Washington Capitals' 5 Biggest Needs Ahead of the Trade Deadline
From the 2007-08 season until the beginning of this 2013-14 campaign, the Washington Capitals enjoyed the luxury of advancing to the Stanley Cup playoffs by beating up on the embarrassingly weak Southeast Division, as the team captured five of six divisional crowns over that span.
But now, with the Caps playing a much more talented group of teams in the Metropolitan Division, Adam Oates' club clearly won't have as easy of a time clinching a postseason berth.
Which is why George McPhee may be entering the most critical trade deadline since being installed as Washington's general manager in 1997.
Alex Ovechkin and company face an uphill battle to claw their way into the playoff picture over the next two months, and as McPhee's demonstrated in the past, he's not one to be afraid of making a splash at the last minute in order to provide his squad with quality reinforcements.
Heading into the final week of the trading window, here's a look at Washington's biggest priorities that McPhee should be looking to address.
Veteran Help on the Back End
Washington's defensive corps has been an area of concern for a while now, but injuries and a lack of veteran presence have clearly taken a toll on this team's record.
There's a lot to like about the Caps' trio of elite rearguards in Mike Green, Karl Alzner and John Carlson, but beyond them, there simply isn't another top-four defenseman in the fold.
John Erskine, Dmitry Orlov, Jack Hillen, Nate Schmidt, Steve Oleksy and Connor Carrick all bring different skills and strengths to the table, but none are ideally suited to play big minutes on a playoff-caliber team.
So, if the opportunity presents itself, McPhee would undoubtedly love to add a piece to his defensive group, particularly a battle-tested veteran, because outside of Erskine, there isn't much to be scared of as an opposing forward.
If Dallas is selling, Trevor Daley would be a nice pickup, as would someone in the mold of an Andrew MacDonald, but McPhee may be reluctant to part ways with a quality pick or prospect after getting fleeced by David Poile in the Martin Erat-Filip Forsberg swap last year.
Given the lack of physicality of Washington's top six, if New York is really contemplating moving Dan Girardi, that would be the sort of acquisition that could put the Caps into contention.
Scoring Depth Up Front
For a moment there, it looked like the Caps might actually receive a boost in the form of 2010 first-rounder Evgeny Kuznetsov, who still projects to be a top-six contributor right away.
Unfortunately, per The Washington Post, McPhee doesn't sound optimistic about the chances of his prized prospect making the jump until next season.
If that's the case, the Caps could absolutely use a forward with offensive capabilities, especially around the net, because right now, after Ovechkin, Washington's next best lamp-lighter this season is Joel Ward, which is alarming.
Troy Brouwer, Mikhail Grabovski and Marcus Johansson should all be finding the back of the net more often, but Ovechkin remains the only pure scorer on the roster.
Some realistic trade targets in order to address this issue are Dallas' Erik Cole, Florida's Brad Boyes and Winnipeg's Devin Setoguchi, because dealing someone like Buffalo's Matt Moulson will simply cost the Capitals too much down the road.
Stability in Net
Just a few months ago, it seemed that Braden Holtby was destined to be Washington's long-term answer in net, but the 24-year-old's spotty play in 2013-14 has put that in jeopardy.
Holtby's been outplayed by Michal Neuvirth and Philipp Grubauer this season, and that simply cannot happen if this team hopes to make the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season.
If Holtby doesn't improve between now and the end of the Capitals' two-game weekend series with the Flyers, McPhee may look to make a move to shore up the team's situation in net.
According to both ESPN's Craig Custance, there's speculation that Washington is in the mix to acquire Buffalo's All-Star stopper Ryan Miller, but given that his contract's up this summer, the asking price may be too high for a temporary solution.
Proven Postseason Performers
One of the biggest issues that's plagued the Capitals over the last six years is the disappearing act many of the team's key players pull once the playoffs commence.
As such, McPhee has regularly made moves for veterans with extensive playoff experience, so maybe that's the sort of deal he tries to swing in the next week.
Over the years, McPhee's brought in postseason veterans like Sergei Fedorov, Jason Arnott, Scott Walker, Matt Cooke, Joe Corvo and Dennis Wideman, so there's reason to believe he'll keep that trend going.
If that's the case, some of the guys who should be available are gritty forward Ryan Smyth, Sabres captain Steve Ott and former Stanley Cup champ Ray Whitney.
In all three cases, it seems logical that any of the three could be had for a relatively low price, but how the Capitals could make a move like that while staying under the salary cap remains to be seen.
Of the options listed above, Smyth and Whitney, given their declining production and the overhaul taking place within their respective franchises, may be more realistic than Ott, who is considerably younger and offers a wider array of attractive attributes.
Finding a Fit for Erat
Anytime a veteran player is unhappy with his current team, it has the potential to become a distraction in the locker room, and that's something McPhee has to be thinking about right now.
That's because since coming over from Nashville a year ago, Martin Erat has struggled to find a permanent spot in Oates' lineup, and as a result, the Czech Olympian desires yet another change of scenery.
Despite Erat's increased playing time (in part due to injury problems up front), Katie Carrera of The Washington Post is reporting that the 32-year-old still wishes to be dealt before the deadline.
Erat was skating with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom prior to heading to Sochi, so there's some uncertainty as to whether McPhee will deal a guy who has the skill and speed to make a difference on the ice, but in general, no coach wants to be dealing with a player who doesn't want to be there.
If there's a team willing to take on Erat's $4.5 million cap hit for next season, expect him to be gone.