After edging Florida 2-1 on Friday, the Washington Capitals are two games out of the playoffs, limping in a tight, three-legged race for the Southeast division. They're in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-2007 season.
The Caps need help.
First-line center Nicklas Backstrom’s return from a concussion is anyone’s guess while offensive defenseman Mike Green’s comeback is hopeful but uncertain. Either way, Dale Hunter’s squad needs a shooter to revive its attack.
But who will propel the crippled Caps back into the picture?
Here’s a look at five players McPhee could lease or buy to add an instant edge to the Caps’ underachieving lineup.
Columbus Blue Jackets center Jeff Carter would add something to the Caps’ attack that’s been glaringly dismal for most of the season: shots. Washington’s shots per game are 24th in the league—a far cry from the previous three years—and Carter isn’t afraid to pull the trigger.
The Capitals once feared Carter. He was a Cap-killer as a Philadelphia Flyer, and there’s plenty of institutional memory in Washington to warrant a bid for the center.
Once a perennial 30-goal scorer, Carter’s Ohio home has been less friendly to his stat sheet. But the Caps’ speed would create scoring chances for the former Flyer to regain his reputation while aiding their struggling power play.
Washington would have to give up at least a first-rounder and defensemen Dmitry Orlov and Roman Hamrlik, whose salary hogs Washington's cap room. But Carter could provide the spark for a team that every year must win now or never.
The Caps have playmakers, but a role player like the Edmonton Oiler Ales Hemsky would be invaluable to a team in need of a shake-up but not an earthquake.
Hemsky’s unselfish play (four goals, 24 assists this season) would complement Alex Ovechkin’s mandate to score. And what’s more, the Caps could grab him without dismantling the already unstable lineup.
This year’s first-round pick and a prospect like forward Cody Eakin would be enough for the rebuilding Oilers. But trading a blueliner like Dmitry Orlov or John Carlson can’t be part of the deal; DC’s defense corps must remain intact if the Caps are headed to the playoffs—especially given Hemsky’s career plus-minus 27.
The Capitals could use a guy like Ray Whitney of the Phoenix Coyotes to steady the lines in Washington.
Coach Dale Hunter is still getting used to holding the reigns, and Whitney, an experienced Cup winner, adds confidence to the lineup as a veteran third- or fourth-line winger. At 39, his offensive touch and talent could teach the young bucks responsibility for the puck.
In the offseason, the Caps overpaid for Roman Hamrlik and signed a pity paycheck for fan favorite Jeff Halpern with hopes of both production and wisdom, respectively.
Whitney is more than a wise old man—he’s a point producer. And with a $3 million cap hit, general manager George McPhee can find a way to make it happen.
Whether or not Backstrom returns before the playoffs, Nash’s physical play and scoring ability would guarantee another division title in a scrawny Southeast field.
And Nash’s contract structure means the natural-born leader could become a multi-year fixture in DC—a city full of leaders but few to speak of at the Verizon Center.
Washington would have to part with a first-round pick and probably two young talents. Defensemen Karl Alzner and John Carlson, goalies Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth and speedy center Marcus Johannson would be fair game.
So would Alex Semin. Just sayin’.
A tough choice, but Washington could afford to take a hit if it means winning now.
Without a solid first-line center, Alexander Ovechkin’s game suffers, and a Caps playoff run becomes a distant dream. Detroit Red Wings center Jiri Hudler can’t replace Backstrom’s puck-feeding ability, but he’d make a solid stand-in if the Swede’s concussed head doesn’t heal quickly.
The Wings could afford to part with Hudler, but it's unlikely. The plus-five center is having a breakout year for the Wings with 18 goals and 17 assists, so whether he’s even on the table is another story.
Still, Washington has a deck of young forwards they could deal. Marcus Johansson, Mathieu Perrault or Cody Eakin are options. One of the young guys plus a veteran like Roman Hamrlik or Joel Ward to clear cap space could be enough to lure Detroit and boost the Caps’ run without depleting their stable of promising young forwards.