WASHINGTON: The Washington Capitals looked like a team ready to book mid-April tee times in a 5-0 loss Monday night to the injury-depleted Carolina Hurricanes. Yet they are still only two points shy of the Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets for first-place and the Toronto Maple Leafs for eighth place in the East.
At the beginning of the season, the Capitals were expected to challenge for the top spot in the East. Now, they're fighting just to make the playoffs. GM George McPhee could go in several different directions in the next few days.
"Believe it or not, there’s still a compelling case to be made for being a buyer come Monday," writes Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post.
"But an equally strong argument can be made for the Capitals shedding salary at the deadline, too, and getting a jump start on a team that obviously needs retooling."
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If McPhee decides to punt this season and start the reloading process for 2012-13, El-Bashir lists a few key players who could be on the move. They included pending UFAs Alexander Semin, Dennis Wideman and Mike Knuble, as well as restricted free agent Mike Green.
"There was a certain chemistry that defined previous incarnations of this club. This season’s team is missing that cohesion," writes El-Bashir. "If rebooting is the route McPhee chooses, other team’s draft picks, prospects and young players are available. Why wait until the offseason?
"It just might take some gutsy decisions."
CHICAGO: Not too long ago the Blackhawks were a team in crisis, reeling from a nine-game losing streak, hearing and reading about their postseason credentials being in question. Now the Hawks have won four straight and are back on solid ground.
Through the losing and the winning, GM Stan Bowman has been looking to make a trade (and maybe two), but nothing has materialized to this point.
"Playing at an elite level to beat the Red Wings for a fourth straight win shouldn't send the message to Bowman that everything is fine and dandy now," writes David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune. "It should increase the urgency to make a deal that addresses a need for a team suddenly looking the right player away from another Stanley Cup run."
Rivals Nashville and Detroit have already added a veteran defenseman, which also happens to be one of Chicago's two big needs. As Haugh pointed out, Brendan Morrison was added as a possible low-cost option to fill the hole at No. 2 center behind Jonathan Toews, but as he's been a regular healthy scratch Bowman might need to look elsewhere again.
It could be a busy few days for Bowman, regardless of how his team is doing on the ice.
"More than anything the Hawks' renewed urgency reminded us nobody in the organization will be satisfied with another competitive, first-round playoff exit," Haugh writes. "Everybody agrees progress means winning championships, not just a playoff series. Now it's time to back up those words with bold action by the GM."
SAN JOSE: NHL Network hockey insider Darren Dreger reported the Sharks are "emerging as a strong contender" to win the Rick Nash sweepstakes. Dreger also reported that Columbus' first choice in a deal was Logan Couture, but Sharks GM Doug Wilson told the Blue Jackets that is a "non-starter."
So that begs the questions -- if the Sharks are going to make a play for Nash and Couture won't be part of the deal, how are they going to pull it off? San Jose has one of the thinnest collection of prospects in the League -- the web site Hockey's Future ranked the Sharks 30th before the season started.
This in part because they dealt top prospect Charlie Coyle and a first-round pick (which likely would have netted the team's second-best prospect) in a deal for Brent Burns during the summer.
"If the Sharks were to land Nash, there's a strong possibility the deal would have to include forward Joe Pavelski and a combination of prospects and draft picks," suggests CSNBayArea.com
Pavelski is the best player in present time that has been rumored to be included in a deal for Nash, but he is only under contract for two more seasons. The Sharks have a couple of interesting young goaltenders in Thomas Greiss and Harri Sateri. Would Pavelski, one of the goalies and a first-round pick be enough?
The Rangers, Bruins and Maple Leafs have more young assets to deal, but Pavelski is more of a sure thing (same goes for Couture), which could play in the Sharks' favor.
CAROLINA: Tuomo Ruutu would be one of the top forwards on the market if GM Jim Rutherford were to make him available. He's been trying to sign Ruutu to a contract extension, just like he did with Tim Gleason.
SOG: 128 | +/-: 3
"We've worked very hard on it and gone as far as we can go," Rutherford told Alexander. "We're hoping he's staying and will get a positive answer from him."
Rutherford said today is not a deadline, and he doesn't expect to be active between now and the trade deadline on Monday but, "you can get surprised." If Ruutu doesn't sign an extension, there will likely be several teams lining up to make offers for him. Rutherford also still has a pair of pending UFA defensemen, Bryan Allen and Jaroslav Spacek, though Spacek has a limited no-trade clause.
Considering the going rate for buyers to this point, let's just say there's a pretty good chance that Rutherford will indeed be "surprised" by an offer (or three) and still end up making more deals.