ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Washington Capitals, in sell mode for the first time in 16 years as the NHL trade deadline nears, continued to overhaul their roster Tuesday. They traded Erik Gustafsson to the Toronto Maple Leafs for fellow defenseman Rasmus Sandin and shipped forward Marcus Johansson to the Minnesota Wild for a third-round draft pick in 2024.
The Capitals also parted with Boston’s 2023 first-round pick in the deal for Sandin. Washington acquired that selection from the Bruins in Thursday’s trade that sent defenseman Dmitry Orlov and forward Garnet Hathaway to the NHL’s top team.
Washington made another move late Tuesday, but no more players were sent out. Instead, defenseman Nick Jensen agreed to a three-year contract extension with an annual average value of $4.05 million.
Amid a turbulent season with diminishing playoff hopes, Washington has set its sights on retooling an aging roster on the fly while simultaneously restocking its farm system. It has traded four players who are set to become unrestricted free agents after the season, flipping those expiring contracts for pieces that can help the team in the future. And with Friday’s trade deadline looming, the Capitals probably are not done — they still have seven more players who will be UFAs after the season.
Johansson and Gustafsson were on the ice for Tuesday’s practice ahead of Wednesday night’s game at the Anaheim Ducks, but by the time they returned to the dressing room, trade rumors were swirling. Within the hour, the Capitals announced that both had been dealt. In Seattle, where the Maple Leafs were practicing, Sandin headed off the ice in the middle of the session as news of the trade broke.
The acquisition of Sandin, who turns 23 next week, provides immediate help for a blue line that has been thinned by the trade of Orlov last week and the continued absence of star John Carlson, who remains out after being hit in the side of the head by a slap shot in late December. Carlson had entered the season as Washington’s only defenseman on a contract that runs beyond this year.
Sandin, who is signed through the 2023-24 season with a salary cap hit of $1.4 million and then will be an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent, was the 29th pick in the 2018 draft. He flashed at times with Toronto, where this season he posted a plus-10 rating and a 53.9 shot attempt percentage at five-on-five, the second-best rate among Maple Leafs defensemen. He had four goals and 16 assists in 52 games for Toronto, which is all-in on postseason success this year while still seeking its first playoff series victory since 2004.
Gustafsson, 30, has been traded three times since February 2020, and Toronto will be the sixth team he has suited up for since 2020. He arrived in Washington in the offseason as a low-risk signing — he accepted a one-year, $800,000 contract to serve as a third-pairing defenseman — and he responded with a productive season for a lineup that has been decimated by injury.
Gustafsson has shown a high ceiling; with Chicago in 2018-19, he had 17 goals and 43 assists. For the Capitals, he chipped in seven goals and 31 assists in 61 games and was a steady presence on the power play, particularly in Carlson’s absence.
Johansson, 32, had revived his career this season with the Capitals, who drafted him in the first round in 2009. After he had stints with five other teams, Washington reacquired Johansson from the expansion Seattle Kraken at the deadline last year and then gave him a one-year, $1.1 million contract during the offseason.
He proved to be a valuable contributor — he’s versatile enough to play at center and on the wing and also contributes on special teams — as he notched 13 goals and 15 assists in 60 games. But just as with Orlov, Hathaway and Gustafsson, Johansson is set to be an unrestricted free agent, and the Capitals had an opportunity to flip him for future assets.
Jensen has been a workhorse this season, posting two goals and 22 assists in nearly 21 minutes per game as a defensive mainstay. The Capitals acquired him from Detroit at the trade deadline in 2019, then quickly signed him to a four-year, $10 million deal. The 32-year-old received a considerable raise Tuesday, and as a right-handed second-pair defenseman he gives Washington a steady option for the next several seasons as it retools its blue line.
Even after moving Boston’s first-round pick to Toronto, Washington still has five selections in what is expected to be a deep 2023 draft: The Capitals have their first-, second-, fourth-, fifth- and seventh-round picks. They have eight picks in 2024: their first-, third-, fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round picks along with Boston’s third-round pick (acquired in the Orlov/Hathaway trade, which also yielded a 2025 second-rounder) and now Minnesota’s third-rounder. Washington also has eight picks in the 2025 draft.
As the Capitals returned to the team hotel Tuesday afternoon, they had to grapple with more absences on this week-long West Coast trip: Center Evgeny Kuznetsov missed Tuesday’s practice with a non-covid-19 illness, and forward Conor Sheary wasn’t expected to be back with the team until later in the evening after he returned to Washington to be with his wife, who was expected to give birth to the couple’s second child.
None of the Capitals knew what might happen next or who else might be traded — not even 33-year-old forward Craig Smith, who joined the team just four days earlier after leaving Boston as part of the Orlov/Hathaway deal. He didn’t rule out being dealt again as General Manager Brian MacLellan continued to field calls on players.
“I thought about it for sure. That was one of the questions I had,” Smith said of the possibility of being traded for the second time in a week. Ultimately, he has vowed to sit back and watch what happens along with the rest of the organization.
“Let things settle where they may,” he said. “Just a day at a time right now.”