The Washington Capitals were thought to be one of the more active teams before the NHL trade deadline at 3 p.m. Monday. Mike Knuble had been scratched for five of the last nine games; Roman Hamrlik had been scratched for three consecutive games and called out head coach Dale Hunter last week; the Caps placed Nicklas Backstrom on long-term injured reserve early Monday, erasing his $6.7 million salary cap hit and giving the team more space to make a splash.
Then nothing happened.
For the first time since 2009, General Manager George McPhee stood pat at the trade deadline, confusing fans and players' family members alike. McPhee explained himself Monday, saying that there was not a deal that could be made that would ultimately help the team.
"We weren't interested in moving anyone out of here and we didn't," McPhee said. "We would have added something to the team if we thought it would make us better, but it had to make us better. What transpired today, there wasn't anything there that would have been the right thing for our club."
McPhee and the Caps, like almost every other team in the NHL, were in an interesting spot. Minus the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets, essentially every other team in the league could statistically qualify for the playoffs. Therefore, more teams were looking to add assets as opposed to giving them up.
"The theme of this year's deadline was everybody wanted to add and there was no one selling," McPhee said. "There were probably three or four sellers and a couple of them are in our division, so it wasn't like we were going to able to do much with them. Everyone seemed to want our players, but they wanted to give us futures and prospects and I wasn't interested in doing that."
The difference between this season and seasons previous in Washington is that more often than not, the Caps were assured a playoff berth around this point in the season and they would acquire rental players to bolster an already-strong lineup. This season, however, the Caps are struggling to even move into the Eastern Conference playoff race, fluctuating between being in the playoff-eligible top eight and on the outside looking in (the latter has been the case recently as they sit in ninth place entering Monday's action). The Caps needed to make a move just to become a strong team, but that ultimately did not happen.
On the other hand, CBS Sports' Adam Gretz shares the other side of the double-edged sword:
The Capitals could have certainly used a center, but with the way this team has looked for much of the season it's hard to imagine there being a move out there that was going to help this team get over the hump this year. Why give up significant long-term assets to chase after the No. 7 or 8 playoff spot when a deep postseason run doesn't look like it's a legitimate possibility?
Either way, McPhee, who said that it would have taken "[making] a mistake" to complete a trade, believes the Caps as currently constructed can make a run during the playoffs.
"I certainly think we're capable of making the playoffs with this team right now," McPhee said. "If Nicky Backstrom came back, it certainly would improve our chances of being able to win a Cup. We can make the playoffs with this team and if [Backstrom] comes back, we can beat anybody in this conference."
What To Watch For...
The Caps will attempt to live up to McPhee's words when they start the final push toward the playoffs Tuesday against the New York Islanders at Verizon Center. With 20 games remaining, Washington begins an important five-game homestand. Considering the team's struggles on the road (11-18-3 this season), the following five games and remaining 11 home games overall are integral to the Caps' postseason hopes.
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Speaking of Backstrom, who has been out since January 3 with a concussion (McPhee said Monday that he has no timetable for Backstrom's return, if there is even one at all this season), he participated in the Caps' "Hockey School" at Holy Trinity Episcopal Day School in Glenn Dale, Md., last Thursday. After taking questions and teaching students basic hockey skills, Backstrom along with teammate John Carlson played in a floor hockey game with the kids. Below, Backstrom is taking a faceoff against a teacher while assistant coach Jim Johnson looks on.
(Photo credit: Washington Capitals)
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Adam Vingan is co-founder and editor of Kings Of Leonsis, a Caps-centric blog, and is the Capitals Editor for SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter @Adam_KOL and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.