With the NHL trade deadline on Wednesday, the question surrounding the Capitals was whether the team would make a move or stand pat. On Monday we got our answer as the team acquired defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and prospect goalie Pheonix Copley from the St. Louis Blue in exchange for forwards Zach Sanford, Brad Malone and a first and a conditional draft pick(s).
But by addressing the only real weaknesses on the roster, the Caps may have exposed another flaw they could potentially try to address before Wednesday's trade deadline.
With only two right-shooting defensemen in Matt Niskanen and John Carlson, this was a clear area of need for the team. Because of the struggles of the team's two netminders in the AHL, Washington was also in need of a third goalie in case of an injury to Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer. You can read more on the team's needs heading into the trade deadline here.
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The team addressed both of those needs Monday with Shattenkirk and Copley, but it came at a price. Losing draft picks will have future implications, but the loss of Sanford weakens the team in the present.
Heading into the postseason, if healthy, it's not hard to guess what the Caps' forward lines would be:
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Daniel Winnik - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson
But what if there was an injury? Prior to the hand injury suffered by Andre Burakovsky, the Caps were using the minimum number of forwards and cycling through players from Hershey for road games. That's not an ideal setup for the playoffs.
The plan was thought to be for the team to carry Sanford and Jakub Vrana as the two depth forwards for the postseason. Pinning your hopes on two rookies to step into a playoff situation when called upon is not without risk. Now, however, the Caps don't even have that.
There's a difference between plugging a player in the lineup in the regular season and in the playoffs. The regular season offers an opportunity to give players like Riley Barber and Chandler Stephenson valuable experience. The team can feel comfortable plugging in Zach Sill or Liam O'Brien for a few games. But when it comes to the playoffs in which every game counts, every win brings you one step closer to the Stanley Cup and every loss brings the season closer to an end, the team needs more options than a handful of green prospects and veteran AHLers.
Vrana is projected to be a top-six talent and is starting to hit his NHL potential. He also, however, is prone to turnovers and needs to work on how he plays without the puck. He is a good option for Washington in the playoffs, but for him to be the only option is an enormous risk.
The Shattenkirk deal shows the Caps are all-in this year, but there's one more move they may need to make. With Sanford now gone, the Caps will need to act fast to bring in more forward depth because, besides Vrana, there's not a whole lot of options within the organization.
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