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Is Todd Reirden's constant shuffling on the fourth line an issue for the players?

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Is Todd Reirden's constant shuffling on the fourth line an issue for the players?

ARLINGTON – On Thursday in San Jose, Todd Reirden’s lineup included Dmitrij Jaskin, Chandler Stephenson and Devante Smith-Pelly playing on the fourth line. That was a different line than in the previous game when Stephenson and Smith-Pelly played on the wings with Nic Dowd at center. Two games prior to that, Dowd was the center with Jaskin and Travis Boyd as his wings.

And on it has gone all season as the Caps continue to shuffle their fourth line in search of the best combination for what the team hopes will be another lengthy playoff run.

Washington returned almost the exact same team from last year’s Stanley Cup champion squad. One exception was the fourth line, as center Jay Beagle left in free agency. While it is not uncommon to see fourth lines shuffle throughout the season as coaches try to get their scratches into the lineup, there has been no constant to the fourth. While last season, you knew who the center was even if you did not know the wings, it is unclear who if anyone has taken control of a fourth line spot with less than a third of the season remaining.

“It’s challenging,” Dowd said. “I don't think anybody will tell you any differently.”

“Last year, there was a little bit of shuffling, but for the majority it was you know who your center is for sure,” Smith-Pelly said. “For the second half, it was me, [Beagle] and [Stephenson] a majority of the games so that made things a little bit easier, but at the same time, things happen. You've got to be able to play with anybody. Of course it's not the ideal situation, but that's just the way it is.”

At this point of the season, it is pretty clear what the top three lines would be if the playoffs started tomorrow. What the fourth line will look like, however, is anyone’s guess as no combination has gained an upper hand over any of the others.

Part of the issue for the Caps has been the myriad of injuries and roster issues the team has faced unlike in prior years such as Tom Wilson’s early suspension and an early injury that kept Boyd out until November. The trickledown effect has had a major impact on the bottom line. But even when healthy, Reirden has continued shuffling the bottom line with regularity, preventing any combination to gain much consistency at all.

“That does get tough, especially when maybe you're playing good, you put together a couple good games or whatever it may be,” Boyd said. “Your mindset in the game is something that you can't really replicate in practice no matter how hard you try. So if you end up missing a game or two, it usually takes a period or so to kind of get back into that game mode where you've got to be thinking fast enough and that physcial contact part and all that.”

“I think you can only do your best to manage your own game and then when you step in there,” Dowd said, “I think that importance of keeping it simple and allowing guys that you haven't played with in a while or maybe you haven't played with them all year, to allow guys to play within the system and know where you are and then if you get some games under your belt and you play together a while, then you can start kind of creating chemistry and creating reads off each other.”

For Reirden, however, this is all part of the plan. Once the trade deadline is reached and he knows what officially what his roster will be, then we should finally get an idea of who has the upper-hand on the fourth line.

“For me, until that deadline passes then you're not really married to anything because as we know things can change in the game,” Reirden said. “But after that, at that point then you want to try to get something pretty consistent.”

After the Feb. 25 deadline, however, Washington will have only 19 games left in the season. Will that be enough time for the fourth line to gel?

“It's not the ideal situation, but that is the situation we're in,” Smith-Pelly said. “You have to be able to adjust and you've got to play well with whoever the center is. Don't really use that as an excuse, you've just got to figure it out.”

 

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NHL Trade Tracker 2019: latest deadline rumors, trades and news

NHL Trade Tracker 2019: latest deadline rumors, trades and news

The 2019 NHL trade deadline is almost here, marking the final point in the regular-season that teams can make major moves and deals to position themselves for the stretch run and the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The 2019 NHL trade deadline takes place on Monday, Feb. 25, with a final cutoff time for trades to be made at 3 p.m. ET The 2019 trade deadline is the same as the year prior, which was the first season the NHL decided to move the deadline up a week.

With just a few days until the deadline, the rumors, news and reports are beginning to heat up.

All the latest rumors, news, and notes on the 2019 NHL trade deadline are right here.

2019 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker:

February 10: NEWS - If the Capitals are to make a trade deadline deal, it seems forward Andre Burakovsky might be the most viable candidate given his financial situation. Said general manager Brian MacLellan, “I think the only thing we're going to look for is, is there a hockey trade to be made, salary for salary, player for player in the forward group."

February 13: TRADE - The Vancouver Canucks got some much-needed goalie depth in the form of 27-year-old Marek Mazanec. Acquired from the New York Rangers, Vancouver gave back a seventh-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. 

February 14: RUMOR - With a retooling looming in Minnesota, some moves could be made at the deadline. A name being thrown around is Eric Staal. Though he has a no-trade clause with 10 teams, his name will surely be mentioned leading up to the 25th. 

February 14: REPORT - The Oilers and Flyers have begun preliminary talks on a trade, most likely surrounding a swapping of goalies. In this case, Cam Talbot could be the biggest piece. 

February 14: RUMOR - It is looking more and more likely that Jeff Skinner will stay with the Sabres for the remainder of the season. While shopping him was an option, the upcoming restricted free agent and Buffalo seemed to be more focused on getting a deal done to have him be there for the rest 2019 and beyond.

February 15: RUMOR - Wayne Simmonds will most likely not be in Philadelphia after the deadline, as all signs point toward the forward and his current team parting ways. Things could change in the next week, but if Simmonds is available, plenty of teams will be interested in acquiring the 30-year old

February 15: RUMOR - The Artemi Panarin saga with the Columbus Blue Jackets will be an interesting one to follow leading up to the trade deadline. An unrestricted free agent following the season, it was reported last week that he plans to test the market. Now, it's up to Columbus to decide what to do with him for the rest of this season. 

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Capitals potential trade deadline target: The case for and against depth defense

Capitals potential trade deadline target: The case for and against depth defense

The Washington Capitals are the defending Stanley Cup Champions and are all-in on going for the repeat. Does that mean we could see a trade before the trade deadline?

With the NHL trade deadline rapidly approaching on Feb. 25, there are a number of players believed to be available. But who makes sense for the Caps?

This week, we will be exploring a possible trade deadline target from Monday through Friday and look into why they do and do not make sense for Washington to pursue.

Today’s target: Defensemen Nick Jensen (28, Detroit Red Wings), Ben Lovejoy (34, New Jersey Devils)

Why it makes sense:

Brian MacLellan has added at least one defenseman at the trade deadline every year as the Caps’ general manager and considering the team’s defensive struggles this year in addition to their home run acquisition of Michal Kempny for cheap last season, this seems a much more likely scenario than paying big for a big-name target.

If MacLellan is looking for a low-risk, high reward addition, Jensen seems to fit the bill. He does not add much offensively but is very stout defensively and a strong skater. He is also a right-shot defenseman which adds to his value. Adding a right defenseman gives Washington a bit more flexibility in their defensive pairings.

Right now, John Carlson and Matt Niskanen and Madison Bowey are the only right-handed players among the team’s eight defenseman (including Jonas Siegenthaler, though he is in Hershey). If Washington were to lose either Carlson or Niskanen to injury, they would be very thin on the right.

It doesn’t get much cheaper than Jensen’s total cap hit of $812,500. Washington could conceivably afford to add him without giving up a roster player to free up cash.

Lovejoy is also a right-shot defenseman, though he is older and more expensive than Jensen. While Jensen is a No. 4 or 5 defenseman and could play on either the second or third pairing, Lovejoy would strictly be a depth move. Because of that, however, and the fact that he is on the final year of his contract with a New Jersey team that is not headed to the playoffs this season, the Caps could probably get him with a very cheap trade.

Todd Reirden has some familiarity with Lovejoy as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Teams tend to go through a lot of defensemen on lengthy playoff runs. Adding some depth on the blue line certainly couldn’t hurt.

Why it doesn’t make sense

The Red Wings are reportedly interested in re-signing Jensen so he may not even be available. If Detroit is indeed interested in bringing him back, then his price tag on the trade market just went up. Washington would have to sweeten a trade to the point that the Red Wings decide it makes more sense to trade him than to re-sign him.

Lovejoy is older, slower, has a larger cap hit and just is not as good as Jensen. Unless the Caps take a swing at Jensen and miss, there is no real point in going after Lovejoy or giving up pretty much anything to get him. He just would not add that much to Washington’s lineup.

Experience is a double-edged sword. Sure, it’s great that Reirden knows Lovejoy and could potentially know how best to utilize him. On the other hand, coaches sometimes can rely on what’s familiar too much.

Lovejoy should not be playing over Christian Djoos or Jonas Siegenthaler, but he is a right-shot defenseman and has experience so it would not be a big surprise to see Lovejoy get into the lineup on a semi-regular basis. If Washington were to add Lovejoy and was playing more than some of the Caps’ younger talent, they would have actually made themselves worse, not better.

Verdict

The addition of Jensen would be a huge boost for Washington and, in my opinion, he should be at the top of the trade deadline wish list for MacLellan. Even if it means overpaying slightly in a trade to get Detroit on board, this looks like it would be a great move.

The same can’t be said for Lovejoy. Depth defense is important, but I would not play him over Djoos, Siegenthaler or Bowey. What is a ninth defenseman worth? Probably less than what New Jersey would ask for him.

CAPITALS POTENTIAL TRADE TARGETS: