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Caps Face Challenge With Uncertain CBA Future

With a lockout looming, here's why you should expect a busy trade market at this weekend's NHL Draft in Pittsburgh.

ST PAUL, MN - JUNE 24:  A general view of the draft floor during day one of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center on June 24, 2011 in St Paul, Minnesota.  (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
ST PAUL, MN - JUNE 24: A general view of the draft floor during day one of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center on June 24, 2011 in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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With the NHL's general managers descending on Pittsburgh this weekend to select some of the best and brightest 18-year-olds in the draft, there is another important task at hand for Capitals General Manager George McPhee: improve the current club for the 2012-13 as well as looking to make picks for the future.

While most first-round draft picks usually take a year or two to be ready to play in the league - the Capitals usually want to let picks develop in the minors before suiting up with the big club - the more immediate help might come from what looks to be a busy trade market at this year's draft.

After a lackluster trade deadline in February seeing few players changing teams - none involving the Caps for just the second time in five deadlines - with a lot of general managers talking and looking to make moves, moves might follow.

"Trades are difficult to make in season now in the cap world," McPhee told reporters. "It's just hard to do. ... We find GMs are far more forthcoming in terms of talking what they want to do with other clubs."

"It used to be that [in season] clubs would tell you what they're trying to do ... But most guys hold things close to the vest because they didn't want everyone to know what they were doing with their ammunition.

"[At the draft] most teams will say, 'listen, I'm deep here, or there, and trying to move this for that.' Guys are much more open about what they want to do and get the message out because this is the time to do it."

The trade market looms even more important this offseason due to the lack of quality unrestricted free agents on the market - New Jersey forward Zach Parise and Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter are by far the biggest names available. The few difference makers available figure to be in line for big contracts, franchise money that could put them out of range of some clubs.

Part of the reason for the thin market is the NHL's collective bargaining agreement expiring on September 15, leaving teams unsure what the cap will actually be next season with owners expected to try and reduce the percentage of revenue paid to the players next season.

With the uncertain cap figure making some teams more frugal than others when nearing the cap, it puts the onus on general managers to improve via trades and acquire players under contract rather than opening their wallets for free agents.

According to, should the salary cap remain at $70.3 million for next season - a figure proposed that is subject to change depending on the labor talks - the Capitals would have $25,267,651 available with 17 players under contract, and most notably Mike Green, John Carlson and Mathieu Perreault having RFA rights after being tendered a qualifying offer by Washington last week.

While Penguins' general manager Ray Shero indicated to Pittsburgh reporters after the Vokoun trade he thought the $70.3 million proposed cap likely will eventually be next year's standard, McPhee was more coy about what he thought the actual cap figure for next season might be.

"We've sort of set our own cap, projected what it might be, and we're going to work towards that," he said.

When asked what that figure of that, McPhee simply smiled.

The Capitals have a few valuable chips to potentially turn into a return, with two picks in the first round at 11 and 16, as well as pending restricted free agent Mike Green's rights which could fetch a return with a lack of quality defensemen available in the free agency market.

With the likely departure of Alexander Semin via free agency, and just one player not named Alexander Ovechkin who scored 20 goals in a Caps sweater this past season, Washington figures to be looking for forwards to step in and replace one of the team's most talented wingers.

Unlike last season, where the Capitals traded their first-round selection to Chicago for the rights to forward Troy Brouwer, McPhee indicated he's more likely to make the picks this time around.

"Last year, where we were picking, we were concerned with the mock drafts that our scouts were doing that we weren't going to get a real difference maker at the end of the first round, and it didn't look like a top player would fall to where we were picking," he said. "That's why we made that decision to trade our first pick for Brouwer.

"This year, I like the draft a lot, I like what I think we can get at 11 and 16."

So while the Capitals have an eye to the future this weekend in Western Pennsylvania, they also will be looking for some immediate help for next season in what figures to be a busy trade market as Washington will look to address some of its needs.