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Ranking the Washington Capitals' Biggest Needs at the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline

Dave UngarCorrespondent IIIApril 2, 2013

Ranking the Washington Capitals' Biggest Needs at the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline

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    If the Washington Capitals' strategy and status at the NHL trade deadline was confusing before, it only got worse over the weekend.

    The good news is that the Caps picked up three of a possible four points this weekend. On Saturday in Buffalo, the Caps rallied from two-goals down in the third period, forced a tie with just 40 seconds remaining in regulation then won the game in a shootout.

    The bad news is that on Sunday, the Caps did the exact opposite, this time blowing a two-goal lead in the final eight minutes of the third period, giving up the game-tying goal with less than 10 seconds remaining and then losing in overtime to the Philadelphia Flyers.

    After the games from Monday night, the Caps now sit just three points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and have crept to within four points of the Southeast division-leading Winnipeg Jets. Without question, the Caps are right in the thick of an unbelievably tight playoff race in the Eastern Conference.

    How tight are things? Even the last-place Florida Panthers are only nine points out of the last playoff spot. Suffice it to say, it is going to be a dogfight all the way to the bitter end to decide the final few playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

    If you read my article from last week that served as a primer for the Caps at the trade deadline, then you are already well-versed with what the Caps might need to do at the trade deadline and what their needs are.

    The outcome of the games this weekend has served to clarify some things while others remain very murky. So now, in the last day or so before April 3, this is an update of sorts to that prior article complete with all the latest news and rumors I can find.

    Here then is a ranking of the Caps' biggest needs at the 11th hour before the trade deadline expires.

The Caps Need to Be Buyers

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    In my trade deadline primer for the Caps, I started things off by trying to figure out if the Caps would be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. With the weekend playing out as it did, I definitely think the Caps have to be buyers now—and there are a few signs that something might be brewing.

    One such sign were comments made by George McPhee late last week. McPhee was asked numerous questions during a 37-minute interview at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex. As reported by nbcwashington.com, when McPhee was asked about the trade deadline and the current trade market, McPhee was evasive enough to make you think something is going on and engaged enough to make you think there is nothing happening at all—which is probably just as he wanted it:

    A little bit smaller than usual, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t open up. And it doesn’t mean that you can’t make hockey trades. A lot of people are reluctant to do rentals because it’s sometimes hard to re-sign those players and you do have to put a team on the ice next year. So you have to be careful. But there may be more hockey trades than the types that we’re used to. It’s a strange – it just doesn’t have a great feel to it. But we’ll go in with a plan and decide what’s best for the organization. We have some ideas. There may be nothing happening, there may be a lot happening. I don’t know until we get in there and people start deciding what they really want to do.

    Clear as mud isn't it?

    The rumor mill starting churning a bit more on Sunday when Philipp Grubauer was recalled. As reported by the Washington Times, Grubauer was recalled because Michal Neuvirth was not feeling well after taking a puck to the mask Saturday in a morning skate in Buffalo. Then again, could this also mean that a deal is in the works to trade Neuvirth?

    As mentioned in my prior article, with Braden Holtby doing quite well and Grubauer being an up-and-coming backup, Neuvirth may have indeed become somewhat expendable. If Neuvirth is moved, the likely return won't be earth-shattering. But it could signal the beginning of something bigger that could also happen.

    The fact remains that with the Caps having done as well this past weekend as they did, the idea of the Caps being sellers does not seem too likely any longer. Not only can the Caps make the playoffs, but they could still win the Southeast division and capture the No. 3 seed in the East.

    The Caps need to make a significant move to better their situation and realize that the time is now for them to jump right back into much more than simply the playoff race in the East—they can make a move toward perhaps winning that elusive Stanley Cup.

    Therefore, the Caps' biggest need heading into the trade deadline is to make a commitment to be buyers and not sellers.

Resolve the Mike Ribeiro Situation

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    The Caps' recent success in Buffalo and semi-success in Philadelphia over the weekend certainly did not make the decision George McPhee has to make about Mike Ribeiro any easier.

    Last week, things between Ribeiro and the Caps heated up some. According to Renaud Lavoie via SBNation.com, Ribeiro rejected a three-year contract extension from the Caps.

    Apparently, Ribs was serious as to comments he made in an interview with Katie Carrera that he was looking for a long-term deal of somewhere in the four-, five- or six-year range.

    Ribeiro is still the Caps' 2013 leader in points with 35, although he is no longer the team leader in assists. He now trails Nicklas Backstrom by one assist. In his past five games, Ribs has slowed down a bit with just one goal and two assists over those past five games.

    Still, Ribeiro has been the Caps' most consistent player this season and the one player the Caps have been able to lean on night in and night out. If the Caps are going to not just challenge for a playoff spot, but for something more, than Ribeiro really needs to be a part of their plans.

    For the Caps and Ribeiro, I think there is a deal to be made here. Ribeiro rejected a three-year offer and has indicated that he considers a four-year deal to qualify as a long-term contract. I believe the Caps should make Ribs a four-year offer. If he accepts the offer, then the Caps can move on with the knowledge that Ribs will be a part of the organization for the next four years.

    This would be important in the present as it helps the Caps maintain the chemistry that has been gradually building throughout this season. It is also important for the future, as having Ribeiro on hand when guys like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Fillip Forsberg eventually arrive in D.C. will give those young stars in the making some extra veteran leadership with whom they can grow and learn the finer details of the game.

    The good news here is that Pierre LeBrun, via SBNation.com, reported that Ribeiro's agent and the Caps are still talking, so something is in the works.

    If Ribeiro rejects a four-year offer, though, then he must be dealt immediately, and a good landing spot for Ribs could be in the Central division. Three teams in that division alone—Chicago, Nashville and Columbus—could all use a solid second-line center. While the Blackhawks might be looking more along the lines of a Derek Roy, Ribs would be an excellent fit in the Windy City.

    Either way, a decision as to Ribeiro—and a very difficult decision at that—will have to be made by McPhee in the next couple of days. This is the second-biggest need the Caps must address heading into the trade deadline.

Defensive Help

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    In my trade deadline primer for the Caps, I discussed how a big need the Caps had was to try to get some help on defense.

    Anyone who watched the brutal final eight minutes of the game on Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers might be inclined to agree that the Caps could certainly do a lot worse than getting some depth on defense. Heck, for that matter, just getting some healthy and reliable blueliners would be a step in the right direction.

    Recall that on March 21, when Dmitry Orlov returned to the Caps' lineup for the first time all season, an article appeared on RockTheRed.net documenting the trials and tribulations of the Caps on defense this year. A mere 29 games into the season and the Caps had already used 12 different defensemen due to injuries, poor performance or a combination of both.

    Over the weekend, the Caps' revolving door on defense continued as Jeff Schultz returned to the lineup against Buffalo. Unfortunately though, the return of John Erskine still appears to be up in the air, although Tomas Kundratek was taken off injured-reserve so his return is anticipated soon (Washington Post).

    In the trade deadline primer, I also looked at a couple of prospects the Caps might be interested in if they did decide to be buyers and pursue some defensive help. Well one of those prospects, Jay Bouwmeester, is now officially off the market. Bouwmeester was traded from the Calgary Flames to the St. Louis Blues Monday for a first-round pick and two prospects, defenseman Mark Cundari and goaltender Reto Berra (ESPN).

    That does leave Dan Boyle of the San Jose Sharks who, as I mentioned in the trade deadline primer, would fit in nicely with the Caps, especially with his smarts and his ability to quarterback the power play.

    But here is another potential target the Caps could look at. In an ESPN Insider article by Corey Sznajder, Sznajder discusses how if the Caps are going to move Mike Ribeiro, then sending him to Anaheim in exchange for Sami Vatanen, a promising young defenseman for the Ducks, would make sense. According to Sznajder:

    Washington's situation is tricky because it could either buy, sell or do nothing, but let's imagine that it decides to sell and trade Mike Ribeiro. One possible destination for him is Anaheim, a team in need of a second-line center. A prospect the Caps could receive in return for him is the 21-year-old Finnish defenseman Vatanen. While he doesn't have much NHL experience, Vatanen has greatly impressed at every other level where he has played...He certainly fills a need within the Caps organization and should be a regular NHLer in the near future.

    Vatanen is still somewhat of an unproven commodity. But he does have eight goals and 35 assists in 56 games with the Norfolk Admirals this season so he can obviously score. Whether getting a 21-year-old unproven, but very talented defenseman would be enough to compensate for the loss of Ribeiro would be difficult to quantify.

    Still, there are options out there for the Caps to target on defense, whether or not a trade of Ribeiro is in the works.


Depth on Offense

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    As mentioned in the trade deadline primer, I felt that the Caps could use some more depth on offense. Of particular concern was the lack of production the Caps are currently getting from their fourth line.

    The Caps have recently used combinations of Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks and Wojtek Wolski on the fourth line. Against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, Aaron Volpatti played on the fourth line instead of Wolski. These are all good players, but probably not good enough to lead the Caps to the playoffs. And with Eric Fehr struggling and banged up, the Caps are going to need some help on offense if they want to stay in the playoff race.

    In the trade deadline primer, I looked at a couple of potential targets for the Caps to go after if they are looking to add some depth on offense.

    There is nothing new to report as far as Mike Cammalleri. With the Flames having already traded away Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester, one gets the feeling that more deals involving Calgary could be in the works.

    Similarly, there is not much to add to the Ales Hemsky situation as Edmonton is being rather quiet at the moment.

    But what about a couple of other offensive prospects? Perhaps a blast from the past returning to D.C.?

    Could a Jaromir Jagr encore in Washington be a possibility? While the Boston Bruins would certainly seem to be a great landing spot for Jagr—assuming Dallas is actually looking to move him—there is little doubt that he could help the Caps out on a short-term or rental basis.

    Jagr leads the Stars in points with 26 and goals with 14. He may be 41, but there is no doubt the future Hall of Famer can still bring it and bring it well. The Caps would not appear to be a potential destination for Jagr, but with George McPhee not ruling out rentals, who knows.

    There are also some whisperings that the Buffalo Sabres could try to move Thomas Vanek (NHL.com). Vanek leads the Sabres in goals with 16 and points with 33. It would seem pretty foolish for the Sabres to trade him. Then again with the Sabres floundering a bit, and with Vanek's contract expiring next season, perhaps the Sabres are planning something after all.

    Or if the Sabres are truly in a giving mood, there is Steve Ott, whose contract also expires after next season. Ott is no where near the goal scorer that Vanek is, but he more than makes up for that in grit, toughness and determination.

    At the end though, I doubt the Caps will make any sort of move to bolster their offense. Naturally, getting someone like a Cammalleri or Hemsky or Jagr or Vanek would be huge. But the Caps do not have enough to offer these teams to make a trade work.

    Edmonton might be up for something involving Mike Ribeiro, but there is nothing to indicate any sort of discussions involving the teams have transpired.

    Instead, I believe the Caps will focus in on the two biggest needs they have in the next couple of days: Dealing with the Mike Ribeiro situation and getting some help on defense.

    If they gain some depth in offense, that would be icing on the cake.

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