The Washington Capitals were a real wild card entering the season. They were sellers at last year’s trade deadline and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
Other moves, including hiring head coach Spencer Carbery, were supposed to increase their chances at a quick rebound and playoff spot in 2024. the team wants to keep Alex Ovechkin happy by being competitive while he chases Wayne Gretzky’s goal record.
The Capitals season has been a mixed bag. Some may say they overachieved with early promising returns. Now, they sit seven points out of a playoff spot and Ovechkin only has ten goals with the team beyond the midway point of the season.
A playoff spot is still close enough that they can go for it but most teams in their situation would once again be sellers for a second consecutive deadline.
The Washington Capitals are probably going to be sellers at the deadline
That situation isn’t as easy for the Capitals. In addition to wanting to keep Ovechkin happy by not punting on yet another playoff-less season, one of the Capitals' main trade chips is no longer available.
Evgeny Kuznetsov has seen his name come up in continued trade speculation since last season but entered the NHLP/NHLPA Player Assistance program earlier this week.
What does that mean for the center market at this year’s trade deadline? The Hockey News reported back in December that although Washington had actively tried to shop Kuznetsov, a trade at the deadline was unlikely due to his contract.
Elias Lindholm, who was expected to be the top center available, has since been shipped to the Vancouver Canucks. The next best option in Sean Monahan was recently sent to the Winnipeg Jets.
There might be a shortage of centers available, at least of centers that can be slotted in the top six. According to the Fourth Period’s trade watch list, the next best center available is Adam Henrique of the Anaheim Ducks. Henrique is listed as the third-best available skater at this deadline.
The next best centers aren’t even on the “watch list”, but on the “bubble list” because their availability is in question. Morgan Frost of the Philadelphia Flyers is mentioned, although the Flyers would wait for the right “hockey trade”.
Flyers are also listening to offers on Scott Laughton after turning down a first-round pick for him at last year’s draft and the asking price isn’t expected to have gone down.
The Fourth Period also lists Trevor Zegras on the “bubble list”. Zegras is currently the Ducks’ Mr. Everything, not unlike Rick Nash was during those lean years with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Not to mention his highlight reel goals are central to the league's marketing strategy.
Zegras’ name will continue to come up as long as the Ducks struggle to take that “next step” in their rebuild. Unless a team blows away Anaheim with an offer it’s hard to see Zegras on the move in season. Is Zegras available? Or are wishful fans just thinking out loud?
Imagine if Kuznetsov was available to trade and to begin play immediately. Where would he rank? Unfortunately for Washington, Kuznetsov might have had too much working against him. First, there’s his contract complicating things.
He has one more year after this season with a $7.8 million cap hit. Second, he only has 17 points in 43 games. His previous career low in points in a season where he played more than 60 games was in the shortened 2019-2020 season when he had 52 points.
Even with all that against him, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where Washington could get a favorable return for Kuznetsov.
Maybe there’s a team that panicked after missing out on Lindholm and Monahan and was willing to overpay not to miss out on what might have been the third-best option. Maybe teams would look past his contract and diminished product and think his Cup-winning pedigree adds value.
Now those are all things working in Adam Henrique’s favor as the Ducks are almost certain to move him as he’s a pending unrestricted free agent. That’s great news for Anaheim as they continue to build for the future.
As for Washington, they seem to be stuck in neutral. Without a trade chip, this looks like it’ll be a quiet deadline during an underwhelming season.