The Caps sure looked like they were still on vacation for the NHL All-Star break as they were blanked 4-0 in Montreal tonight. The Canadiens continue to be one of the hottest teams in the NHL and are determined to show that they won’t do their usual second half fold this season and make the playoffs (they currently sit fourth in the Eastern Conference with 62 points).
As for the local guys in red, white, and blue the loss dropped the team to 23-23-5 and more importantly are now three points behind the division leading Carolina Hurricanes who knocked off the Rangers, 3-1, tonight in Raleigh. The Caps do have two games in hand on Carolina.
In the last three games the Caps are really struggling in their own zone as evidenced by the fact that they gave up 40 shots to Montreal tonight. The foot injury to defenseman Shaone Morrisonn has really crippled the back end since the rest of the defensive corps does not strike fear in the opposition forwards (except at times by John Erskine but skating and stick-handling are his downfalls). This leaves the Caps goalies with the daunting task of not only stopping the first shot but making sure they don’t give up a rebound because an opposing forward is likely to be on the doorstep (see Alexei Kovalev’s goal tonight).
The trade deadline is less than four weeks away (February 26th at 3pm) so it will be up to GM George McPhee to pull the right strings to get this team over the top and into the playoffs. George should be focused on finding some defensemen because pretty much every other team in the league is in the market for a top-six forward according to former Caps and current Nashville Predators GM David Poile so the market for forwards will be highly competitive.
Over the next four weeks teams will hopefully start to separate themselves in the standings. Right now there are only two things I can say for sure: The Detroit Red Wings will win their division and the Western Conference and the Los Angeles Kings will not make the playoffs. Given that the trade deadline is earlier in the season with this new collective bargaining agreement it is often tougher for teams to figure out whether they are buyers or sellers.
Traditionally players that are going to be unrestricted free agents after the season on teams destined to miss the playoffs are the players who will likely be dealt. Given that criteria here are a list of forwards and defensemen that will likely be made available at or before the deadline and their current salary:
Mats Sundin, Toronto, $5.5M
Sergei Federov, Columbus, $6.08M
Ladislav Nagy, Los Angeles, $3.75M
J.P Dumont, Nashville, $2.5M
Martin Lapointe, Chicago, $2.4M
David Vyborny, Columbus, $2.2M
Vaclav Prospal, Tampa Bay, $1.9M
Chris Gratton, Tampa Bay, $1.5M
Yanic Perrault, Chicago, $1.5M
Geoff Sanderson, Edmonton, $1.5M
Scott Thornton, Los Angeles, $1.5M
Michael Peca, Columbus, $1.31M
Martin Gelinas, Nashville, $1.25M
Rob Blake, Los Angeles, $6.0M
Adam Foote, Columbus, $4.6M
Dan Boyle, Tampa Bay, $3.62M
Brad Stuart, Los Angeles, $3.5M
Dmitri Kalinin, Buffalo, $2.25M
Dick Tarnstrom, Edmonton, $2.0M
Brian Campbell, Buffalo, $1.75M
Andrei Zyuzin, Chicago, $1.47M
Given the list of defensemen above, I would think that guys like Brad Stuart or Adam Foote would be good fits for the Capitals defense. Both are physical players and Foote adds leadership and experience (two Stanley Cups with Colorado). There are several forwards who might fit nicely on the first line with Ovechkin and Backstrom for the remainder of the season (Kozlov will likely not get it done despite his scoring spree right before the All-Star break). Geoff Sanderson is older but has a very good shot and can skate well and J.P. Dumont can definitely put the puck in the net so those might be cheap options to play with #’s 8 and 19. Scott Thornton or Michael Peca might also be forwards the Caps look at to add defensive help and in Peca’s case he brings leadership (former team captain Buffalo). I don’t see the Caps in the Rob Blake or Mats Sundin sweepstakes.
Of course, if the Caps fall off the playoff pace these next four weeks they could easily end up sellers which would likely mean that goalie Olie Kolzig is dealt (unrestricted free agent at season’s end). McPhee probably needs to get this team into the playoffs for his own job security so he can’t afford to wait too long to pull the trigger and make some moves to help put the team in the playoffs.