COLUMBUS, Ohio — Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan went shopping Monday afternoon, but as he flipped through price tag after price tag, he decided not to make a purchase by the NHL’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.
The Capitals added rental depth defensemen Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek last week, and while MacLellan said the team explored adding a “higher-end” blue-liner Monday, Washington was ultimately unwilling to part with the first-round draft picks or skilled young forwards demanded to get a deal done. Six first-round picks (including two conditionally) were swapped before the deadline.
“Overall, I thought it was an expensive deadline,” MacLellan said.
Washington was rumored to have expressed interest in Erik Karlsson and Ryan McDonagh; while apparently no team could meet Ottawa’s asking price for Karlsson, arguably the NHL’s best defenseman, the New York Rangers traded McDonagh to Tampa Bay as part of a massive package that also sent center J.T. Miller to the Lightning for Vladislav Namestnikov, two prospects, a 2018 first-round pick and a conditional 2019 first-round pick.
“There’s a couple of players that we’d have liked to have had,” MacLellan said. “But the cost of acquiring those players was pretty high. Are we willing to give up some of our young forwards and more first-round picks to possibly be a little deeper? At some point, the trade-off was not worth it for us.”
While the Capitals chose not to make any more changes to their roster, their rivals in the Eastern Conference have been active. The Columbus Blue Jackets traded for defenseman Ian Cole, winger Thomas Vanek and center Mark Letestu. The New Jersey Devils added forward Patrick Maroon just a few days after acquiring speedy winger Michael Grabner. The Pittsburgh Penguins traded for Derick Brassard to center their third line. The Boston Bruins added winger Tommy Wingels after acquiring power forward Rick Nash on Sunday.
Washington was turned off by the asking price of high draft picks. The Capitals didn’t pick until the fourth round of the 2017 draft, but they enter the 2018 event with six selections, including one in each of the first four rounds. They were also limited in the salary cap space they had to work with — less than $700,000, according to CapFriendly.com.
But while Washington is in first place in the Metropolitan Division entering Monday’s games, the team is 9-7-4 over the past 20 games, allowing 3.20 goals per game in that span. Ten points separate the Capitals from the Blue Jackets in the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot. MacLellan addressed the team’s leaky defense with the additions of Kempny and Jerabek, puck-movers who could help the Capitals get out of their zone and up the ice.
“They’re both skilled, puck-moving defensemen,” MacLellan said. “They both have a little upside to them. We’re going to have to figure out what kind of roles they’re going to play for us going forward. I think one of the concerns for us is the amount of time we’ve spent in our own end. It’s not just on our defense; it’s wingers not getting the puck out, too. We think both these guys can help. We’re going to use the last part of our schedule here to find roles and see what fits with who. We’re also happy with the progress with [rookie Christian] Djoos. [Madison] Bowey’s coming, but more so with Djoos. Djoos has played pretty well here the last few games. So I think we’re going to have good options as far as puck-movers in the bottom part of our ‘D’ corps.”
But fans were left underwhelmed, especially considering top center Nicklas Backstrom has just two years left on his contract after this season. Captain Alex Ovechkin’s contract expires after the 2020-21 season. The Capitals’ “all-in” move before the deadline last year, trading a first-round pick and prospect forward Zach Sanford to St. Louis for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, didn’t push the team past the second round of the playoffs, so MacLellan was hesitant to make another deal of that magnitude.
“Last year we did it, and you get into your asset pool; it depletes it a little bit,” MacLellan said. “I don’t think it makes sense to do it year after year. You’ve got to balance your short- and long-term goals here. It would have been great to add another defenseman, a higher-end defenseman. But the cost was too high in our estimation.”
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