Sometimes, during postgame interviews following a loss, I can tell a player or coach just wants to say to me, "Yes, Tarik, we struggled. But there's a very good reason. Did you look at their lineup?"Strong play to date has accelerated the team's rebuilding plan somewhat and raised expectations both within and outside of the organization, but at what point does the team take ice time away from a developing player in favor of a newly-acquired short-term-fix veteran? At what point does the team trade away a prospect who can help them down the road for a player who can help them make a playoff push this year?
I've made no bones about my belief that the team is a second-line center and a puck-moving blueliner away from being able to not only make the playoffs, but possibly pull off a first-round upset, and I don't think the addition of either player would significantly negatively impact the progress of any prospects currently on the roster (the blueliner could take minutes away from a guy like Jamie Heward or Bryan Muir and the center would bump Kris Beech down to the fourth line and Jakub Klepis back to Hershey where he'd see more quality minutes).
The question then becomes at what cost would these acquisitions come? Certainly there's room under the salary cap (more on that later). But if the cost is in younger players - say, Brian Sutherby and/or Steve Eminger - is it worth it (I'd think a team like Phoenix would jump at the chance to move a Mike Comrie in a package for those two)? My gut says no. My head says hell no. But my heart says maybe. Neither Suts nor Emmy is signed beyond this year, so it bears watching (in other words, if these guys are part of the long-term plan, lock 'em up - if not, make sure you get something for 'em).
The money issue, on the other hand, is an easy one. It's well-established that the Caps' payroll is among the League's lowest. Would adding a moderately-priced free-agent-to-be or two for half a season or less break the bank? Of course not. And even though I have no idea what a team takes in in terms of additional revenue gained by playing even a single playoff series, I believe it's more than $0 (that's my B.A. in Economics at work right there).
I'll leave you with this thought as the Caps limp into the New Year, their lack of depth beginning to show with better than half a season left: the Caps have the fourth best ratio of Projected Salary-to-Standings Points Per Game in the entire NHL (see below). A little added salary might not help that ratio, but it might help the team make the playoffs for the first time in years.
SAN JOSE (32,945,434.18)
NY ISLANDERS (33,858,886.83)
NEW JERSEY (36,864,807.91)
NY RANGERS (38,943,101.10
TAMPA BAY (44,960,695.94)
ST LOUIS (51,236,170.67)
LOS ANGELES (51,918,274.71)