Is Kuznetsov the Caps' deadline deal?

Is Kuznetsov the Caps' deadline deal?
March 3, 2014, 1:15 pm
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Should the Caps make a trade? Chuck Gormley takes a look

As Wednesday’s 3 p.m. NHL trade deadline ticks closer and closer, the plot thickens here in Washington, where the Capitals remain on the outside fringes of playoff contention in the Eastern Conference.

Will Capitals general manager George McPhee pull the trigger on a major trade?

Will he refrain from making a big splash and attempt to sign Russian prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, possibly as soon as Wednesday?

Asked recently to identify his team’s biggest need heading into the deadline, McPhee played coy with the media.

“I don’t think any manager is ever completely comfortable with his team,” McPhee said, referring to a Capitals club that is 29-23-10 and one point out of a playoff spot. “There’s always something you think you can do to make them better.

“It usually comes down to what does it cost you to do it? Or, you like what you have and the price of extortion makes you pass.”

There are big names on this year’s potential trade market. Ryan Callahan of the Rangers and Ryan Kessler of the Vancouver Canucks, a pair of hard-edged, two-way forwards, are rumored to be on the block, as is right wing Marty St. Louis in Tampa and defenseman Alex Edler in Vancouver.

“If we have a need, I’m not going to tell you because then that’s all I’m going to hear about,” McPhee said. “And frankly, I don’t think it’s fair to the players who are in those positions to say I need to upgrade that position when those guys in [the locker room] are giving you everything they’ve got.”

If the Capitals have a need it is probably on the blue line, where Dmitry Orlov [even] and Mike Green [minus-8] have peen an adventurous pairing, John Erskine has been in and out of the lineup with knee pain, and seven different defensemen have been shuffled to and from the AHL.

Jack Hillen appears to be ready to return to the lineup after missing 60 games with a broken right leg, but is he reliable enough to be the No. 4 defenseman on a pairing with Green?

McPhee said he’s willing to trade prospects and draft picks for a player that can help the Capitals get into the playoffs, but it is believed he is also working behind the scenes on signing Kuznetsov for the Caps’ stretch run.

Kuznetsov’s KHL team, Traktor Chelyabinsk, lost to Torpedo 1-0 over the weekend to fall behind Admiral for the final playoff spot in the East Conference. Afterwards, Kuznetsov seemed to already have his attention on the Capitals, wishing Alex Ovechkin luck against the Flyers with a tweet.

The KHL regular season ends on Tuesday and if Admiral beats the KHL’s worst team, Amur, it clinches a playoff berth and eliminates Traktor, making Kuznetsov available to sign with the Capitals.

If Admiral loses its final game and Traktor wins, Kuznetsov will need to complete his playoff commitment before joining the Capitals.

How does all of this affect what the Capitals do – or don’t do -- at the trade deadline? To sign Kuznetsov, the Caps would need to clear $900,000 in salary space and that may take some maneuvering, especially if Hillen [$700,000] comes off long-term injury.

In other words, the Caps might have to move salary if they hope to have Kuznetsov and Hillen on their roster by the middle of this week.