April 16th, 2024

Washington Capitals bracing for changes ahead of the NHL trade deadline

By Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press on February 29, 2024.

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) – Anthony Mantha has been traded before, just not like this.

Three years ago, he joined the Washington Capitals from the Detroit Red Wings in a surprise deal completed minutes before the deadline. He was in the first season of a new contract and didn’t yet have a daughter.

No one will be stunned if Mantha is moved this time, and he’s one of several Washington players in that category ahead of the March 8 NHL trade deadline. Just close enough to the playoff race but coming off an 8-3 defeat at Detroit and with a brutal schedule ahead, the Capitals are bracing for possible changes.

“It’s tough for everyone,” Mantha said. “Nothing’s done until you get that call, right? I just try and focus on being here and try not to think too much ahead.”

Players shouldn’t and aren’t thinking ahead. That’s general manager Brian MacLellan’s job as he contemplates how much, if at all, to sell.

Mantha and fellow pending free agents Joel Edmundson and Max Pacioretty are the most likely candidates to go. Goaltender Charlie Lindgren and centre Nic Dowd, signed through next season at just over $1 million each, could also fetch significant returns if MacLellan chooses to trade either or both of them.

Lindgren and Dowd seem to be perfect additions for a Stanley Cup contender: a 30-year-old having a career year in net and a do-it-all depth forward who kills penalties, wins faceoffs and plays tough minutes. As his name has been bandied about in trade rumours, Lindgren feels good about keeping his blinders on and worried about doing his job.

“You don’t really go out looking for any sort of outside buzz,” said Lindgren, who has a 2.85 goals-against average and whose 27 starts the most he has made in any NHL season. “You can’t really think about anything on the outside world because this league is too good. You’ve got to be all in. You’ve got to know where you’re at.”

As a team, the Capitals are in a weird spot in the short and long term. They’re still trying to contend while Alex Ovechkin chases Wayne Gretzky’s goal record but also trying to get younger, and acquiring a young player in the midst of selling, like they did a year ago with Rasmus Sandin, could fit into the organization’s planning.

As for right now, they’re six points back of two different playoff positions – Metropolitan Division third-place Philadelphia, which visits Washington on Friday night, and Eastern Conference second wild card Tampa Bay – but the post-deadline stretch is a murderer’s row with nine of 12 games against post-season-bound opponents.

Players are zeroed in on the pre-deadline games, including at home against Arizona on Sunday and at archrival Pittsburgh next Thursday, that are must-wins to avoid some level of a fire sale.

“Pretty sure if we go 3-0 in these next three games, it’s going to make the decisions a little tougher,” centre Dylan Strome said. “That’s ultimately what we want as a team. No one wants to have guys move on and go to teams that are at the top of the standings.”

Certainly not those left behind, if the Capitals don’t qualify for a second consecutive year. But for Mantha, Edmundson and Pacioretty, there could be brighter days ahead if they’re chasing the Cup in the coming months.

Mantha, second on the team with 18 goals and fourth with 32 points as part of an impressive bounceback season, insists he’s not thinking about that in any way. Similarly, Lindgren is enjoying more of an opportunity to play consistently than ever before at this level but won’t let his brain slip beyond the next shot, the next save and the next chance to show what he can do.

“Every time I get the chance to go in the net, I think I have the ability to be a difference maker,” Lindgren said. “My game has kind of shown that this year. You can’t get complacent at all. There’s a lot of good netminders in this league. Just got to be focused on the daily task at hand and making sure you’re getting better and trying to improve every single day.”

NOTES: Dowd and defenceman Martin Fehervary, who have been out with injuries, skated before practice Thursday, according to coach Spencer Carbery, who said winger T.J. Oshie is also progressing from his latest ailment. “¦ Winger Sonny Milano and defenceman Nick Jensen are expected to play Friday after missing the past two games.

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl

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