The Washington Capitals are in a head-to-head race in the Southeast division with three other teams—and one just pulled off a big trade.
The Carolina Hurricanes sent Corey Stillman and Mike Commodore off to Ottawa, and in return getting Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves.
The biggest question facing the Capitals after this is:: Are the Canes throwing in the towel and banking on next year—having given up two Cup winners with experience for two younger players with upside—or are they locking in with younger and hungrier players?
In the proverbial chess match series between general managers, George McPhee of the Capitals has a tough choice to make—give up young pawns on the verge of being promoted for experienced talent, or let this group that he currently has go for the win, and worry more about the next game.
Should he give up some prospects that are on the cusp, or keep his team as is, let it ripen, and begin next year with what they have?
The Capitals appear to be short in the top six forward positions, top four defensemen, and goaltending. Of these, Olie Kolzig isn't going to move aside for anyone, unless his name is Brent Johnson. Both have similar numbers, which seem mediocre on the goals against and save percentage, but both have decent win/loss records.
The shame in the needs is that they could be filled simply by getting injured players back. Chris Clark could come back from a groin injury, and Brian Pothier from what the Capitals describe as an upper body injury, but what everyone really knows is a concussion and probably post-concussion syndrome.
With Pothier likely done for most of the regular season, if not all, and Eric Fehr nestling in to Chris Clark's spot, the largest glaring gap is the defense.
But who is available?
The problem with so many veteran defensemen on the trading block is that they will be free agents at the end of the year, and the teams giving them up want young potential.
Should the Capitals give up a Chris Bourque or a Sami Lepisto just before they make the jump into the NHL to acquire an Adam Foote?
The answer to that question is no.
George, the last thing you want to do at this point is burn the farm for materials. The farm is finally built. Now all you need to do is let the guys grow up.
The playoff race is likely to be neck and neck for the rest of the year. The Capitals have shown great resolve in just fighting back to this point. It's no time to be greedy.
The Cup is likely just out of reach this year, and next year, the team will have some new young stars waiting to break out. Guys like Karl Alzner, Semen Varlamov, and Eric Fehr will compete for jobs with a few free agents and the current squad.
That current squad will have experience from a playoff race, and possibly even a playoff berth.
The top line of the Caps is currently Viktor Kozlov, Alex Ovechkin, and Nicklas Backstrom. The combined ages of those three players is 75—less than the combined ages (78) of the goaltending tandem in Detroit of Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek.
Why trade for experience when the youth that the team has is about to get a playoff race and maybe a round or two?
George, your best bet is to worry about a rental when your team has a great chance to win the Cup. That might be as soon as next year. And with how things are going now, you may have some experienced prospects to use as your bargaining chips.