The 2011-12 season has been the first one for four seasons where the Washington Capitals have had a legitimate playoff battle on their hands, and it was expected that the team would improve at the deadline to brace themselves for the run-in.
It would be an understatement to say that people were surprised when General Manager George McPhee decided to stand pat and stick with the team that he had.
The Caps currently sit in ninth in the Eastern Conference with a 31-26-5 record, and three points back in the same Southeast Division they have ruled for the past few years. With star center Nicklas Bäckström's concussion nightmare having no end in sight, the challenge of breaking into the conference's Top Eight is not going to get any easier.
If they wanted to make themselves playoff contenders, the team needed to improve. They didn't. The question then is, are the Washington Capitals legitimate playoff contenders?
To say the least, the lack of elite depth in the Capitals team is alarming. While the team is rotating eight defensemen, the forward corps is often patched up by call-ups from the AHL's Hershey Bears, and the team was expected to add players up front to help the balance of the lineup. They didn't, and so Keith Aucoin and Cody Eakin will likely see more big-league ice time in the remainder of the season.
Another area where the Caps could have used help is goalscoring. Despite playing in 24 games less than the team, top-line center Bäckström has recorded a point on 24.9 percent of the Capitals' goals, and without him in the lineup, the team's offensive firepower has been majorly compromised. If not for the recent outbreak from Alexander Semin, the Caps would likely be in a significantly worse position than they are right now. Adding more punch up front was key for the Capitals, who have seen 13 NHL teams score more this season, but they failed to do so.
It was heavily speculated that the Caps would look to add a puck-moving defenseman at the deadline, with Mike Green's injury problems and the struggles of Roman Hamrlik leaving the team short. A year ago, the Caps added Dennis Wideman, and it was thought that the team might look to use Hamrlik as trade bait to add better offensive blue-liners to their team. Again, McPhee failed to correct a major need in the team.
At its best, this Caps team can beat anyone, but they have been nowhere near their best this season, and there is no reason to believe they will reach their best anytime soon. The Caps blogosphere erupted at the news that the Caps were going to stay with the team they had at the deadline, and there is good reason for the eruption.
This Caps team is not good enough to be a legitimate playoff contender. Not making moves at the NHL trade deadline was the wrong decision.
Follow Jake Ware on Twitter at @JacobWare95