NHL Trade Rumors: 7 Reasons the Capitals Should Retool for Next Season

Ryan DavenportContributor IFebruary 23, 2012

NHL Trade Rumors: 7 Reasons the Capitals Should Retool for Next Season

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    With just over 20 games remaining for the Washington Capitals to turn things around in order to avoid missing the postseason for the first time in five years, general manager George McPhee faces a difficult decision.  

    Seeing as the NHL's Trade Deadline is just a week away, McPhee has to decide whether to auction off some of the team's top young assets in order to get some help for the immediate future, or instead deal some veteran players in order to put the Caps in a better position for the 2012-13 NHL Season.  

    As things stand now, the Capitals' inconsistent efforts have put them in danger of falling out of the playoff race altogether, and it seems clear that if they're serious about even making it out of the first round of the postseason, they'll need reinforcements.  

    However, even if McPhee acquires a crafty veteran or two, it seems unlikely that a team that has performed so poorly for more than half of the season can suddenly turn the corner and play like the contender they were once labeled to be.  

    With that in mind, here are seven reasons why the Capitals should retool for next season, and worry less about the team's performance over the next two months.   

7. The Pipeline Is Too Rich in Talent

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    Any offer the Caps would make in order to acquire an impact player would almost undoubtedly include one of the team's top prospects, such as Evgeni Kuznetsov, Dmitri Orlov or Cody Eakin, all of whom have become highly touted youngsters since being drafted.  

    Of the three, it seems only Eakin would be worth dealing, because Orlov has already blossomed into a top-four defenseman with Washington, and Kuznetsov, the 2011 World Junior Championship MVP, is sure to be a star whenever he makes his NHL debut.  

    Orlov and Kuznetsov both have all the tools to be standouts in the next two-to-three seasons, suggesting the Capitals' window of opportunity to win may be later than previously expected.  

6. The Risk Factor

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    At this point in the season, if the Capitals haven't already assured themselves of a Postseason berth—especially playing in the perennially weak Southeast Division—what makes McPhee or owner Ted Leonsis believe that the team can do some damage if they manage to make the Playoffs? 

    The Capitals have played uninspired hockey for months now, and it simply isn't worth trading away valuable assets in exchange for an outside shot of hosting two or three home games come Playoff time. 

    With that in mind, it'd be best if McPhee decided to stick with the group he has now, and wait until the Summer to make any meaningful moves.  The Caps still might make the Playoffs with their current group, which is what they should try to do, rather than pull the trigger on a deal that could hurt the team in the long run.  

5. The Deadline Acquisitions Haven't Paid off in Previous Years

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    During Bruce Boudreau's four-year tenure behind the Caps' bench, Washington acquired a number of veterans at the Trade Deadline almost every season.  

    In 2007-08, it was Sergei Fedorov, Matt Cooke and Cristobel Huet.  In 2009-10, it was Joe Corvo, Scott Walker and Eric Belanger.  Last season, McPhee brought in Jason Arnott, Marco Sturm and Dennis Wideman, but none of the moves ultimately paid off, as the Caps continued to make relatively early Playoff exits.  

    If none of those trades made a difference in the team's Postseason fortunes, there's virtually no chance that an acquisition would help this Caps team venture beyond the Conference Semifinals, so McPhee should focus on bolstering his team's roster for next season.  

4. The Team's Biggest Holes Can't Be Filled Now

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    While Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and the rest of the Caps forwards, save for Nicklas Backstrom, haven't met expectations this season, there is plenty more blame to go around in Washington's dressing room. 

    The defense, with the exception of Dennis Wideman, has been porous on far too many nights, and the addition of a single shutdown rearguard is unlikely to immediately shore up the blue line. 

    Behind them, the Caps' goaltenders have been spectacularly unspectacular for a good portion of the season to date, and it's basically out of the question that McPhee would be able to add an upgrade in between the pipes before February 27th.

    If Washington enters the Postseason (assuming they even earn the right to be there), how can one expect Michal Neuvirth or former All-Star Tomas Vokoun to suddenly morph into a clutch goaltender, when the pair have a grand total of seven career Playoff victories combined? 

3. Few of the Players Available Would Help the Caps' Cause

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    This year, like almost any other, there are far more teams that are considered to be buyers than sellers, as only a handful of teams have played their way out of Playoff contention. 

    As a result, there aren't many big name talents being dangled as trade bait, and even fewer that could be attained at a price that Washington would be willing to meet.

    Yes, Rick Nash, Jeff Carter, Ryan Suter, Jack Johnson and Ales Hemsky would provide any team in the league with immediate support, but there's a couple of reasons why none of them have moved yet: the asking price of their current respective teams are obviously too high, and each carry cap hits that are too rich for many potential suitors to swallow. 

    Aside from those five players, who else on the market would be enough of a difference maker to change the outcome of a game?  Names like Paul Gaustad, Johnny Oduya, Ray Whitney and Marek Zidlicky are rumored to be available, but it's difficult to imagine any of them single-handedly altering the course of a team that has underachieved all season.  

2. This Isn't the Capitals' Year

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    Currently, the Capitals sit just two points out of first place in the Southeast Division, so the team is more than capable of leapfrogging the Florida Panthers and capturing its fifth consecutive divisional title.  

    Unfortunately, the Southeast Champion banners mean nothing to a franchise and fan base that have grown sick and tired of early Playoff exits, and the Caps' management has to be realistic about this team's chances about even advancing beyond the first round.  

    If the Caps do indeed clinch the division, they'll likely earn a Quarterfinal date with either Ottawa, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia or New Jersey.

    If Washington lucks out and ends up facing the Senators or Maple Leafs, they could conceivably advance to the Semifinals, but it seems unlikely that the Capitals could knock off the Flyers, Penguins or Devils based upon the Caps' recent performances.  

    Furthermore, if the Caps find a way to emerge victorious after Round One, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone that believes Washington would put up much of a fight against the Bruins or Rangers, which is why McPhee should turn his focus to putting together a stronger squad for next season.  

1. The Absence of Backstrom Is Too Great to Overcome

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    Through the first 38 games of the 2011-12 Season, Nicklas Backstrom was the Capitals' best and most valuable player by a wide margin.  

    Ultimately, the Caps' Stanley Cup hopes for 2012 went out the window when Backstrom found himself on the receiving end of a vicious elbow to the head, courtesy of Rene Bourque.

    Since being diagnosed with a concussion in the first week of January, Backstrom has skated for a grand total of five minutes, making it unlikely that he'll be cleared in time for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

    Without Backstrom, the team's offensive catalyst, the Caps face an uphill battle to generate scoring chances, which was a problem even before Backstrom went down.  No deadline acquisition can replace a former 100-point scorer like Washington's slick Swede, as the best centers that are rumored to be available are Mike Ribeiro and Jeff Carter.  

    Rather than scramble in an attempt to fill the void created by Backstrom's injury, McPhee and the Caps' brain trust should wait until Backstrom's healthy, because Washington obviously stands a much better chance of winning the Stanley Cup with him in the lineup.