Amid ‘Anxiety’ In The Room, Here’s How Capitals Are Handling Trade Deadline
The Washington Capitals start to feel pressure ahead of the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline. Here’s how they’re handling it.
ARLINGTON, V.A. — Years ago, Lars Eller cut hockey off from his social media and life away from the rink. It was a way for him to stay focused but also to avoid the speculation, the never-ending rumor mill that he and his teammates find themselves in as general manager Brian MacLellan makes several moves ahead of the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline.
It's still hard to tune out, though, and admittedly has led to some anxiety in the dressing room.
"Everything else is just noise," Eller said.
In a span of four games, Washington has said goodbye to four different pending free agents, including defensemen Dmitry Orlov and Erik Gustafsson and forwards Garnet Hathaway and Marcus Johansson, with Craig Smith and Rasmus Sandin coming back the other way. The deadline is on Friday, and with nine more pending free agents, there is likely more to come as the team looks to unload and also acquire some pieces while continuing the playoff push, which has not gone according to plan so far.
"Everybody probably feels a little bit of [anxiety]," head coach Peter Laviolette said after Monday's practice in Anaheim, which happened just before Johansson and Gustafsson were traded to the Minnesota Wild and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Given the team's trades so far, it's clear where things are headed for the group. It'll be a selling situation going into Friday, with the future of several players being unclear. It's a difficult plan for the players to navigate, but at the same time, the team is sitting just three points out of playoff position, and there are still several games left down the stretch that can make or break the Capitals in what's been a wild season.
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Taking that into account, the message in the room is simple: control what you can control and play for each other. No one knows that better than captain Alex Ovechkin, who is helping his teammates navigate the wild waters.
"Well, we're players. It's a business. We all understand the situation so we just have to do our job, play hockey, try to win some games" Ovechkin said. "It's not in our hands. If something happens, it happens, you know? Unfortunately, with this situation that happened with us, we lost good players, good guys. But how I said, it's not up to us."
As Ovechkin said, there's no surefire way to handle saying goodbye to teammates, let alone potentially saying goodbye themselves. And of course, social media or speculation from insiders can make that more difficult, especially in between road trips, playing every day and managing families and life away from the rink.
When it comes to handling that pressure, every player is different. But most of all, it's about "personal preference."
"It's kind of hard… with social media, whether you want to or not, you're gonna see that stuff on Instagram explore page or whatever it may be," Trevor van Riemsdyk, whose name has landed on some of the "trade boards" across different publications, said. "So that stuff's hard to ignore, and if you know it'll put you in a bad headspace or get you caring about the wrong things, it's probably a good idea to just get away from that stuff."
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Dylan Strome, who's been traded twice in his career and hit the market for the first time this offseason, added that at the end of the day, it's remembering that the NHL isn't just a professional sports league; it's a business.
"Everyone has different tasks in their jobs. You know, this is one time of the year where things get moved around and then things happened and obviously, I think pretty much every team makes a move at the deadline. That's kind of what happens and it's just part of the game," Strome added. "I think everyone's been around long enough to know that these things happen, and it's part of the business. What happens is gonna happen. You're gonna get a phone call or whatever. So you just got to deal with it in stride. Our team's focus here is making the playoffs."
At the end of the day, the Capitals, who are in California as part of a three-game road swing to take on the Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, don't know what'll happen in the next 72 hours. But for now, it's all about living in the moment and keeping the focus on hockey.
"Just try to stay in the moment, stay present," Eller said, adding, "We'll cross that bridge if we get there. For now, I'm a Capital and we'll see what happens."