Lars Eller always looks like he's smelling something fowl.
Caps’ Options at the Deadline
Could Johansson be lacing up his skates for someone else soon? (Photo by Alena Schwarz)
With the trade deadline coming up on April 3rd at 3 pm, Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee has some serious thinking to do. After the loss to the New York Islanders, that Caps are four points out of the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They are also seven points out of first in the Southeast Division, a guaranteed playoff spot. As a team currently fights to play in the postseason, McPhee is asking himself: Shop or sell?
If McPhee moves for any player that is not scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, he has to consider what the financial landscape will look like the following season. The National Hockey League salary cap ceiling is scheduled to come down from 70.2 to 64.3 million. At the moment the Caps have just under 50 million tied up in only 15 players, leaving them around 15 million in cap space to sign at least five players, including their own restricted free agents. Making a move for any player that is signed through next season can change the cap space they have available and their plans for the summer and next season.
Going into Wednesday’s deadline, lets take a look at the top three Caps with arguably the most trade value:
Mike Ribeiro – Scheduled the become and unrestricted free agent after the 2012-13 season, Ribeiro statistically is the best player on the roster, having 11 goals and 24 assists in 33 games. And while he occasionally finds himself in the penalty box due to his mouth, his offensive output can outweigh his temper. He was recently in the news saying he is looking for a long term deal with any club, preferring not to have to move his family every few years. At 33, a long term deal at a high cap hit is a risk for the Caps, or anyone for that matter. However, they moved Cody Eakin and a 2nd round pick to acquire Ribeiro, and losing him for nothing in July would be a poor decision.
Ribeiro has the most trade value of any player the team would look to move. He is scheduled to become one of the top free agents available, with Ryan Getzlaf and Alexander Semin recently signing extensions with their clubs, and likely has the highest trade value. With Brendan Morrow and a 3rd round pick moving to the Pittsburgh Penguins for prospect Joe Morrow and a 5th round pick, Ribeiro would likely command a significantly higher return.
However, replacing Ribeiro on the second line will not be easy. The Caps do not appear to have anyone currently on the roster that can play as the second line center, and prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov is not coming over to the NHL until after the 2014 Winter Olympics. There are also few free agents available that can replace Ribeiro, such as Derek Roy and Patrick Elias, although Elias is 37 and may want to stay in New Jersey. While Roy is four years younger than Ribeiro and would likely cost less, he has not been having statistically a great season in Dallas. Ribeiro currently has the most points this season of any soon to be free agent center, and would likely get offered six million per season.
Marcus Johansson – Scheduled to become a restricted free agent, Johansson has likely the most trade value while causing the Caps to lose the least in the future. While not proven, prospect Filip Forsberg is scheduled to come over to the NHL next season, and could replace Johansson. At age 22, Johansson would just be coming off his entry level deal, and likely would not command too high a salary in his next contract. He also has what rebuilding teams desire in that he still has potential. While Johansson has looked better since his return from a concussion, trading him, and possible prospects or draft picks, could net the Caps a top six forward in return to help them push for a playoff spot.
Michal Neuvirth – Scheduled to become a restricted free agent, and having arguably a lot of trade value, moving Neuvirth could be a risky move. While Braden Holtby looked great during the playoffs last season and has looked much better over the past month, he is not yet a proven NHL goalie. However, he has been getting most of the games recently and appears to have settled in as the Caps number one option. Like they did with Semyon Varlamov, the Caps could look to move Neuvirth to a team looking for a young goalie. New Jersey, Edmonton, Calgary, Phoenix, the Islanders, and Philadelphia could all look to get younger in their goal tending department. The return for Neuvirth would likely be draft picks from playoff bound teams, or a roster player if a team is looking to sell and retool for next season. The Caps would also have to then trade for a viable backup for Holtby, assuming they’re not ready to bring Philipp Grubauer up from Hershey.
There are other players the Caps could look to move, but none of them will likely have as high a trade value. Players like Wojtek Wolski, Joel Ward, Jason Chimera, and Matt Hendricks have some trade value, but likely would only get the team back late draft picks, or a similar player. The same would go for defensemen Jack Hillen, Jeff Schultz, and Tom Poti.
If the Caps become sellers, the returns should be young NHL players or prospects and draft picks. The plan would be to build for next season and beyond. If they are buyers, look for players who can help them now. They could look at players like Calgary’s Jarome Iginla (set to become an unrestricted free agent) or San Jose’s Ryane Clowe (set to become an unrestricted free agent).
Next Wednesday’s deadline is coming up rather quickly, McPhee could easily stand pat. He could look to sign Ribeiro to an extension and wait to sign or move Johansson and Neuvirth during the summer. Either way, any moves can play a major part in the future of this team.