With the Capitals in search of a top defenseman and Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon willing to trade away the No. 1 pick of the 2014 NHL draft, could new Caps GM Brian MacLellan make a big splash in Philadelphia in a little more than two weeks?
It all depends on how good an NHL defenseman he thinks Aaron Ekblad will be – and the price it would take to get him.
Listed at 6-foot-4, 216 pounds, the native of Belle River, Ontario is widely considered the best player in the draft, which will take place in Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center June 27 and 28.
A two-way defenseman, Ekblad has been compared to Nashville Predators defenseman Seth Jones, who as an 18-year-old rookie last season recorded six goals and 19 assists while averaging nearly 20 minutes a game under new Caps coach Barry Trotz.
Earlier this week, Tallon told the Toronto Star that he’s received a “fair offer” for the Panthers’ No. 1 selection. The Toronto Maple Leafs, who hold the eighth pick, and the Calgary Flames, who sit at No. 4, have been linked to trade rumors involving the Panthers.
The Capitals, in need of at least one difference maker on the blue line, hold the 13th pick overall and would need to come up with an attractive package of players and draft picks to climb 12 spots.
If MacLellan believes Ekblad is worth pursuing, what could the Caps offer without creating a gaping hole in their roster?
Any trade package would start with their own first-round pick [No. 13]. Adding 23-year-old center Marcus Johansson, who is coming off an eight-goal, 44-point season, could certainly get a conversation going, as would the name of Mike Green, a former NHL All-Star who led all Caps defensemen with 38 points in 70 games.
Johansson has one year and $2 million remaining on his contract; Green, 28, has one year at $6.083 million.
Would the 13th pick and Johansson or Green be enough to get a deal done for Ekblad? Probably not.
Would the Caps be willing to include a forward prospect like Riley Barber or Andre Burakovsky? Probably not.
Would they be brave enough to offer the 13th pick, Johansson and Green for the No. 1 selection? Doubtful.
Would the Caps be better served scrapping the idea of pursuing Ekblad and turn their attention to the free-agent market, where, based on a $70 million salary cap, they would have roughly $14 million to spend?
Among free-agent defensemen, Penguins 27-year-old blue liner Matt Niskanen is considered the top prize, but with the Flyers, Avalanche, Wild and Red Wings all believed to be interested, Niskanen could come at a price tag of $5 million a season.
If you were the Caps’ GM, what would you do?