Throughout the 2013-14 season it has appeared that the Washington Capitals have enjoyed giving away multiple goal leads, and they have lost many attainable points because of it. The reasons for the team not being able to keep going full throttle could surely be analyzed for days on end, but the main culprit will always come back being the team’s defense. And with the NHL Trade Deadline set to pass on Mar. 5, 2014, the Capitals needs to make a hard run after New York Islanders defenseman and assistant captain Andrew MacDonald with vigor to rectify their defense and move from ninth in the Eastern Conference to a playoff spot.
In terms of current team-wide defense, it is clear that the Capitals are intent on playing things out with Karl Alzner, Mike Green and John Carlson as their top three defenders, and it’s hard to really blame them. These three are the highest paid defenders on the Capitals’ books, are all signed at the very least through the 2014-15 season and each has averaged 20:00 or more in average ice time for at least the last four seasons For better or worse, all three will be playing 20-24 minutes per game the rest of the season, but they need another top four defender to help rectify a unit that ranks 22nd in the NHL in goals allowed per game and 18th in penalty kill percentage.
Enter MacDonald, who would instantly sit alongside Alzner as the most defensive minded of the top four defenseman for the Capitals. MacDonald has decent size at 6-foot, 185-pound, and he plays an extremely smart game in his own zone, benefiting from a great and active stick alongside a knowledge of the right times to mix in a physical tinge. Additionally, the 27-year-old is very smart with the puck on his stick; he won’t try to do anything especially fancy but is efficient in transition and is predictably smart moving the puck in the zone. This season he has contributed four goals and 20 assists while playing an eye-popping 25:25 per game, including heavy minutes on the penalty kill.
When it comes to fitting into the Capitals’ defensive alignment, MacDonald would almost surely slot in alongside Green in what would form the second pairing behind Alzner and Calrson. Whereas Green has largely been paired with a more offensive minded partner in Dmitry Orlov this year, MacDonald would be able to sit back and let the supremely talented defender flourish further up the ice. Furthermore, MacDonald would be able to join his counterpart on the penalty kill, which would help shore up the Capitals’ somewhat faulty secondary unit and make the team more efficient defensively.
The Islanders are reportedly asking for a first round draft pick in order to acquire MacDonald, which not a farfetched haul considering he comes in at just a $550,000 salary and can be re-signed after the year.
But when one considers that MacDonald has rejected advances to extend his contract with the Islanders, there is little doubting that Capitals general manager George McPhee could bargain and come out with a deal of a second or third-round pick and marginal prospect in exchange for the 27-year-old. This would ensure that Washington has other options on the trade market, stabilizes their defense and potentially has a core group of four defenders around for years to come if MacDonald extends his stay beyond 2014.
In the end, acquiring MacDonald will help to shore up a defense that has been porous on the penalty kill and in keeping pucks out of the net in general by establishing a true unit of top four defenders. Doing this should all but confirm the Capitals make the playoffs this season. Then it will also help as the team embarks on a NHL playoff journey that is always unpredictable whether a team is the No. 1 or No. 8 seed in their conference.