Future uncertain for Capitals following trade deadline

Despite stretches of wins and proximity to a playoff spot, the Washington Capitals sold key pieces at the trade deadline. Here’s what’s next for the team stuck in limbo between competitiveness and a rebuild.
The Washington Capitals celebrate a decisive win against the Chicago Blackhawks, their first game following the trade deadline. The Capitals are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games.
The Washington Capitals celebrate a decisive win against the Chicago Blackhawks, their first game following the trade deadline. The Capitals are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games.
Mia Halper
Anthony Mantha traded to Vegas Golden Knights

This year’s NHL trade deadline on Friday, March 8 saw numerous blockbuster trades including Calgary Flames defender Noah Hanafin to the Vegas Golden Knights and Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jake Guentzel to the Carolina Hurricanes. 

For the Capitals, however, the trade deadline week started with a relatively expected trade: forward Anthony Mantha. Mantha (with 50% salary retained) went to the Golden Knights in exchange for a 2024 fourth-round draft pick and a 2026 sixth-round pick. 

Mantha was acquired in 2021 from the Detroit Red Wings, for Jakub Vrana (cup-winner with Washington), Richard Panik, a first-round pick in 2021 and a second-round pick in 2022. Especially considering how much the Capitals gave up for him, Mantha has seen incredibly disappointing results in Washington.

However, Mantha experienced a resurgence this year, racking up 34 points (20G, 14A) in 56 games. This, combined with his imminent contract expiration, made him an appealing rental for contending teams at the deadline. His contract is quite hefty, though — $5.7 million — leading to the Capitals retaining half of his salary in order to seal the deal with Vegas.

Michael Sgarbossa takes a faceoff alongside Ivan Miroshnichenko and Aliaksei Protas. The three players have been bright spots for the Capitals this season. (Mia Halper)
Joel Edmundson flipped to Toronto Maple Leafs

Defenseman Joel Edmundson was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday for the New York Islanders’ 2024 third-round pick and the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2025 fifth-round pick. The Capitals retained 50% of Edmundson’s $1.75 million cap hit.

Edmundson, who joined the team this fall, was acquired by Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan from the Montreal Canadiens for a 2024 third-round pick and a seventh-round pick. The Canadiens retained 50% of Edmundson’s salary as part of the trade.

In 44 games for the Capitals this season, Edmundson tallied 1 goal and 5 assists in 44 games. With Edmundson’s virtually non-existent on-ice impact,  this trade was quite beneficial for the Capitals. Edmundson’s salary is largely insignificant for the Capitals who have large amounts of cap space, and the draft picks received in the deal are more valuable than the ones he was initially acquired with.

Evgeny Kuznetsov caught in storm of trouble, shipped to Carolina Hurricanes

Talented but troubled center Evgeny Kuznetsov (with 50% salary retained) was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday in exchange for a 2025 third-round pick.

After returning from treatment in the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program on March 2, the Capitals immediately waived Kuznetsov in order to send him to the team’s AHL (the minor league of the NHL) affiliate, the Hershey Bears in Hershey, Pennsylvania. 

Because no teams elected to pick up Kuznetsov off of waivers, Kuznetsov reported to Hershey for practice on March 5. Kuznetsov instantly became the highest-paid player in the entire league with a cap hit of $7.8 million. 

At his ceiling, Kuznetsov has always had the potential to be one of the most talented players in the NHL —  as showcased in his incredible performance in the 2018 playoffs, where he was an essential part of the Stanley Cup-winning team. 

Although he has had strong seasons since the championship (notably, 78 points in 79 games in 2021-22), Kuznetsov has struggled immensely with inconsistency and has been unable to match his expected level of production. This year, these struggles have become even more apparent, with Kuznetsov totaling only 17 points in 43 games.

Carolina’s acquisition of Kuznetsov will give them added forward depth as they hope to contest a Stanley Cup. At the same time, the Capitals were able to clear half of Kuznetsov’s 7.8 million dollar salary from their salary cap and get a draft pick.

The Caps now have 26 picks in the next three drafts, including 14 in the first three rounds, which will give them the draft capital to add or acquire prospects for a potential full rebuild following the end of the Ovechkin era. 

Capitals pick up steam as of late
Goalie Charlie Lindgren skates out to center ice after being named the first star of the game following a 31-save performance against the Chicago Blackhawks. Lindgren was considered a top target for many teams going into the trade deadline due to his strong 2023-24 season, but remained with the Capitals following the deadline. (Mia Halper)

As of late, the team has been performing exceptionally well, with the team going 7-2-1 in their last ten games, and averaging 4.3 goals scored in that stretch. 

The team flayed perennial rival the Pittsburgh Penguins in a game on Thursday, March 7, winning 6-0, exhibiting the team’s high ceiling. The game featured rookie Ivan Miroshnichenko’s first NHL goal and six different players scoring goals, including Hendrix Lapierre, Sonny Milano and Alex Ovechkin along with a three-assist night from Dylan Strome. Goalie Charlie Lindgren posted a 39-save shutout, his fifth shutout on the season.

In the team’s first game after the trade deadline, the Capitals defeated Connor Bedard and the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1 on Saturday, March 9. Although one can never look too deeply into a win over Chicago, who currently sit last in the league and were also mathematically eliminated from the playoffs Saturday night, the game still had some good omens. 

The main takeaway from the team’s recent record is that the younger players on the Capitals have massively stepped up. Players like Lapierre and Milano have been integral to the team’s success, especially with key pieces such as T.J. Oshie, Nic Dowd and Martin Fehervary missing due to injury. As the trade deadline thinned the lineup even further, these young players are essential to the team’s continued success this season. The game against the Blackhawks is a promising sign that the Capitals can still hold their own.

Capitals still in hunt for playoffs: what’s next for the team?

As of Monday morning, the Capitals sit in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division with 69 points in 62 games played. They stand three points behind the second wildcard in the east, currently held by the New York Islanders (72 points in 63 games played), who are tied in points with the Detroit Red Wings (72 points in 64 games played). 

Although the Capitals have three games in hand on the Tampa Bay Lightning, who hold the first wildcard, their odds of making the playoffs are still not high. MoneyPuck, a leading hockey sports book, has Washington at 17.5% odds of garnering a playoff spot, as of Monday morning. 

In the coming games, the Capitals will play a crucial Canadian and West Coast road trip that will likely determine the outcome of their season. The trip will include Winnipeg, whom they play tonight, Edmonton, Seattle, Vancouver and Calgary before returning home for a four-game home stand. 

The Capitals’ schedule does not get any easier towards the end of the season as they will have to contend with multiple playoff teams including playing each of the Winnipeg Jets and Boston Bruins twice before the end of the regular season. 

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Of the 20 games left in the Capitals’ season, 12 are against teams that were holding a playoff spot on Monday morning.

If the Capitals can maintain the strong level of play they have exhibited recently, a spot in the playoffs is certainly not out of the question. Other Metro and Eastern Conference teams are also undergoing their own struggles (Detroit, who sit three points ahead of the Capitals, have lost five straight games, while Philadelphia, who have the third Metro spot, are 4-5-1 in their last ten). 

The end of the 2024 season for Washington could see Washington return to the playoffs, or it could see them go on a losing skid as they did towards the end of last season, ending up with the eighth overall draft pick. Which ending the Capitals see, for the moment, appears to be almost entirely in their own hands.

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About the Contributors
Seyun Park
Seyun Park, Print Editor-in-Chief
Junior Seyun Park is in his third year of the Pitch, happy to join this year as a Print Editor-in-Chief. Outside of Pitch, Seyun plays tennis and cello, and likes to follow hockey.
Mia Halper
Mia Halper, Senior A&E Editor
Junior Mia Halper is thrilled to be in her third year with the Pitch as Senior A&E Editor. She's an avid fan of the Washington Capitals and plays soccer.
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