The Washington Capitals are in unfamiliar territory. With just over 20 games remaining, the Caps are in the midst of a dogfight for playoff positioning, as the three teams behind Washington in the standings are within 10 points. Each of the past three springs, the Capitals have had the luxury of home ice, but this season it's becoming increasingly likely that they will begin the playoffs on the road.
There's no doubt the Capitals are capable of advancing past the first round in the playoffs, but going beyond that will require some kind of addition before Monday's trade deadline. Taking a look around at the rest of the Stanley Cup contenders from the East, each has made at least one significant move as of late.
Boston added star defenseman Tomas Kaberle, hard-charging forward Chris Kelly and solid secondary scoring in Rich Peverley. Pittsburgh acquired a power forward in James Neal and an enigmatic offensive wizard in Alex Kovalev. The Flyers made a splash by snatching Kris Versteeg away from the Leafs, and the Lightning added former Blues captain Eric Brewer. Even Montreal solidified its defense by picking up Paul Mara and Brent Sopel in separate deals.
While Washington is standing pat, and potentially regressing (depending on the health of Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green), every other contending team is getting stronger. So what is a general manager like George McPhee to do?
First of all, with Backstrom potentially on the shelf with his reportedly broken thumb, the need for an offensive center has hit new heights. New Jersey's Jason Arnott is a perfect target for McPhee, as he appears to be the perfect blend of power and finesse to play with a roaming scorer like Alexander Semin. However, with New Jersey making a strong push towards the playoffs with eight wins in a row, Arnott could be staying in Newark for the year.
Another possibility is St. Louis' Andy McDonald, who, according to Eklund via yardbarker.com, is being targeted by Capitals management. He is a proven playoff performer, as he was a key member of the Ducks' 2007 Stanley Cup Championship, and is a prime candidate to be traded as St. Louis continues to retool for the future.
Either way, the Capitals' fortunes in the playoffs may hinge on their ability to make a deal for a center before Monday. The competition has stepped up its game by adding quality players, so it's now Washington's turn to strengthen its lineup for the playoff grind. The team's play has improved within the last two weeks, especially that of its star players like Semin and Alex Ovechkin.
In order to keep that momentum going, the team needs to add a playmaking center; one could make the difference between moving onto the next round of the playoffs, or hitting the golf courses prematurely once again.