Clearly the Caps are in need of a top-six center at the deadline, as well as possibly adding another defenseman. With the league standings so close just a couple of weeks before the deadline, it is still tough to determine which teams could be sellers. However, let's assume that general manager George McPhee can make deals happen for any of the possibly available at the deadline players; Who should the Caps go after? For now, let's take a look at some of the possibilities on the front end of the ice.
Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes - Cap hit $4.55M, pending UFA
Why he would fit: Shane Doan is everything you could ever want in a captain and more. Both on and off the ice, Doan leads his Coyotes teammates by example, both as a person and as a hockey player. Doan's leaderships skills go unquestioned, and his willingness to step up against the toughest of opponents to defend his teammates is unparalleled. Making this such a great fit is how over the years, this group of Capitals' mental toughness has been questioned on a consistent basis. The ability to bring in a mentor for the Caps' captain Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the team is something that has paid heavy dividends in the past (e.g. Sergei Fedorov), and McPhee could be well off to try it again.
Doan has also been a strong performer over his brief playoff stints with the Coyotes, registering 10 goals and 9 assists in 39 career games, along with 44 penalty minutes. Bringing in Doan could relieve a guy like Brooks Laich from some of his heavy power play expectations, as he could play in front of the net with his 6'1'', 223 pound frame. With the decline in Mike Knuble's production in 2012, this could be an invaluable asset going forward.
Jarome Iginla, Calgary Flames, Cap hit $7M, signed through 2012-'13
A bit of a stretch? Probably. But the versatile Iginla could address several of the Caps same issues as a guy like Shane Doan would. Iginla brings the highest levels of leadership, toughness, and skill into every game he plays. Along with his obvious skill and ability to teach the younger Caps players about what it takes to be successful, Iginla would bring the Caps a top-notch leadership role into the locker room that could take a struggling Caps team for a deep playoff run (think Calgary 2004). His impressive playoff numbers (28 goals and 21 assists in 54 career games) make him an excellent candidate to help bolster the Washington lineup when it comes time to play a playoff style of hockey. Plus, who wouldn't want to have a captain who is willing to drop 'em against the opposing team's leader in the Finals?
Unfortunately, Marcus Johansson has not proven himself to be ready to be a top line pivot between the talents of Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin/Troy Brouwer, and time in running short to find a replacement. With Nicklas Backstrom, who has skated just a few minutes in no pads since suffering a concussion on an elbow from then Calgary's Rene Bourque, the Caps are running short on time to find a replacement for the young Swede. Fortunately, there may be a couple of good fits available at the trade deadline for the right price.
Sam Gagner, Edmonton Oilers, cap hit $2.275M, pending UFA
It's not often that such a young talent is available on the trade market, but with their stockpile of young talent and what is sure to be an early first round pick on the way again this season, the 22 year old Ontario native may be the exception to the rule. Gagner has recently experienced a huge break out season, totaling 15 points in his last 5 games. With the absence of Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals' biggest problem remains their lack of talent and size down the middle. At just 5'11' 195 lbs., Gagner would not necessarily help on the size aspect of things, but his elusive skating and vision abilities make him well worth the risk of bringing him in to center Alex Ovechkin on the top line. The former first round pick also has never experienced the intensity of playoff hockey in his NHL career, making him an unknown in the lineup come April. The Oilers will likely have many suitors calling for Gagner's services over the next two weeks, which could drive up the asking price for his talents a bit too high for George McPhee's liking.
Jeff Carter, Columbus Blue Jackets, cap hit $5.273M through 2021-'22
Another unlikely scenario, but one worth looking into. The 27 year old Carter has made it abundantly clear that he is not happy with his present situation in Columbus, and there will be no shortage of teams willing to take him into their lineups. While the length of Carter's contract will likely scare the Capitals' away from dealing for him, Carter does bring with him experience of what it takes to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, having gone to a game 6 in 2010 before being knocked out by Patrick Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks.
Another intangible danger of welcoming in Carter to the Washington locker room would be his known tendency to party a little too much, one of the reasons for his break up with the Flyers and Mike Richards this past summer. And as all Caps fans know, there are a certain couple of Russians who are not all that hard to find on stage anytime there's a good late night show in town.
Putting that aside, Carter is a hard to find talent in the NHL. The Capitals are fortunate to have two elite left-shot centers in Backstrom and Marcus Johansson, but adding a right-hander to the line up could prove valuable in certain situations going forward. Carter and Johansson could make for a tough one-two punch down the middle, with Brooks Laich and Jeff Halpern anchoring the third and fourth lines. Carter's grittier style of play in comparison to Backstrom and Johansson could make for a strong top line when paired with the toughness of Troy Brouwer and the skill of Ovechkin. Again, this is certainly a long shot to happen, but could also be one of the more intriguing ideas moving forward were the asking price to be right.
Derek Roy, Buffalo Sabres, cap hit $4M through 2012-'13
Roy is a pesky little center who has been a reliable presence in the Buffalo Sabres' organization since they drafted him in 2001 (2nd round, 32nd overall). Roy's numbers have dipped over the past two seasons, but has always been a guy on the ice who does not go unnoticed. His ability to use his speed in a transitional situation is something that could benefit the Caps top line, especially their slumping captain's offensive production. While Roy's cap hit is only $4M, his actual salary next season is $5.5M, so the Caps might look elsewhere for a cheaper option with the pending return of Backstrom.
However, Roy has also been a steady player throughout his playoff career, putting away 7 goals and 18 assists in 41 playoff games. Playoff hockey is something that has stumped this group of Capitals thus far in their careers, so perhaps the risk of chasing a guy like Roy could be worth it, as George McPhee did with former Nashville Predator Joel Ward. And there is no doubt that Derek Roy would contribute to the Capitals' off-season partying abilities with this beauty of a summerhouse:
Derick Brassard, Columbus Blue Jackets, cap hit $3.2M through 2013-'14
With the Blue Jackets looking to possibly reload their roster, the intriguing idea of shipping out the former first round pick from Columbus possibly becomes a reality Brassard carries a very manageable cap hit, along with a solid skill set at the young age of 24. Perhaps the Caps will be more intrigued of bringing in a veteran center with some playoff experience, much like they did last season with the addition of Jason Arnott from New Jersey, but Brassard could be well worth the risk.
With Brassard being signed for two more seasons beyond this year, he would also be afforded the opportunity to be developed under gritty coach Dale Hunter, who could mold the young center into a solid second or third line guy for the Caps down the middle, allowing Brooks Laich to get more playing time at wing. Brassard is a solid player both offensively and defensively, and still possesses the raw skill that could make him into a top player for the Caps in the future. Former Columbus scout Don Boyd referred to Brassard as a future Joe Sakic when scouting him during his QMJHL playing days. Brassard totaled 218 points in 151 career games in the Q, and while he has yet to reach such numbers in the NHL, there is certainly the ability to still help Brassard find his full potential in this league. The question though ultimately has to be if he would help Washington in this year's playoff race, despite his young age and never experiencing the intensity of playoff hockey since junior. For that, George McPhee may elect to look elsewhere.
Antoine Vermette, Columbus Blue Jackets, cap hit $3.75M through 2014-'15
Vermette presents the Caps with yet another versatile option at center with the pending wholesale of the Jackets looking to reload their roster with young talent. At 6'1'', 198 lb.., and 29 years of age, Vermette could be a more reliable option for the Caps than Brassard would offer down the stretch. Vermette wouldn't offer the Caps the first line center that they would be seeking to play with Ovechkin, but could play a similar role to that of Eric Belanger during his time in Washington, able to serve on as a center on the third or even second line when needed.
One point of concern could be Vermette's lack of point production throughout his playoff career, totaling only 8 points (4 goals, 4 assists) during his 42 games of playoff experience with the Senators and Blue Jackets. What Vermette could bring, however, is a reliable two-way center capable of skating anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes a night, and a bit more of a veteran presence with a lot of playoff experience to a team which lacks just that. Bringing in Vermette could be a nice fit with the physical presence of Jason Chimera and Joel Ward on the third line, bringing a bit more of an offensive presence to the trio, while also allowing for Brooks Laich to serve as the second line center in Nicklas Backstrom's absence.
Rick Nash - Hey, we can dream, can't we?
On Monday evening, Yahoo's PuckDaddy blog reported the following:
"The Washington Capitals had two scouts at the Jackets/Ducks game on Sunday, as did Dallas, Detroit and Pittsburgh. Portzline reports that Columbus assistant GM Chris MacFarland and pro scout Pete Dineen watched the Capitals and Sharks on Monday night in D.C."
As the next two weeks progress, more options will certainly become available to the Capitals as teams continue to rise and fall in the standings. The Caps will almost certainly need to make a couple of moves to battle in this years playoffs, and majority owner Ted Leonsis certainly acknowledged that on his blog, Ted's Take. George McPhee will have the green light from his owner to do what he feels is needed to make this team competitive come April. The question is, where will the Caps get the help from, and how much of the future are they willing to compromise in order to get their wish list?
Defensemen, as well as the potential cost of making some of these moves, to come later.
*Cap hit numbers curtesy CapGeek.com