The NHL trade deadline is Monday, Feb. 27 at 3:00 pm. Washington Capitals’ GM George McPhee figures to be a busy man between now and then. Whether a deal of any significance actually gets done is a question only time will sort out. But with the Caps up against the NHL salary cap, if they do try to acquire players they also will have to move some out as well.
The Caps can get some big-time relief by placing Nicklas Backstrom on the Long Term Injury List, but that would keep them without his services until the playoffs. No one knows if Backstrom will be healthy enough to play by then either. Considering he isn’t even skating yet, he’s going to need several weeks of rehab even after he’s cleared to play. But it will be a significant transaction to ask for LTIR for the team’s top playmaker.
With all that in mind, who are the most likely candidates to be traded away from Washington, whether it’s to acquire a difference-maker or if McPhee decides to recalibrate some assets?
The obvious place to look is the list of Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs) the Caps have on their roster. These are players that are not under contract for next season in any way. Some of team’s top (and most expensive) talent resides on that list. They are: forwards Alexander Semin ($6.7M), Mike Knuble ($2M) and Jeff Halpern ($825K), All-Star defenseman Dennis Wideman ($3.9375M), and goalie Tomas Vokoun ($1.5M).
Each of these veteran players on the ice brings a tested skill set to the acquiring team, but all are players the current Caps will have to depend on if they have any hopes of securing a playoff spot.
It might not be easy to say “goodbye” to a fan-favorite, but players with expiring contracts are the easiest to part with, organizationally. It’s debatable — because of age or expense — that any of these players would be re-signed for next season, so McPhee might try to turn them into draft picks or players to replenish sagging organizational depth.
Of course, other GMs know these players are UFAs and most likely won’t pay top dollar, but if McPhee needs the cap space or finds a willing taker, any of these players could be on the move regardless of the standings.
The Caps have several players that are Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) as well. The mechanisms of RFAs are a little convoluted, but essentially the Caps can retain negotiating right by making these type of free agents a “qualifying offer” with significant pay raise, depending on their current salary. The Caps RFAs this season are forwards Mathieu Perreault ($525K) and Jay Beagle ($512K) and defensemen Mike Green ($5.25M) and John Carlson ($845K).
Green is practically untradeable. With his injury history and enormous salary, it’s hard to imagine anyone taking a chance on picking him up even if McPhee decides he would like to move him. The Caps will have a very difficult decision in the off-season on whether to try to retain Green’s services at the contract demands a two-time Norris Trophy candidate might ask for. Carlson — once thought of as competely untouchable — would be coveted if put on the market.
Certainly other players could get moved, it’s not like GMs only trade free agents. Other players that could be candidates include defenseman Jeff Schultz, who has two more years at $2.75M but has often found himself watching from the press box under coach Dale Hunter. Even Jason Chimera, who’s enjoying a career year offensively or rugged defenseman John Erskine might find some interest on the trade market.
And we shouldn’t ignore the possibility of younger players being shipped out as part of a package if a deal is made with a team at the bottom of the standings. Perhaps Marcus Johansson, Cody Eakin or Braden Holtby could find themselves in different uniforms next week in the right deal.
One thing’s pretty clear, though. McPhee will have his hands full the next several days.
Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Capitals coverage on Twitter @CapitalsDSP.