The Washington Capitals’ 5-9-1 decline after a 7-0 start brought an end to Bruce Boudreau’s tenure as coach. He was replaced earlier this week by former Capitals center and London Knights bench boss Dale Hunter.
For the time being, this move has halted speculation GM George McPhee would shake up his roster with a trade.
It remains to be seen how the Capitals perform under Hunter, though their first game with their new coach, a 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues, wasn’t a promising start.
Should the Capitals reverse their recently declining fortunes and return to their accustomed status as a Stanley Cup contender, any trade talk involving them this season will be about which “rental players” McPhee might acquire at the trade deadline to bolster his roster for the playoffs.
On the other hand, if they haven’t improved by New Year’s Day, especially if their playoff hopes are in jeopardy, expect the Capitals trade rumors to roar back to life.
The automatic target, of course, will be right winger Alex Semin, grossly overpaid at $6.7 million and currently on pace for 36-points, his lowest total since the 22 points of his 2003-04 rookie campaign.
These speculators, however, continually overlook the difficulty in trading an overpaid underachiever, especially in today’s salary-cap world. Semin’s $6.7 million would be tough to move if he were at least playing decently. Given his current performance, it’s almost impossible.
His eligibility for unrestricted free agency next summer could also have an adverse impact on his trade value, making him a rental player for another club. If he continues his current level of production, the Capitals would either have to accept another player on a bad contract or a lesser return, which wouldn’t be much help much down the road.
Looking at these factors, it’s difficult to imagine any GM at this point believing Semin is worth the gamble, even as a short-term pick-up.
Defenseman Mike Green’s name first appeared in trade rumors last season and intensified after the Capitals were swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in their Eastern Conference semifinal.
The oft-injured Green is once again sidelined, this time indefinitely by a groin injury, putting to rest speculation he could be on the block at some point this season.
Green is slated for restricted free agency this summer. If McPhee were to consider him too expensive to re-sign, he could put him on the block by the trade deadline, but that’s unlikely if they’re still in the playoff chase by then.
Despite Green’s brittleness, his offensive skills from the blueline make him too valuable to part with during the season. It wouldn’t be surprising if McPhee re-signed him, albeit for a shorter term around the same cap hit ($5.25 million) as this season’s.
If McPhee were to hit the trade market to bolster his lineup, his rivals would be more interested in promising, affordable young players like defensemen Karl Alzner and John Carlson, who he’s unwilling to part with.
Backup goaltender Michal Neuvirth might have some value for clubs seeking depth between the pipes.
While Neuvirth’s stats this season aren’t particularly notable, he displayed considerable promise last season as a starter with 27 victories, a 2.45 goals-against average, .914 save percentage and four shutouts. He also comes with an affordable $1.2 million per season salary.
With promising Braden Holtby in their system, Neuvirth might be McPhee’s best trade chip if the need should arise later in the season to bolster the roster.
Rumor Focus appears Tuesdays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla’s Korner.