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How Trading Philipp Grubauer Can Improve the Caps’ Defense
As everyone knows, Nate Schmidt, was taken by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft. Now the Washington Capitals have a job opening for a fourth defenseman. There are a couple of ways this could be done: Trade, free agency, or internally. The problem with trade or free agency involves salary cap space. With several other RFA’s due for raises: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Andre Burakovsky, what better way to clear some of that up than by trading away RFA goaltender Philipp Grubauer?
The salaries in this particular setup would leave the Capitals with approximately $0.65M ($643,227 to be exact) to play with. Pair that with the theoretical Grubauer contract and you can trade for a player making up to $2.4M. These numbers are easily debatable but that’s beside the point – there will still be more cap space. Not every team in the NHL is in need of a goaltender, so I’ve compiled a list a potential trade partners they would potentially show interested in Grubauer.
The Winnipeg Jets are probably one of the two best suitors on this list. Ondrej Pavelec went from NHL starter to minor league goaltender last season and with his contract expired, it looks like his time with the Jets is over. His replacement, Connor Hellebuyck, and Hellebuyck’s back-up, Michael Hutchinson, didn’t give Winnipeg much to be happy about at season’s end. Hellebuyck finished with a 0.907 save percentage while Hutchinson finished with an even worse 0.903.
So enough about the terrible goaltending situation. Grubauer would be a perfect suitor to swoop in and take over as the Jets starter. So who would the Caps get in return? Possibly Jacob Trouba or Joshua Morrissey. Both are young defensemen under reasonable contracts that could fill out a 4D spot on a team like the Caps.
Trouba is already considered a top defenseman in the league and is due for a big pay raise upon the expiring of his current bridge deal. Acquiring him would undoubtedly fill the puck-moving role that Schmidt had, and then some. The issue with this is he will not come cheap and may not be a long-term solution given the fact that he was already demanding upwards of $7M during his last contract negotiations before settling on a bridge deal.
Morrissey played his first NHL season last year and split time as the defensive pair of both Dustin Byfuglien and Trouba. Already having taken on top 4D minutes he generally improved both Trouba’s and Byfuglien’s numbers when paired together. He could either be a diamond in the rough that Winnipeg hasn’t yet realized could grow into a top pair or his worth has already skyrocketed and acquiring him may not be cheap.
Neither however, would be easy to part with but if a consistent goaltender would be coming back to then the Jets may consider moving one. A player I would love to offer with Grubauer is Tom Wilson. Wilson could be slotted into a middle six role and on top of that he would open another $2M for the Caps to put towards RFA’s if their contracts go higher than projected above.
Ideally the Caps stop immediately at Winnipeg and snag one of the two young defensemen mentioned above, but any team must weigh all of their options before pulling the trigger.
The next potential trade partner would be the Philadelphia Flyers, since they don’t seem to want to re-sign Steve Mason, and get inconsistent play from Michal Neuvirth. Which Flyers defensemen would the Caps be interested in? Shane Gostisbehere or Radko Gudas.
Gostisbehere is… not getting traded to the Caps, moving on.
Gudas would be a great upgrade to the blueline. He is signed for the next three seasons and would help to work young defensemen into a consistent role by the end of his deal. He is one of Philly’s top defensemen, so again, he would not come cheap but the Caps would offer consistency in a position that has lacked that for many seasons.
Next up are the Colorado Avalanche, who have a familiar face in goal in Semyon Varlamov. Varly however, had a shaky year that ended in a season ending injury and saw Calvin Pickard take over and play 50 games. Pickard is now a Vegas Golden Knight. The Avalanche are clearly struggling with a lot of things, and Grubauer could come in and slowly migrate into a starter for the Avalanche.
Who would the Caps get in return? Erik Johnson or Tyson Barrie would fit nicely in a top four role with the Caps. Both, however, come with a high cap hit which is not something the Caps are poised to take on without some help. Given that the Avalanche aren’t going to be contenders for another year or so, would they take on a contract like Brooks Orpik‘s to facilitate a move involving either defenseman?
Taking a closer look at each potential replacement, let’s start with Johnson. He has played as a number one defenseman for many years, and slotting into a lesser, 4D role should not pose any issues. A major concern is that his deal runs for 6 more years and he suffered a shortened season from a broken fibula last December. The last thing we want is to get stuck with an even worse contract than Orpik’s.
The alternative, Barrie, comes in around the same cap hit at half the term. Barrie has blossomed into a first pairing defenseman, holding that role since midway through the 2014-15 NHL season and has put up 35-50 points each season since. He doesn’t tip the need significantly in terms of improving his teammates but it still shows.
There are a few other teams that could be considered but the Jets, Flyers, and Avalanche seem to be the best suitors. The other teams I considered can be found below to get you thinking about other possibilities and trade partners.
In the end Winnipeg, would be the best trade partner out of the three. Trading Grubauer to a division rival is something that a) Will probably never happen and b) Something that Caps wouldn’t even consider. With Colorado, you have decent defensemen that are making as much or more than all of the current defenders on the Caps. Winnipeg could return a legitimate defensemen on an extremely affordable deal that could easily replace Schmidt’s assumed role this season. There’s much left to do by the Caps however, before anything like this even gains traction. All we can do is sit back and wait.
All cap space numbers came from capfriendly.com.
All goalie stats come from www.hockeydb.com.