Can the Capitals make it to the playoffs?
The Caps have two games remaining before Wednesday’s 3 p.m. NHL trade deadline.
As of today they are one point behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the third playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division.
Which means general manager George McPhee likely will be a buyer and not a seller in the days leading up to the deadline.
“The approach,” McPhee said, “is to try and keep winning hockey games. We’re not going to intentionally take a step back. We have a pretty good idea of what our team is and we’ll see what’s out there and see if there’s anything that makes sense to this club or not.”
The Caps have been attached to a number of Ryan Miller trade rumors and Buffalo’s 33-year-old goaltender said Thursday “it seems likely, given my status at the end of the year, they’re likely to trade me.”
McPhee has said on multiple occasions that he likes the Capitals’ goaltending tandem of Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth, even though the Caps rank 22nd in the NHL in goals against at 2.87 per game.
The fact Miller carries a cap hit of $6.25 million and is due to be unrestricted on July 1 also makes it unlikely McPhee pursues him, unless he’s willing to overhaul his entire roster.
RELATED: [Should the Capitals trade for Ryan Miller?]
In truth, if the Capitals want to be buyers in the trade market, they must first be sellers because they have the lowest amount of cap space [$800,882] in the NHL. Satisfying Marty Erat’s trade request would free up $4.5 million in cap space, but finding a taker for the 32-year-old winger will be difficult.
“It’s been a very difficult year, even starting with the summer, being able to have any transactions,” said McPhee, who has not make a trade since sending third-line center Mathieu Perreault to the Anaheim Ducks for minor-leaguer John Mitchell and a fourth-round pick on Sept. 29.
“Taking that money out of the market [the salary cap fell from $70.2 million last year to $64.3 million] hasn’t helped. A lot of teams would have liked to do something this year and can’t. I don’t know if there will be fewer transactions at the deadline as a result of all this.”
While half of the NHL’s 30 teams are within $1 million of the salary caps, seven teams -- Edmonton, Buffalo, Ottawa, Calgary, Colorado, the Islanders and Florida – have more than $6 million in cap space. Of those seven teams, five [the Panthers, Sabres, Islanders, Flames and Oilers] are out of playoff contention and could be willing to take on salary.
“There are a couple teams that have already indicated they’re probably not going to make the playoffs and they would allow you to buy some cap space or take a contract,” McPhee said. “It may open up.”
The Caps gave up a top forward prospect, Filip Forsberg, to acquire Erat from Nashville at last year’s trade deadline, but may receive little more than a fourth-round pick in return for Erat this year. But if trading Erat results in enough cap space to acquire another player – perhaps a veteran defenseman or top-six forward – it might be worth it.