The first half of the season is coming to a close, and the Capitals are tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins atop the Metropolitan Division, though Washington has a game in hand. The trade deadline is still more than a month away, but several readers wanted to know what moves could be on the horizon. The Capitals aren’t expected to be involved in any blockbusters, but they’ve always done something in February. This edition of the mailbag also provides an update on defenseman Christian Djoos.
In all four seasons under General Manager Brian MacLellan, the Capitals have made at least one move around the trade deadline, and in all four seasons, he has acquired a defenseman. Tim Gleason, Mike Weber, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jakub Jerabek and Michal Kempny have all been February acquisitions, and considering Washington was happier with its subtler moves, such as the ones for Gleason and Kempny, expect something similar this season.
With the team coming off its first Stanley Cup victory, MacLellan likes the chemistry of his roster, so there won’t be any big shake-ups. There’s no need when the team is playing well and in first place. But the Capitals have dealt with more injuries this season than any other in recent memory. Christian Djoos is out indefinitely after surgery last month, and Washington is monitoring how 38-year-old defenseman Brooks Orpik is doing in his first few games after missing two months with a right knee injury. The organization is happy with the growth it has seen in second-year blue-liner Madison Bowey, and rookie Jonas Siegenthaler has acquitted himself better than expected.
But knowing MacLellan’s track record, expect the team to pursue another rental depth defenseman before the trade deadline, an insurance move in case of more injuries.
It has been reported here and other places that teams are inquiring about 23-year-old forward Andre Burakovsky, whose production is down (five goals and four assists in 36 games). I still get the sense that the Capitals' preference is to see Burakovsky, who is scheduled to become a restricted free agent this summer, get his game back on track and not trade him. When teams call, MacLellan of course answers the phone, but he’s not going to deal away the organization’s 2013 first-round pick unless he thinks he’s getting something back that could help immediately. Washington is still haunted by trading prospect Filip Forsberg to Nashville six years ago, so it’s understandably careful when it comes to deals involving young, skilled forwards, something the organization is lacking depth in.
The third line with Burakovsky on it looks better than it did when he was a healthy scratch for four games, so I think Washington would need a middle-six forward in return. Change-of-scenery trades are popular these days, but there’s a risk that the player you give up will flourish elsewhere while the one you get won’t. Burakovsky had one of his best games of the season against Dallas on Friday night, so maybe that’s something for him to build on going forward. Both he and the Capitals are less concerned with production and more focused on consistency.
The Capitals definitely have more organizational depth on the blue line, something they’re pleased with because defensemen are a commodity, traditionally harder to develop and more expensive to acquire in free agency. The team hasn’t drafted a forward in the first round since Jakub Vrana in 2014, and 14 of its past 22 draft picks have been defensemen or goalies. Meanwhile, Washington’s top four defensemen are under contract for at least three more seasons.
So, yes, some of the team’s young blue-liners could be turned into forward prospects eventually.
“Yeah, I mean, we are looking at it," MacLellan said before the season. "At some point, we’re trying to exchange prospects for [other] prospects, if the opportunity comes up.”
Djoos suffered from compartment syndrome, and that caused him to have left thigh surgery last month. The Capitals have said he’s out indefinitely, and based on what Coach Todd Reirden said Friday, it appears it’s going to be a while before we see him in the lineup again. When Djoos got hurt, Reirden wasn’t ready to call the injury season-ending, so that’s encouraging, at least.
“I know he’s making progress. Now, what that means, I don’t have any sort of a timetable still,” Reirden said. “I do know that he’s making progress and moving around better and starting to do some different stuff, which is a great sign. We’re talking about a serious injury there, so we’re headed in the right direction on that. Until he gets on the ice, I’m probably not going to have any updates, but once he does get on the ice, we’ll at least have a little bit more of a timetable because it’s not going to be three days on the ice, then ready to play a game. Certainly, we miss him, his offensive play and his ability to transition the puck.”
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