Underlying issues taint Caps recent gains on ice

The team is playing well, so why are players asking to leave? Photo: Martin Erat would like to be traded/AP

WASHINGTON, December 16, 2013 — The Washington Capitals have been winning some pretty important games lately and are really making a push to catch the rival Pittsburgh Penguins at the top of the Metropolitan Division, yet some players want out. Captain Alexander Ovechkin is leading the NHL in goals, with a staggering 27 in 33 games, and his line mates have been cranking out production. They are 6-2-2 in their last ten, while backup rookie goaltender Phillip Grubauer recently got his first NHL win, making 30 saves on 31 shots.

So why are several players publicly asking to be traded? The problem lies at the top, and may take a change in culture to fix.

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As is often the case in Washington, the problems with the team on or off the ice are easily forgotten by a few good wins or highlight reel plays. This season is no different, as the early season woes have been replaced with some key wins and an Alexander Ovechkin scoring streak. So, while a mediocre season is starting to look like it is on the upswing, some players are asking to be traded.

Last season, GM George McPhee traded top draft choice Filip Forsberg to the Nashville Predators in a widely criticized move that was meant to add veteran skill before the playoffs. Unfortunately, it meant dishing out one of the top 19-year-olds in the 2012 draft and sacrificing a lot of long term potential for possible short term gain.

However, it looks like the GM will get neither, as the Caps bailed in the first round of the playoffs last year, and now Matin Erat is asking to be traded. Erat feels the Caps organization is not using him to his full potential, and feels that he could be better utilized elsewhere in the league. With limited ice time, and a place outside the top six, Martin Erat’s numbers have plummeted and he was a healthy scratch for the first time in his career against Toronto.

Erat has a no-trade clause, so dumping him off on a non-contender may not be an option, but he seems to be playing hard now to show off his worth to a potential buyer, and his desire to be out of DC may be high enough that he will leave for the first offer. McPhee already took a ton of flak for the price he paid for Martin Erat, but if he gets a poor return on his trade, he will have to watch for angry mobs outside his office.

SEE RELATED: Alex Ovechkin scores four goals as the Capitals come back to win

Another disgruntled Capital is defenseman Dimirty Orlov. The big 22-year-old has been solid in the starts he has gotten in DC the last two seasons, but those starts have been few and far between. Until recently, Orlov had been called up and sent back down to Hershey six times without playing a single game. That would grind on anyone, but it has been particularly upsetting to Orlov, who may be having his career stifled by the Caps to prevent him from moving on.

You see, if Orlov does not have 30 active days in the NHL before the halfway point of the season, he will be eligible to jump ship for the KHL. He has currently been active for 13 days, and has played well in the games since he announced his discontent. Will they move him, or keep him on the yo-yo string?

Another questionable move has been the prevention of Tom Wilson playing for Canada in the World Juniors. It is well known that the Juniors is a great place for prospect development, and could be really good for Wilson. He would be averaging 20 minutes a night in the WJC, instead of seven in the NHL. Sure, the Caps would lose him on their roster for 11 games, but in the long term, it is a price they may want to pay.

Pile that on top of the poor showing they have had on defense and the Caps may have more issues than they let on. It is easy to forget this kind of stuff when you are putting the puck in the net, but the best teams continue to find ways to improve, instead of resting on their laurels. Can McPhee and Coach Adam Oates address problems when the Caps are above .500, or does the hammer only fall when their record is in the gutter?

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Scott Huntington

Scott Huntington is a writer, reporter, blogger, and long-time hockey fan. When he is not watching hockey, he is playing music or spending time outside with his family. Scoot will be posting his thoughts on the NHL throughout the season and you can find him on Twitter @smhuntington

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