. 

But this team has for several years now relied on its offensive stars to help carry the freight. That quality up and down the lineup begins with Ovechkin and it’s why the Capitals always seem to out-produce the advanced metrics that peg them as a very good team, but not an elite one. 

There is a Stanley Cup banner hanging at Capital One Arena that proves some teams just have a knack for playing better than the underlying numbers say that they should. History says Ovechkin should be done with 50 goals by now. Do you want to bet against him even at age 34? 

There are other milestones ahead for Ovechkin even if he falls short of 50 this season. A 42-goal season would get him to the magical 700 mark. Only seven players have ever done that. On the way, he’d pass legends like Mario Lemieux (690), Steve Yzerman (692) and Mark Messier (694). A 50-goal season on the nose would tie Ovechkin with Hall-of-Famer Mike Gartner, who scored 397 of his 708 career goals with the Capitals. 

If that happens then the Gretzky watch will begin in earnest. Gretzky’s record of 894 career goals still seems impossible to reach. But one more 50-goal season would pull Ovechkin to within 186 goals before age 35. Suddenly the implausible seems possible then. 

“I don’t think it’s crazy. It’s going to be tough," said Stamkos who scored 60 goals in 2011-12 and is one of those five players with Ovechkin to top 50 this decade. "But the longevity he’s had in his career is pointing in his favor going forward. He’s always going to have that shot. I think there’s a chance. It’s going to be tough, but I do think there’s a chance for him to break it.”        

The greatest goal scorer of his generation then could make a final assault on history. But it all starts with one more big year before the aging curve really kicks in. Does Ovechkin have another 50 in him?  

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