Capitals pledge to remain competitive despite being NHL Trade Deadline sellers

After the Washington Capitals’ first NHL trade deadline as sellers since 2007, their hope remains that this season will be a year-long setback in their attempt to win the Stanley Cup again during the Alex Ovechkin it was.

“I think it’s still a competitive team,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said after the 2023 NHL trade deadline expired at 3 pm ET on Friday. “I don’t see it as taking a big step backwards. I think it might even be taking a step forward.”

MacLellan and his team have a tough needle to thread trying to quickly retool around what he acknowledged is “an older core” that includes forwards Ovechkin, 37, TJ Oshie36, Nicklas Backstrom 35, Evgeny Kuznetsov30, Tom Wilson28, and defender John Carlson33.

But some tough decisions needed to be made with Washington (30-27-6) trailing the New York Islanders by four points for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Playoffs and potentially heading into its first non-playoff spring since 2014.

The Capitals were buyers in the 2014 Trade Deadline before falling out of contention, so this is the first time since 2007 – Ovechkin’s second season – when they weren’t looking to add pieces on time to try and make a Stanley Cup shot.

This season has been challenging from the start due to a series of injuries, including Backstrom (left hip rejuvenation surgery) and Wilson (anterior cruciate ligament tear in left knee) missing the first 40 games, and a host of other key players wasting time including Carlson has been out since he was hit in the side of the head with a kick on 23 December.

Although the Capitals are close to a playoff berth, a six-game losing streak from February 12-23 (with Ovechkin missing four of the games because of his father’s death) has pushed them into sell mode.

“I don’t know if we were showing the consistency we needed to become a team that would go after that,” said MacLellan. “So I think we had to go with a line of what’s best for the future, what’s best for our team in the future and try to add players and stay competitive.”

[RELATED: 2022-23 NHL Trade Tracker]

The trades that Washington completed in the days leading up to the deadline were aimed at getting younger and acquiring draft picks to potentially develop into younger players in the offseason. It started on the 23rd of February, when the capitals negotiated defender Dmitry Orlov and forward Garnet Hathaway to the Boston Bruins in a three-team deal, including the Minnesota Wild, who brought back Boston’s first pick in the 2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft, a third round pick in the 2024 NHL Entry Draft, a second round pick in the 2025 NHL Draft and advance Craig Smith.

They then sent Boston’s 2023 first-round pick and defenseman Erik Gustafsson for the Toronto Maple Leafs for defender Rasmus Sandin on Tuesday. Washington also negotiated ahead Marcus Johansson to the Minnesota jungle for a third-round 2024 draft pick on Tuesday, and forward Lars Eller for the Colorado avalanche for a second-round pick in the 2025 draft on Wednesday.

All players the Capitals traded were eligible to become unrestricted free agents after this season. Smith, who is 33, is also an unrestricted free agent potential and likely won’t be re-signed.

Sandin, a left-handed quarterback who turns 23 on March 7 and signed for two more seasons after this one, was the main addition to the squad. He will slot into a top four on defense next season, which will include Martin Fehervarycarlson and Nick Jensenthe 32-year-old who signed a three-year deal worth $12.15 million (average annual fee $4.05 million) on Tuesday.

“There’s only room to grow for him,” MacLellan said of Sandin. “He’s 22, 23 years old and he’s only going to get better going forward. So hopefully, we see a guy that we can build on going forward.”

The Capitals won’t trade their first-round pick in the 2023 draft, which could end up in the top 10, but the picks they acquired last week could be used to add players of similar age and experience to Sandin. , which is in its fourth season in the NHL.

“You still need some players and draft picks to trade to get these guys,” MacLellan said. “So I think we’ve increased our ability to do that, and going into the draft, we have a chance to make that happen.”

This meant the separation of two more key members of the 2018 Stanley Cup winning team in Orlov and Eller who scored the Cup winning goal. But this losing season required the Capitals to make some painful moves and be proactive to give them the best chance of avoiding the same fate next season.

MacLellan said he met with Ovechkin, his captain, to explain the direction he planned to take. When Ovechkin, who is second in NHL history with 813 goals, signed a five-year, $47.5 million deal to stay with Washington in 2021, part of the reason was so he could chase Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record. of 894 goals.

But Ovechkin’s priority was to play for a team that had a chance of winning the Cup again. Having a winning team around Ovechkin remains the goal.

“We want to be competitive next year,” said MacLellan. “I still think we want to be competitive this year. I still think we have a pretty good squad. We’re going through some injuries. Our back end is a little bit decimated. We’ve been trying to add a good young defender in Sandin. So we’ll see where we are when let’s get out of here.”

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