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.
The 26-year-old Mantha is a two-time 20-goal-scorer, uses his big 6-foot-5, 234-pound frame to create space and is signed for three more seasons at at salary-cap hit of $5.7 million.
So much for the notion that the cap, which remained flat at $81.5 million, would prevent every team from swinging a blockbuster deal at the deadline. The cap did not budge from last season, a result of the economic blow suffered by the NHL during the pandemic that hit U.S. sports 13 months ago.
The Capitals, three years removed from winning their first and only Stanley Cup championship, 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.
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 notable moves, Florida got center Sam Bennett in a deal that sent prospect forward Emil Heineman and a second-round pick to Calgary. The move came two days after Florida acquired defenseman Brandon Montour in a trade with Buffalo.
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.
Goalie Linus Ullmark is staying in put in Buffalo after the Sabres had enough promising discussions on an extension to believe a deal can be reached before Ullmark is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, according to a person with direct knowledge of talks. who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the talks were private.
The salary cap did handcuff several teams from making moves while also heavily benefiting numerous buyers. The Bruins, for example, landed Hall at a cut-rate price by giving up only a second-round pick and forward in Anders Bjork, while also getting the Sabres to retain half of what’s left on Hall’s one-year, $8 million contract.
"Money was tight and assets were tight," said Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland, who acquired defenseman Dmitry Kulikov from New Jersey.
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, Sabres first-year GM Kevyn Adams was 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."