COMMENTARY | Halfway into the 2013-14 NHL season, a familiar script is playing out for the Washington Capitals. Once again, they find themselves in the playoff hunt thanks to a weak division. The difference this time, however, is that it is the Capitals struggling to tread water while staring up at the far superior division leader.
Yes, despite all the talk prior to the season about how the Capitals may struggle to compete in a tougher division, the Metropolitan has thus far proven to be just as weak as the old Southeast division.
It's a good thing too because in any other division, they would be far outside of the top three.
The Capitals have certainly underachieved in the first half of the season, but the good news is they have the personnel to turn things around…by trading them. There are a few notable players the team can ship in exchange for key pieces to provide a much needed boost.
Forward Martin Erat made it known that he wished to be traded back in November. The talented winger has never fit within head coach Adam Oates' lineup and has switched through every line this season as the team sought to define his role.
With a $4.5 million cap hit and no goals this season, the Capitals should be eager to deal as well. Erat is an extremely skilled player who usually contributes around 50-55 points per season. That type of potential did not evaporate when he came to Washington. He can certainly contribute somewhere else and there should be plenty of suitors for his services.
Goalie Michal Neuvirth also looks to be obvious trade bait after his agent, Patrik Stefan, stated he would like to see his client moved . Neuvirth could be a starting goalie elsewhere in the NHL, but has always played second fiddle in Washington to first Semyon Varlamov and then Braden Holtby. Now with the emergence of Philipp Grubauer, Neuvirth really appears to be on the outs and has not played since November 22 .
The real kicker is that Neuvirth is the highest paid goalie on the Capitals' roster . Trading him should be a no-brainer especially when you can sell him as a potential starter. Take Edmonton, for example, who have been linked to him in the past . Neuvirth is potentially better than anyone they currently have on that roster and it would mean getting more in return.
So while the Capitals have been mediocre at best this season, they have two major assets they can trade in order to get better. What should they be seeking in return?
The obvious need is a top four defenseman. Those don't come cheap, but a starting goalie or a top six forward is fair value. We're not talking about a Dion Phaneuf or Erik Karlsson caliber of player, but a Mark Stuart type? Sure.
The important thing is that the Capitals pull the trigger.
The fact that general manager George McPhee has not been able to find a new home for either two players yet is somewhat surprising given how long these situations have gone on. Holding out for a good deal is smart, but failing to make a deal at all would be a mistake.
Let's face it, the Capitals we have seen so far just are not good enough. They have to make a move. It's not every day that a team finds itself in a position to trade away a starting goalie and a top six forward. That is an opportunity McPhee has to take advantage of.
Resolving Neuvirth's situation is especially crucial as the Capitals currently have three goalies on the roster. As well as Grubauer has played, it appears the team does not want to send him back to AHL Hershey. The problem with having three goalies is that there are two nets on the ice and all three will struggle to get enough practice time. This is an issue that needs to be resolved as quickly as possible.
Both Erat and Neuvirth have been extremely professional and patient thus far, but you have to wonder just how long they will wait before they feel the need to speed things along. For them, sticking around is not an option. That should be the mindset of the Capitals as well.
JJ Regan is a freelancer for Comcast SportsNet Washington and Baltimore and is earning his master's in journalism at American University. Follow him on Twitter @TheDC_Sportsguy
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