Capitals not ready to deal with the uncertainties

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Sports,Brian McNally

GM McPhee will wait before making moves

It is a conundrum for which Capitals general manager George McPhee has no answer.

Does he make a deal before the NHL trade deadline to improve his club? That critical Feb. 27 date is approaching rapidly. But with his team out of Stanley Cup playoff position at the moment and an upcoming stretch of five of six games on the road, McPhee also isn't sure where his team will be 10 days from now. It could be sitting pretty as the Southeast Division leader and in control of the race for the No. 3 seed in the postseason. Or it could have played itself completely onto the playoff bubble.

"We'll just see how things go," McPhee said. "I don't know whether we're going to make a hockey trade or do a rental or do something more permanent or do nothing. I don't know. You have your own ideas, but they may not develop into anything."

McPhee wants to wait as long as possible to gather more information -- about the state of his own team and the injury status of defenseman Mike Green (sports hernia) and center Nicklas Backstrom (concussion). Get both men back -- Green could play as soon as this weekend -- and the need for an impact trade lessens. But if Backstrom's status remains murky, the front office must decide whether the Caps' ceiling without him justifies a major move at the deadline.

There isn't yet the intense push from opposing general managers to make impact deals. Given how many teams remain in playoff contention, no one wants to give up on the season too soon.

The salary-cap structure McPhee is working under isn't entirely clear, either. There would be money available for a major deal only if Backstrom is on long-term injured reserve for the rest of the regular season. But what if Washington makes a trade and then Backstrom is deemed healthy in the final two weeks of the regular season? In that case, the Caps wouldn't have the cap space to add him back to the active roster. He could rejoin the team only if it managed to qualify for the postseason without him.

Backstrom, who has skated just once since Jan. 6, has been riding an exercise bike recently, but there is no way to know whether his symptoms will subside next week, McPhee said, or whether he will be out until training camp. That uncertainty makes a general manager's job more difficult.

About the only definite in McPhee's mind is that he doesn't want to subtract from his NHL roster. He said veteran winger Mike Knuble, unhappy with his ice time, has not asked for a trade and that unrestricted free agents Dennis Wideman and Alexander Semin are not being shopped.

"We're not interested in moving anybody. We think we have a solid team when we get healthy," McPhee said. "We'll see how healthy we are 10 days from now and what we can expect from [Green] and [Backstrom], and then we'll make decisions based on that."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner