The Capitals have been here before. February 2008. The Capitals are three points from an eighth place playoff spot, five points from division leading Carolina. There was a new coach, a new system and they were pressing the division. George McPhee did something that a few thought might be a foolish move if the Caps failed to make the playoffs. He made some very good strategic trades.
He traded Matt Pettinger to Vancouver for Matt Cooke, sent a prospect defender in Ted Ruth to Columbus for Sergei Fedorov, acquired Cristobal Huet for a second round draft pick from Montreal. The would go on to win 11 of their last 12 games in route to win the division and make the playoffs by the skin of their teeth.
Does McPhee has another rabbit out of his hat to finalize the push to the playoffs. In this shortened season, just getting into the post season is the Caps goal. The best way for them to do that is to win their division. McPhee has some trade bait in Wotjek Wolski, and a couple of good prospects in Hershey, but the market is not as idea as it was back in 2008.
Because the season is short and so many teams are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, the market for trades is squeezed to its bare minimum. What would the Capitals need? Bigger up the middle with another center? A goaltender? Bolster the wingers, or the defensemen? What is out there for the Caps to acquire while not breaking the bank doing so. Not much, and the Capitals will do better to stand pat rather than make a senseless move out of fear of not making the playoffs.
That is because the Capitals are in a prime position to make the playoffs by winning their division. They are 10-3 against their own division. They are just two points from the division lead as the Winnipeg Jets struggle to get late season points. The door is open for the Capitals to make a move with the team they have now.
The Caps will have to continue to win. With 12 games left in the season, the Capitals will still have to win 8 of those games. It is a good thing 8 of the last 12 are at home. They can control their own fate, but they have to get points to keep the pressure on the division.