With the trade deadline approaching on Monday and the Washington Capitals enjoying their best start in franchise history, general manager Brian MacLellan said that he doesn’t foresee making any moves that would drastically shake the foundation of the team.
“I think it’s a little unusual this year in that we don’t have a hole up there that we’re trying to fill,” MacLellan said on Thursday. “We’re not coming in and saying that we need a top-six forward. I like our top-six forwards. I like our third line, so it’s not, ‘Do we need to fill a big hole?’ We’re not trying to fill that hole. We’re just trying to cover ourselves in case something happens. As deep as we can get our team, we’re going to get it.”
The Capitals took a stride toward fortifying their depth on Tuesday, acquiring defenseman Mike Weber in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres. MacLellan said that if any other deals are reached, he thought they would likely be for a forward who could swing between Washington and the minor leagues and play six or seven minutes for the Capitals in a pinch when needed.
That would have seemingly ruled Washington out of making a run at someone like Andrew Ladd, the left wing who was considered one of the top players available before he was traded by the Winnipeg Jets to the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night, or Boston Bruins left wing Loui Eriksson, who could be dealt despite his team being in contention for a playoff spot.
Both players, whose contracts expire at the end of the season, also have carry significant salary cap hits, with each in excess of $4 million. The Capitals, who are up against the limit and will have to make a move with Jay Beagle set to return from injury, would have to make other sizeable changes to fit them on the roster.
Acquiring either player would be a sure sign that the Capitals are hell-bent upon winning the Stanley Cup, which a number of players have said more resolutely in recent days is the goal. Despite a 4-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday that snapped a four-game win streak, Washington (44-11-4) leads the NHL with 92 points.
“We’re in the win-now,” MacLellan said. “I mean, I look at it, and I don’t see huge upgrades out there. I mean, I see the names. Is it a huge upgrade? Is it going to have that big an impact on our team? I don’t believe so.”
And, because the Capitals have achieved so much up to this point, adding anyone else who would be expected to play significant minutes could have adverse effects — either on the team or on individuals.
“I’d be really reluctant to do that,” MacLellan said. “I think there’s a good chemistry. We’ve got a good room. Guys get along. They seem to play hard for each other, so I’d be really reluctant to change that up.”
Plus, MacLellan said, the team’s collective future could be at stake should a drastic move be made. Only Jason Chimera and Mike Richards are set to be unrestricted free agents after the season — a number of others are restricted free agents, and those players typically return — and MacLellan believes that offers the Capitals a two-year window to win the Stanley Cup.
“We’re going for it this year, we’re going for it next year and then after that, we’re evaluating where we’re at,” MacLellan said. “I mean, we’re going to have some decisions to make as far as veteran players, and our young guys are going to be due for some pay raises.”
The Capitals hold an 18-point lead over the New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division and are on track to be able to qualify for the playoffs as soon as the second week of March — nearly a full month ahead of the end of the regular season.
That could, in theory, provide the Capitals with a chance to rest some of their players down the stretch, but MacLellan said he and Trotz have not begun having those discussions. If so, MacLellan said some players — specifically identifying Zach Sill — could play a role once the deadline passes and the 23-man roster limit is lifted.
Those moves might be the only ones the Capitals make. Asked if he would be content if he didn’t swing any deals before Monday, MacLellan resolutely said yes.
“I’m happy with where we’re at,” MacLellan said. “This has been a fun season so far. I think if you look back a year and a half ago to where we are now, you’re not going to say this is a bust. It’s good. There’s a lot of positives going on, but I mean, we want to win a championship. I mean, that’s the goal of ownership, that’s the goal of management, that’s the goal of the coaches and the players is to win a championship. I think we’re happy with the year so far. I just think we got to continually hold that as our goal.”