This season couldn’t have gone much worse for the Washington Capitals. I’m writing this prior to the Capitals/Panthers game Saturday, but regardless of how that game ends Washington will have a monumental task ahead of them the rest of the season.
To make the playoffs this season Washington will have to get at around 54 points. Usually teams in the 8th spot in the East get between 92 and 94 points. If that number is pro rated for the short season then teams will need around 54 points to get them in the playoffs.
Washington currently has 5 points and the Panthers game marks the one quarter mark of the season for the Caps. If the Capitals win they will need to have a winning percentage of .652 for the rest of the season to make the playoffs. By comparison last season only 4 teams had winning percentages higher than that (Vancouver, St. Louis, the Rangers, and Pittsburgh).
The President’s Trophy winning Canucks had a winning percentage of .677. If Washington loses they will need a winning percentage of .680 over the remainder of the season just to make the playoffs. That means Washington would have to be one of top two or three teams in the league from here on out just to make the playoffs.
And if you’ve seen the Caps this year that task seems nearly impossible.
Now, at least in a managerial sense, there is no use in battling back if the team is only to finish 10th in the conference. There is no worse spot to end the season. Out of the playoffs and away from the top 10 picks. George McPhee told the Washington Post that he isn’t going to blow up the team. I believe this is just a case of “GM Speak”; saying all the right things to keep the fan base happy, the locker room calm, and other GM’s unaware of actual intentions. Is McPhee willing to blow up the team? Possibly. Is it the right move? I believe so.
Washington is sitting on a wealth of top notch prospects. Evgeny Kuznetsov is chief among them. While there may be some concern if he is going to come over the NHL, the 20 year old two-time KHL All-Star is destined for NHL stardom. Filip Forsberg continues to impress while fellow 2012 First Round pick is looking more and more like the next Milan Lucic. Underrated prospects like World Junior Gold Medalist Riley Barber is currently better than point per game with the Miami Red Hawks in the NCAA. 2012 late round draft picks like Swedish World Junior Silver Medalist defenseman Christian Djoos and hulking Calgary Hitman defensive defenseman Jaynen Rissling add depth to a strong group of Captials prospects.
While some people may see that wealth of prospects as the perfect bank of assets to trade and get a cup contending roster together. I see them as an opportunity for the Caps to get a fresh start. Usually teams have to be terrible for years to acquire the prospects that the Capitals have. The Caps have been contending for years and incredibly valuable assets to trade to jump start the rebuild.
The first player who will most likely be out of Washington will be center Mike Ribeiro. Playing for the worst team in the NHL loaded with struggling stars Ribeiro is better than point per game. Ribeiro has been quietly playing incredibly well in Dallas over the past five seasons averaging .91 points per game over that span. Ribeiro is also in the last year of his contract and would probably very highly sought after as a rental player for a team looking to make a deep run in the playoffs. The Blues, who have a deficiency at center, could make a run at Ribeiro. With a wealth of good prospects themselves they could be willing to part with their first and one of their two second round draft picks to get a point producing center. Nashville who showed last season that they aren’t shy about trading picks for players might be another option. Chicago, Minnesota, Dallas, and Ottawa might make a play for Ribeiro.
I also think the Caps are going to trade one of their two goaltenders. Both Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth have under performed this season; which is odd considering they both played 20+ games during the lockout. Both are Restricted Free Agents at the end of the season and either could bring back a decent return for the Caps. While they probably couldn’t get the same return the got for Semyon Varlamov (a 1st and 3rd round pick) they might be able to get what Nashville got for Anders Lindback (two 2nd round picks). Winnipeg could be a possible trading partner. The Jets’ Ondrej Pavalec has been even shakier than the Caps goalies and they have three 2nd round draft picks in the upcoming draft. The fact that the Jets will likely be in the Western Conference before long might make the Caps even more willing to deal with their current division rivals.
I think any big move regarding the dismantling of this current Capitals team comes in the off-season before the draft. While there has been talk about trading Alex Ovechkin that would be a bit unreasonable. First, he’s the face of the franchise. He was the catalyst for the Caps return from hockey obscurity, and he’s one of the most marketable athletes in the world. Not to mention his gigantic cap hit and mile long term length would make him nearly impossible to move. Defenseman Mike Green would probably be equally as hard to move. Green is still being paid like the elite defenseman he was and defenseman he is. An injury prone defenseman who is averaging around .4 points per game over the last three seasons. It would be hard to find someone to pick up that cap hit and still be willing to part with a first round pick and/or prospects.
That leaves Nicklas Backstrom as the only big ticket player that Washington could move and still get a decent return for. While his numbers have no doubt been bumped up by playing with Ovechkin he is still an elite center. The Capitals should be able to trade Backstrom for at least what the Flyers were able to get for either Richards or Carter, if not more. For Richards the Flyers got from the Kings a good young NHLer (Wayne Simmonds, 22 at the time), probably the top prospect in the NHL (Brayden Schenn coming off a World Juniors where he scored 18 points), and a second round pick. For Carter the Flyers got from the Blue Jackets a good young NHLer (Jakub Voracek, 22 at the time), the 8th overall draft pick, and a third round pick. Washington would easily be able to get a similar return for Backstrom.
But who could offer up so much for Nicklas Backstrom?
Some teams would be able to offer up picks in the latter half of the first round and a collection of 2nd level prospects like St. Louis (who is likely unwilling to part with Tarasenko) or Ottawa. While those teams could offer a lot for Backstrom they wouldn’t be offering the high picks and/or top prospects other teams could simply because they don’t have the high picks or top prospects to do so. Other teams like Florida or New Jersey may be willing to trade top prospects (like Dmitry Kulikov or Nick Bjugstad from the Panthers and Adam Larsson for the Devils) and draft picks for a player of Backstrom’s caliber, but would they be willing to deal with a team in their conference?
Would Washington and Florida make a block buster deal within the division?
I think they would. But there are still more options for Washington. I think Minnesota would make an interesting trading partner for the Capitals and Backstrom. The Wild have a great collection of prospects and unlike the Capitals I believe they would be more willing to deal those prospects to acquire super star talent. They may even be willing to part with top prospects Mikael Granlund and Jonas Brodin, both of whom are currently on their roster. There is a problem with dealing Backstrom to Minnesota. Backstrom has a $6.7 Million cap hit. While Minnesota would still be under the if they were to trade Granlund and Brodin, and either lose their goalie, also named Nicklas Backstrom, to free agency or give him a serious hair cut on his cap hit. But the bigger problem is that Backstrom’s $6.7 Million cap hit would be the fifth biggest cap hit on his team. While Dany Heatley may be bought out and might be gone after the 2013-14 season the Wild would still have four players with cap hits in excess of $6.7 Million under contract for the next five seasons. Would the Wild be willing to take on so many huge contracts?
The most intriguing possible trade partner for Capitals is the Edmonton Oilers. A deal the breaks down like Backstrom to Edmonton for Sam Gagner, a first, and second round pick would be nearly identical to the Jeff Carter deal. But I think there is an even more intriguing deal that could be worked out between those two teams. A deal that would involve Nail Yakupov headed to Washington D.C.
WAIT!….Before you start calling me crazy, hear me out….
“Why would Edmonton trade their first overall pick”?
Well there are a few reasons. First, before the Oilers can even negotiate with Nail they will have to resign Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz, Sam Gagner, Ryan Whitney, and Devan Dubnyk. How much are they going to be paid? All that comes on top of the fact that Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle with both have $6 Million dollar cap hits starting next season complicates Edmonton’s cap situation even more.
“But wait” you might say “Backstrom has a bigger cap hit than both of those guys, wouldn’t that complicate things more”?
While Backstrom’s cap hit is an issue there is another reason why Edmonton may be willing to deal Nail for Nick. Edmonton are hurting for centers. Sam Gagner has never had a face off percentage higher than 47.6% and is probably better suited for the wing. Eric Belanger is a fourth liner and keeps getting older, and Shawn Horcoff is on the downslide and might be bought out after the season. Edmonton has an abundance of young wingers and a lack of talent centers.
What could make Edmonton even more willing to trade Nail is the fact that he is not well liked in the Canadian media.
It started when he decided to play in the KHL during the lockout instead of returning to the Sarnia Sting. It continued when he refused to talk to the Canadian during the World Juniors who then began criticizing his relative lack of production; especially compared to fellow Oilers first round pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Following his exuberant goal celebration in his third NHL game the scorn of the Canadian media came upon the 19 year old Russian once again. He even drew a sarcastic twitter chirp from Taylor Hall, probably the team’s next captain, a few games later when Nail didn’t celebrate following another big goal.
The Canadian public has already begun to turn on Nail. They will have trouble keeping him on the team long term.
They have an overabundance of wingers and are in desperate need of a center. This deal makes sense for both teams. Now I don’t think Edmonton could deal Nail for Nick straight up, they would probably have to throw in a pick, maybe even a first round pick, to get Backstrom in an Oilers jersey but considering their wealth of young talent they would probably be willing to make that deal.
The window on the old Washington Capital team has closed. But they sit primed to rip open a new window that could remain open for years. While they may not make all the deals I mentioned, but if they do they could have as many as six picks in the first 60 draft picks on top of their elite prospects like Yakupov, Kuznetsov, Forsberg, Tom Wilson, and Riley Barber.
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