Buy or Sell Decision Still Not Clear for Caps

February 22, 2012 | Ed Frankovic

The Caps lose to Ottawa, 5-2. Is it time to sell at the NHL trade deadline?

The Buy or Sell decision, on paper, looks like an easy one right now for the Washington Capitals.


With Nicklas Backstrom showing no signs of returning in the regular season from his concussion the holes up the middle of the ice appear to be too much for Washington to overcome. On Wednesday night that was apparent once again as the Ottawa Senators raced to an early 2-0 lead, extended it to 4-0 after 40 minutes, then fought off a late Caps rally to prevail 5-2 on an empty net goal.

The Caps played without Alexander Ovechkin, who was injured in Carolina on Tuesday in the second frame, but came back to play in the third period. The Gr8 missed practice yesterday and was scratched Wednesday with an undisclosed lower body injury. To say it has not been a good year, healthwise, for the Capitals is an understatement.

With Monday’s NHL trade deadline looming and just two games left for Washington before then, the Caps remain two points outside of the eighth and final playoff position. They are also only two points behind division leading Florida, who now have two games in hand on the Capitals. But this club has been unable to put together consistent efforts and if the two road games this week are any indication, the team has run out of gas with their most important player, #19, still out of the lineup.

Given that unrestricted free agents Tomas Vokoun, Dennis Wideman, Alexander Semin, and Mike Knuble might yield some good returns surely going the sell route is a no-brainer for general manager George McPhee, right?

Not so fast. The Capitals just announced that ticket prices for next season are going up, on an average of 8%, so for the club to conduct a mini sale and pack it in could significantly hurt season renewals. In addition, there is very likely pressure on McPhee from ownership to not only make the playoffs, but actually go deep into the them. So if the above are the deciding factors then shouldn’t Washington be buyers?

Again, not so easy to decipher and Washington’s salary cap predicament makes it hard for the GM to add assets without moving salary out. In addition, it is even more of a buyer’s market than normal this year, especially when a defenseman like Kyle Quincey goes for a first round draft pick (traded from Tampa to Detroit).

One thing is for certain, this team lacks confidence on the ice. They are not a hard team to play against at all, something that was expected to improve under coach Dale Hunter. At this point, it is clear coaching isn’t the main problem. Both Hunter and Bruce Boudreau have their strengths and weaknesses but the holes on the roster are making it too difficult for any bench boss to keep the team consistent once an injury or two hit.

The question now is can McPhee do something in the next four days to save the season? He has two first round picks in the this year’s draft available to bargain with, but again, he’d likely have to move salary with it in order to take on a top player in return. McPhee has been reluctant to trade 1st round picks in the past so why would this year be any different, especially in a season where the NHL entry draft is supposedly very good? The difference could be the job pressure he has to be feeling, but then again, who is to say that ownership may not give him full reign to make those short term yielding type of trades?

One thing is certain, the next four days are going to be very interesting because everything appears to be a possibility right now for the Caps, from buy to sell to simply standing pat.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I’ll be on the WNST Morning Reaction with Drew Forrester at 7:35 am on Thursday talking Caps hockey. Listen on 1570 AM in Baltimore or live via WNST.NET