With the reported news that Nicklas Backstrom suffered a thumb fracture in Monday night's win against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Capitals will need to examine options in order to compensate for Backstrom’s injury.
Backstrom is currently in the middle of an uneventful season, amassing 15 goals and 53 points to this point. His usual linemate, Alexander Ovechkin, is also struggling after compiling huge goal totals the past two seasons.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau has experimented with multiple combinations with the two in order to induce more output. Ovechkin and Backstrom were just beginning to regain their point prowess as Ovechkin has goals in three of the last four contests.
However, with the Capitals already rumored to be looking on the market for a second-line center, losing Backstrom to injury for any amount of time extremely complicates the situation. An extra center is not a necessity for the Caps, who already possess young, talented centers in Mathieu Perrault and Marcus Johannson. Yet, adding a veteran center to their roster in order to enhance secondary scoring would be a much-needed boost to the Capitals hopeful playoff success.
With Nicklas Backstrom watching from the stands, a top center becomes imperative.
The Capitals are projected to have free cap space to chase down around $6 million in contracts this year according to Capgeek.com, and their relative silence at the trading deadline the last two years was certainly criticized after their early playoff exits at the end of both seasons.
What should the Capitals be looking for as the trade deadline nears?
Naturally, rumors are always swirling around any contending team this time of year and there is no exception in the District of Columbia. The Capitals are prospective buyers at the trade deadline and can bolster their roster in many different ways. However, the biggest way would be to add either a high-scoring face off man or a strong number one defenseman.
The obvious top-center in the tradable category is no longer available when Ottawa shipped Mike Fisher to Nashville.
With 14 of 15 teams in the Western Conference still in contention for a playoff spot, it is hard to choose from buyer and seller amongst that list. The Eastern playoff picture is a bit clearer, but it is hard to find a center on selling rosters that might fit what the Capitals would need.
Great defensemen come at a heavy price. The Caps shipped forward Tomas Fleischmann for Scott Hannan earlier in the season, and that addition still might not be enough to solidify the blue-line. However, in keeping with recent trades and contract signings obtaining a reliable defensive defenseman is a pricey transaction. Given McPhee’s history at the deadline, would he be willing to pay the price to acquire a top-flight defenseman?
Could Ottawa Senator Chris Phillips be a good option? He is an unrestricted free agent after this season and would demand a heavy price from the Capitals assets in terms of prospects, draft picks and even perhaps current players—Alex Semin has been mentioned as of late.
The Capitals will need to spend in order to make their roster better thus having a better chance at a deep playoff run.
While nothing specific is swirling around the Verizon Center, the Capitals will certainly be looking to improve their roster at the deadline—that has yet to be denied by Caps front office personnel. With the current status of Nicklas Backstrom unknown, that need may become more and more important as the next week unfolds.