Time for Capitals to make a deal?

Time for Capitals to make a deal?
January 8, 2014, 8:45 am
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Caps look to rebound against Tampa

The Capitals have lost seven of their last nine games and could be out of a playoff spot by the time they play again Thursday night in TampaBay.

They have two players – goaltender Michael Neuvirth and forward Marty Erat – who want a change of scenery, and three goalies trying to share one net.

With all that in mind, is now the time for the Caps to make a deal?

Clearly, Capitals general manager George McPhee is not dealing from a position of strength. Neuvirth, 25, hasn’t played a game since Nov. 22 and hasn’t been a No. 1 goalie since 2010-11 when he went 27-12-4. Since then he’s gone 19-21-8 in parts of three seasons.

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Erat, 32, has no goals and 15 assists and is back to playing on a fourth line now that Brooks Laich is healthy. [As a side note, the prospect the Capitals traded to Nashville in exchange for Erat, Filip Forsberg, was named the MVP of the recently completed World Junior Championships].

Combined, Neuvirth and Erat are making $7 million this season and next, making them even less desirable for teams with salary cap issues.

There are teams in the market for a goaltender, perhaps none more desperate than the New York Islanders, who saw veteran Evgeni Nabokov leave Monday night’s game against the Stars with a lower body injury. Nabokov missed 11 games earlier this season with a groin injury.

The most popular trade commodity on Long Island is defenseman Andrew MacDonald, a left-handed, 27-year-old blue liner who is averaging just under 26 minutes a game and leads the NHL in blocked shots. MacDonald is making just $550,000 this season but will become an unrestricted free agent after this season and will be looking for a big payday.

The Islanders have almost $12 million in cap space and could afford to take on Neuvirth’s $2.5 million salary. But if they trade MacDonald, they’ll need an NHL defenseman in return. Could that be Dmitry Orlov? Steve Oleksy?

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Or, what if the Caps went an entirely different route and set their sights on a defenseman set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season? There is a long list of impact blue liners who may become available as the NHL’s March 5 trade deadline draws near:

Dan Girardi, Rangers: We can dream, can’t we? Girardi is a right-shot defenseman who has given Alex Ovechkin fits the past two springs, At 29, he’s still got plenty of tread on the tires and will be looking for an increase on his $3.325 million cap hit. To get him, though, the Caps would need to consider parting with Mike Green.

Chris Phillips, Senators: If you’re looking for a classic stay-at-home defenseman who makes few mistakes, Ottawa’s 6-foot-3, 220-pounder is your guy. The problem is his age. Phillips is 35 but he’s averaging more than 20 minutes a game, he’s a left shot, and could be a stabilizing force alongside Green.

Ron Hainsey, Hurricanes: Another lefty on the back nine, Hainsey is a sturdy 6-foot-3, 210 pounder who can kill penalties and log more than 20 minutes a night on a second pairing. He’s 32 and should have plenty of desire to get the Capitals somewhere he’s never been in his NHL career – the playoffs. The problem, of course, is getting Jim Rutherford to help a team in his own division.

Henrik Tallinder, Sabres: Another oldie but goodie, Tallinder is 34 and has a good sense for the game. A left-handed shooter, he can give you 20 minutes of solid play every night and could step in as your No. 4 at $3.375 million.

Nikita Nikitin, Blue Jackets: Yes, Columbus is another division rival, even though it doesn’t feel like one yet. Another lefty, Nikitin is a big body [6-foot-4, 223 pounds] who can kill penalties and is reliable in his own end. At 27 he’s in his prime and comes at a reasonable price [$2.15 million cap hit].

Mark Stuart, Jets: If the Caps can’t find a trade partner in their own conference they could look to Winnipeg, where Stuart is in the final year of a deal that pays him $1.7 million. A hard-hitting 29-year-old blue liner who plays the left side, Stuart could add the depth the Caps need on their blue line.