What will Capitals do before trade deadline?

It looked like the Washington Capitals were going to run away with the Metropolitan Division again this year, but that doesn’t appear to be the case anymore. As of right now, they’re no longer in the top spot. What can they do to get the division crown back?

The team that’s now slightly ahead of them, the Pittsburgh Penguins, have been aggressive over the last few weeks. Pens GM Jim Rutherford swung a deal for winger Jason Zucker and that seems to have helped improve their roster. And it sounds like they’d be open to making another move or two before Monday’s trade deadline.

The Capitals sacrificed a second-round pick in 2020 and a conditional third-rounder in 2021 to land Brenden Dillon from the San Jose Sharks this week. That’s a smart move by general manager Brian MacLellan, but is it enough to get the Caps out of the rut they’re currently in?

Washington has dropped three games in a row and they have just one win in their last six games. Since the start of February, they have a 2-5-1 record.

In fairness, they were without center Evgeny Kuznetsov for three games against Colorado, Arizona and Vegas. He managed to return to the lineup against Montreal on Thursday, but the Caps still dropped an OT decision on home ice to the struggling Canadiens.

“We’re going to pursue anything that we think can make us better,” MacLellan said. “We’ll continue to talk to teams. We’ve had conversations. We’ll keep doing it and see if we can make our team better.”

When asked about his team’s defense’s struggles, MacLellan added that he felt it wasn’t just his blue liners that were were having a hard time in that area. He pointed out that the forwards make life difficult for themselves when they don’t have the puck. In short, his point was that the team’s overall play has slipped of late.

The Caps know they can keep up offensively with every team in the league. The question is whether or not they can keep the puck out of their own net. They’ve already added a defender, so it’s entirely possible that they’d be looking to add a two-way depth forward between now and Monday.

Options may or may not include:

Nate Thompson – C – Montreal Canadiens: Thompson is responsible defensively, capable of killing penalties and he’s also great in the face-off circle. He could probably be had for a mid-round pick this year or in 2021.

Jesper Fast – W – New York Rangers: Fast could be a perfect fit on Washington’s bottom two lines and he could move up in the lineup if ever they suffer a short-term injury.

Derek Grant – C – Anaheim Ducks: Grant is having a heck of a year, as he’s scored 14 goals in 48 games (he’s on pace to score 20). He’s also chipped in three shorthanded markers in 2019-20. He’s also not making much money this year, so the Caps could fit him under the cap.

Again, those are just some of the options that could be available to MacLellan before Monday. Will any one of the players mentioned above help the Capitals keep the puck out of their own net? Sure, they may help a little bit. But the entire roster needs to figure out how to play defensively as a team.

If they can find a team that’s willing to take salary back or retain salary in a trade, they may be able to get a better player. Washington’s window to win is open right now. If that means they have to trade draft collateral and a top prospect or two to land a big fish on the market, they should do that. But with the clock ticking, there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to make a splash of that magnitude. Would they love to get a Jean-Gabriel Pageau from Ottawa? Probably. That won’t be an easy trade for them to make right now.

Here’s the most important thing the Caps need to realize: Once you get into the playoffs, scoring tends to dry up a little bit. Once you have a lead, you need to know how to protect it. That’s what they need to figure out if they’re going to make a long run into June, again.

MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Eichel, Skinner make donations; feel-good stories for NHL teams

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Buffalo Sabres forwards Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner are donating to the COVID-19 fight. (NHL.com)

• Edmonton Oilers coach Dave Tippett laments the team’s lost progress during season pause. (Sportsnet)

• PHPA and ECHL announce relief fund for ECHL players. (ECHL)

• The feel-good stories of the season for all 31 NHL teams. (ESPN)

• Who rules the NHL’s 3-on-3 format? (TSN)

• Does Quinn Hughes beat out Cale Makar for the Rookie of the Year award? (Vancouver Is Awesome)

• Florida Panthers not letting COVID-19 dictate the future. (Panther Parkway)

• Philadelphia Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk is awaiting the next step in his rehabilitation process. (NHL.com)

• The epic decline of fighting in the NHL. (NHL To Seattle)

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Eichel, Bauer team up to donate much-needed medical equipment

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Jack Eichel was enjoying a career-best season up until the NHL pause, but his greatest impact has come during the stop in action.

Buffalo’s captain purchased 5,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) masks from the hockey equipment manufacturer, Bauer. The essential items will be distributed to various hospitals throughout Western New York.

“I am so thankful to all those medical professionals that are on the front lines taking care of our community in the battle against this virus,” Eichel said in a team issued release. “The dedication to Western New York that they continue to show is incredible. I am happy to work with my friends at Bauer to purchase these masks. Hopefully, they will help play a part in keeping our hospital workers safer and healthier.”

Bauer recently repurposed their production facilities and began developing medical shields for healthcare professionals, emergency responders and other heroes fighting the coronavirus on the front lines. According to ESPN.com’s Emily Kaplan, more than 100,000 units have been ordered across Canada as of last week.

“We’re all on the same team in helping our medical professionals get the necessary protective equipment they need to help in the fight against COVID-19,” said Mary-Kay Messier, VP of Global Marketing, Bauer Hockey. “Nurses, doctors and so many others are risking their own health to save the lives of others. These are the true heroes of coronavirus. Our team was eager to step up and do what we can, just like Jack is stepping up to help his community in Buffalo. We’re grateful for this partnership with Jack and the Buffalo Sabres, and we hope others continue to help because we all need to support our families, friends and neighbors right now.”

RELATED: Bauer VP of global marketing Mary-Kay Messier joined the Our Line Starts podcast this week to discuss the company’s production transition and how others are aiding them in making protective gear.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Long-term outlook for Dallas Stars: Free agents, prospects, and more

Dallas Stars long-term outlook Seguin Klingberg Heiskanen
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Dallas Stars.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn stand as the Stars’ highest-paid players (almost $10M per year for each), and management’s most sought-after scapegoats. If CEO Jim Lites & Co. had issues with Seguin (28, contract expires after 2026-27) and Benn (30, 2024-25) already, one can only imagine how nasty things might get as Father Time really rubs it in.

At least both remain effective if you keep expectations fair — especially Seguin. Even if the Stars’ staunch and stingy system does little to goose their counting stats.

By investing quite a bit of term in Esa Lindell, the Stars figure to lean on Lindell, Miro Heiskanen, and John Klingberg for the foreseeable future. Heiskanen’s rookie deal runs out after next season, while Klingberg will only be a bargain through 2021-22.

Ben Bishop continues to provide fantastic goaltending, easily exceeding his near-$5M AAV so far. At 33, it’s fair to wonder if a big slide is coming, so that might go from a bargain to a burden before Bishop’s contract expires after 2022-23.

It will be interesting to see who else joins the core. Looking at the list of pending free agents alone, the Stars face interesting contract challenges with Hintz, Faksa, and Gurianov. The hope is those forwards can pick up the slack for aging players like Alexander Radulov, Joe Pavelski, and Andrew Cogliano.

One would think that a goalie-needy team would drive Khudobin out of the backup goalie price range, but if not, Dallas would be wise to see how much longer their two-headed monster over 33-year-old goalies can keep this up.

Seeing Hanzal’s cursed contract ($4.75M AAV) come off the books must be a massive, Hanzal-sized relief.

Long-term needs for Stars

Khudobin and Bishop delivered shockingly strong results, even for those who favored the two, but again, they’re both 33. Getting younger in net needs to be an emphasis, whether that means a younger (cheaper) backup, or someone on the horizon. Maybe prospect Jake Oettinger could be the answer to a number of questions?

Finding a better balance between risk and rewards lingers as a more abstract key.

Does that mean finding a different coaching option other than interim bench boss Rick Bowness? Perhaps. Seeing Seguin languish with a modest team lead in points at 50 is already a bummer. No one else reaching 40 points in 2019-20 is downright alarming.

There are some nice supplementary pieces in guys like Hintz, but if Seguin and Benn continue to sink from superstars to stars, do the Stars have enough star power? If not, they’ll need to manufacture goals by committee.

Long-term strengths for Stars

A different chef might be able to put together a winning recipe with the ingredients on hand.

In particular, there are pieces to ice a modern, mobile defense. Heiskanen already hovers somewhere between star and full-fledged superstar. Klingberg suffered through a disappointing 2019-20, yet he still has a lot of talent, and could rebound in a more creative setup.

While Lindell is a bit more meat-and-potatoes, prospect Thomas Harley provides potential for more explosive offense from the Stars’ defense.

Speaking of prospects, Ty Dellandrea and Jason Robertson might eventually help the Stars improve their depth on offense. If those two work out, they could help Dallas patch up slippage for Benn and Seguin alongside the likes of Hintz.

The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler ranked the Stars’ farm system 18th overall in January (sub required), while his Athletic colleague placed Dallas’ sub-23 group at 15th. That’s not world-beating stuff, but it’s also pretty solid for a team that’s becoming a fairly consistent playoff squad.

Goaltending might remain a strength if Bishop ends up being one of those goalies who ages well. We’ll see.

Overall, Heiskanen stands out as the player Stars fans should be most excited about. There are a decent number of others, especially if Seguin gets better puck luck than the 6.9 shooting percentage that made his 2019-20 season far from nice.

MORE STARS:
• 2019-20 season summary
• Surprises and disappointments

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NBCSN’s Hockey Happy Hour: Capitals vs. Blues

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NBC Sports’ Hockey Happy Hour continues this week with back-to-back matchups between the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues on Wednesday beginning at 5 p.m. ET.

At 5 p.m. ET NBCSN will present the EA Sports NHL 20 simulated Capitals game that originally aired on NBC Sports Washington on March 24. Washington, led by Nicklas Backstrom’s hat trick, beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues, 5-3, in an action-packed virtual matchup.

At 6 p.m. ET, in a season opening matchup that featured the past two Stanley Cup champions, the Capitals erased an early 2-0 deficit to defeat the Blues in overtime 3-2. Alex Ovechkin scored his 11th goal in his 15th NHL season opener, and Jakub Vrana netted the overtime winner. The raising of the Blues’ first-ever Stanley Cup championship banner will be featured.

HOCKEY HAPPY HOUR SCHEDULE
• Thursday, April 2: Penguins-Red Wings 2009 Stanley Cup Final, Game 7 (5 p.m. ET)

Programming will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Happy Hour can be found here.