RALEIGH, N.C. — The NHL’s trade deadline — 3 p.m. Wednesday — is quickly approaching, but it’s quite possible that this year will feature little fanfare and few blockbuster moves.
The shortened regular season and exclusive intra-conference play have made for tight standings in both the Eastern and Western conferences. And with several teams still on the bubble and hoping to make a late push for the postseason, only a handful of general managers are prepared to sell off assets.
The Washington Capitals are one of those fringe teams with designs on reaching the playoffs without mortgaging their future.
General Manager George McPhee was characteristically non-committal when discussing his plans for the deadline with reporters recently, but he made it clear that the Capitals’ top priority remains reaching the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season.
“There may be nothing happening, there may be a lot happening. I don’t know until we get in there and people start deciding what they really want to do,” said McPhee, who acknowledged that the market is somewhat smaller than usual, with teams hesitant to trade players.
Given McPhee’s preference since the 2004-05 lockout to build through the draft rather than land big-name players through trades, it is unlikely that he would deal away any of the organization’s top prospects, specifically center Evgeny Kuznetsov or wingers Filip Forsberg and Tom Wilson.
Mike Ribeiro’s future with the Capitals remains uncertain. But even if the team can’t come to terms with the pending unrestricted free agent on a contract extension before the deadline, it’s possible Washington will hang on to their leading scorer for the rest of the season rather than trade him with a playoff berth still within reach.
“I think we’re close enough into the playoffs that it’s not going to be a fire sale around here,” forward Troy Brouwer said. “I think we have too many good players, too many assets right now, to try and get rid of players and build for the future. We’re very bent on making the playoffs.”
While it’s unclear what other areas McPhee might be willing to tinker with, the Capitals currently have 10 defensemen at their disposal and could use that depth to add picks or package as part of a deal. Such an abundance of blue-liners is rare in the regular season.
“I can only imagine what’s going on,” Karl Alzner said. “A lot of good guys that other teams might want. Depending on what our stance is, what George’s stance is, buying or selling, he’s got a lot of ammunition.”
Any move must now take into consideration the fact that the salary cap will drop by $5.9 million next season to $64.3 million, which can pose challenges for certain clubs. Also factoring in to a potentially tame deadline is that several top pending unrestricted free agents already have been dealt.
Pittsburgh acquired three of the biggest rental players available last week, landing wingers Jarome Iginla from the Calgary Flames, Brenden Morrow from the Dallas Stars and defenseman Douglas Murray from the San Jose Sharks.
Top-tier players could be on the move, including veteran winger and former Capital Jaromir Jagr (Dallas).
Monday night, a pair of prominent defensemen were dealt. Calgary traded rangy defenseman Jay Bouwmeester to St. Louis for a conditional first-round pick and two prospects, while Buffalo sent Robyn Regehr to Los Angeles for two second-round picks.
Although the Sabres sat just three points back of eighth place entering Monday’s games, Buffalo has declared that it will hear any offers for its players — including goalie Ryan Miller and captain Jason Pominville — as it looks to the future.
“Where our hockey club is right now, we have to be open to listening to just about anything and everything, and I am listening,” Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier said Saturday after trading top-four defenseman Jordan Leopold to St. Louis.
It’s a seller’s market, though, with only the Sabres, Flames and Stars known to be willing to trade away significant pieces of their roster.
For clubs at the top of the standings — like the Boston Bruins, who would like to add at the deadline — it’s proving to be a tougher task than General Manager Peter Chiarelli envisioned.
“It’s been the hardest that I’ve ever seen it in my years just because of the short supply,” Chiarelli said last week after losing out on the bid to land Iginla from the Flames. “The circumstances change, as far as, from the [salary] cap perspective for next year. It’s going down . . . it makes rentals a little bit more valuable this year to a group of teams, including ourselves. So, you have to be a little bit more creative, then you have to open up your decision process to more things and take it from there.”