MINNEAPOLIS—— Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee will have five selections, tied for the fewest in franchise history, when the NHL draft begins tonight at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
The small number of draft picks doesn't bother McPhee, though, who has publicly questioned the overall depth of this year's class. Adding valuable prospects through the draft has been a strength of the Capitals in recent years, but with only one choice in the first three rounds — the 26th overall — finding an impact player may be more of a challenge.
McPhee could make a different type of splash during draft weekend, with the hockey world already abuzz with trade rumors and news of new signings.
On Thursday, the Philadelphia Flyers ignited what could be a hectic few days of player movement by sending two of their biggest stars, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, to Los Angeles and Columbus, respectively. After those deals, Philadelphia signed goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year deal worth $51 million.
As for whether he expected to be actively seeking a trade during the draft, McPhee remained typically noncommittal.
"I don't know what to expect this year, and we'll go there prepared to draft a player in the first round and then see what else develops throughout the rest of the draft," McPhee told reporters during a conference call.
"If there are trades being discussed, we're certainly going to be involved."
Any action by Washington this weekend might also be a preview of alterations this offseason after the team was swept out of the second round of the playoffs by Tampa Bay, the team's second consecutive playoff disappointment.
McPhee has declined to comment on the discussions with the team's pending unrestricted free agents, a group that includes six NHL regulars — Brooks Laich, Jason Arnott, Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon, Scott Hannan and Marco Sturm — who will be able to test the open market July 1. Representatives for Arnott and Bradley have said there is nothing in the works with Washington entering draft weekend.
The Capitals have submitted a qualifying offer to restricted free agent Karl Alzner, according to the defenseman's agent, and the two sides are expected to discuss a future contract again this week. Meantime, negotiations are still under way with the team's other high-profile restricted free agent, goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who is also considering offers to return to Russia and play in the Kontinental Hockey League.
Washington currently has more than $50.8 million committed to the 2011-12 roster, but the Capitals have more than $13.4million in space under the new upper limit of the salary cap. The NHL and players association announced Thursday that the cap maximum will be $64.3 million for next season, up from $59.4 million. The Capitals spent to the salary cap in 2010-11.
Part of the Capitals' flexibility in spending, and making moves at the trade deadline in recent years, though, has been the development of young talent such as John Carlson, Marcus Johansson and Michal Neuvirth along with Varlamov and Alzner.