The Capitals are 14th in the Eastern Conference and 29th in the NHL, with just three points separating them from the last-place Florida Panthers.
The April 3 NHL trade deadline is 10 days away.
So, if you’re general manager George McPhee, are you buying, selling or standing pat?
The Caps’ two-day visit to Winnipeg may make that decision a lot easier.
With two games in 25 hours against the Winnipeg Jets [tonight at 7, Friday night at 8, both on CSN] the Capitals will get a better idea whether they should add players in a push to make the playoffs for a sixth straight season, or sell the assets they have and begin a rebuild.
A sweep over the Jets would move the Caps within five points of a playoff spot. Anything less would only keep them treading water, since the seventh-place Hurricanes and ninth-place Devils face each other tonight, guaranteeing one of them two points.
Mike Green, who has missed 10 straight games and 13 of the last 15 with a groin injury, will be a game-time decision tonight. Green told reporters he’s ready, but he said the same thing on Feb. 25 and aggravated his injury in the second end of back-to-back games against the Hurricanes and Flyers, putting him back on the shelf.
That’s why coach Adam Oates is being extra cautious with Green and may hold him out until Friday night’s rematch with the Jets.
If the Caps stumble in Winnipeg, the biggest short-term asset on their roster is center Mike Ribeiro, who is having one of the best offensive seasons of his career with 32 points in 29 games. Ribeiro is in the final year of a contract that carries a cap hit of $5 million.
Ribeiro,33, has said he would like to re-sign in Washington, but as the deadline approaches he could land the Capitals a first- or [more likely] second-round pick in what scouts are calling one of the deepest NHL drafts in years.
Other soon-to-be unrestricted free agents on the Caps roster include forwards Joey Crabb, Matt Hendricks, Wojtek Wolski, Eric Fehr and Aaron Volpatti, and defensemen Tom Poti and Jack Hillen. None of those players would bring the level of value as Ribeiro.
But if the Caps trade Ribeiro, they are back in the same dilemma they’ve had for years – lacking a quality second-line center behind Nicklas Backstrom who can set the table for wingers like Alex Ovechkin, Troy Brouwer, Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson.
Lineup changes: If Green plays tonight, don’t be surprised if Oates goes with seven defensemen and 11 forwards. That would likely leave Crabb, Wolski and Volpatti as healthy scratches. … Look for Braden Holtby [10-10-0, 2.92 GAA, .911 save percentage] to face Winnipeg’s Ondrej Pavelec [13-12-2, 2.73 GAA, .908 save percentage].
This is the Caps’ projected lineup for tonight:
Marcus Johansson-Nicklas Backstrom-Alex Ovechkin
Brooks Laich-Mike Ribeiro-Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera-Mathieu Perreault-Eric Fehr
Matt Hendricks-Jay Beagle-Joel Ward
Karl Alzner-Mike Green
Jeff Schultz-John Carlson
Jack Hillen-Dmitry Orlov-Steve Oleksy