Flat cap or not, the Washington Capitals refused to stand by and watch their division foes improve their rosters without making a move at the NHL trade deadline Monday.
Not long after the Boston Bruins acquired 2018 NHL MVP Taylor Hall from Buffalo, the Capitals responded by mortgaging a valuable portion of their future to acquire forward Anthony Mantha from the Detroit Red Wings.
With the championship window beginning to close on the Alex Ovechkin-led roster, Washington went all-in on Mantha by trading wingers Jakub Vrana and Richard Panik, a 2021 first- and a 2022 second-round pick to Detroit. They have literally no room to maneuver now with $0 in salary cap room but felt it was worth the risk.
The 26-year-old Mantha is a two-time 20-goal scorer, who uses his big 6-foot-5, 234-pound frame to create space and is signed for three more seasons at an average salary cap hit of $5.7 million.
"We’ve been aggressive," Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said. “It wasn’t a conscious decision, ‘Let’s shake the team up.’ I think we’ve had a good year so far. ... Things lined up, and this is what we ended up doing.”
The Capitals were among the few teams taking an aggressive approach at a time a flat salary cap of $81.5 million left many others handcuffed.
Only 17 trades were completed Monday, involving just 26 players. That’s down from the NHL trade deadline day record of 32 deals involving 55 players a year ago, two weeks before the coronavirus pandemic paused the season and dealt a devastating blow to the league’s financial picture.
The previous time fewer players were dealt on deadline day was 23 in the NHL’s pre-salary cap area on March 14, 2000.
“It’s not like the old days where if you just want a player, you go make a deal,” Carolina Hurricanes GM Don Waddell said. “Lots more maneuvering, a lot more involved in it.”
Predators GM David Poile projected the cap to continue restricting teams for the foreseeable future.
“I think you just sort of saw the tip of the iceberg with what took place here with the trading deadline,” Poile said. “There wasn’t too many deals made in this last two or three days that had players that had more than this year’s contract left, and that speaks to the salary cap not going up.”
There were 16 draft picks that moved Monday, with just one first-round selection, three second-rounders and one third-round pick.
The Capitals, three years removed from winning their first and only Stanley Cup, began the day tied with the New York Islanders atop the East Division, and two points ahead of Pittsburgh. In a separate trade, Washington also acquired forward Michael Raffl from Philadelphia.
The Islanders strengthened their roster last week by acquiring Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from New Jersey. Pittsburgh followed suit Monday by adding veteran depth in acquiring Jeff Carter in a deal with Los Angeles.
And the banged-up Bruins boosted their late-season playoff push by landing Hall, a six-time 20-goal scorer who is seeking a fresh start after an underwhelming stint with the last-place Sabres. Boston began the day holding the division’s fourth and final playoff spot.
Among the handful of other notable moves, Florida got center Sam Bennett in a deal that sent prospect forward Emil Heineman and a second-round pick to Calgary.
The Vegas Golden Knights acquired center Mattias Janmark from the Chicago Blackhawks, while West foe Colorado brought back forward Carl Soderberg in a trade that sent forwards Ryder Rolston and Josh Dickinson to Chicago.
Just as notable were the players not traded.
Los Angeles Kings center Alex Iafallo and Philadelphia Flyers forward Scott Laughton, each a pending free agent, came off the market after signing a contract extension.
Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark is staying put in Buffalo with first-year GM Kevyn Adams calling it a priority to re-sign the third-year starter before he’s eligible to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
On the plus side, the cap restrictions heavily benefitted numerous buyers. The Bruins, for example, landed Hall at a cut-rate price by giving up only a second-round pick and forward Anders Bjork, while also getting the Sabres to retain half of what’s left on Hall’s one-year, $8 million contract.
Other teams got creative and acquired draft picks by taking on payroll.
The Sharks landed a fifth-round pick in helping Vegas acquire Janmark. San Jose added payroll and a fourth-round pick from Toronto to broker the trade in which the Maple Leafs acquired Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno.
The Red Wings landed a fourth-round pick as part of the trade in which Tampa Bay acquired defenseman David Savard from Columbus.
The Sabres and Devils were among the NHL’s top sellers; Buffalo and New Jersey’s 24 combined wins are three fewer than each of their division’s top three teams.
In trading Hall, the Sabres were not only restricted by the cap, but also by the player’s no-movement clause, which limited the number of potential trading partners. Hall had turned down the Bruins in free agency last offseason to sign with Buffalo.
Hall was looking forward to filling a secondary role in Boston.
“I don’t want to set expectations too high. I want to come in and win games,” said Hall, who had two goals and 19 points in 37 games.
“These last few days, you do some soul-searching and you look back on what you can do better and look forward to the future,” Hall said. “I think the best way to get confidence is to be part of a winning team and to make yourself part of the bigger solution.”
AP Hockey Writers Stephen Whyno and Larry Lage, AP Sports Writers Jimmy Golen, Mitch Stacy, Teresa M. Walker and Aaron Beard and AP freelance writer Denis Gorman contributed to this report.
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