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Capitals right winger Dmitrij Jaskin celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Calgary Flames at Capital One Arena in Washington on Feb. 1, 2019.Brad Mills/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

A reality check, heading into the NHL’s trade deadline, played itself out Wednesday at the Washington Capitals’ practice in Toronto.

The Maple Leafs, delayed by winter travel woes, were still trying to make their way home from Tuesday’s game in St. Louis as the Capitals hit the ice at the Leafs’ practice rink, the MasterCard Centre, on Wednesday morning. They were in town early for Thursday’s game against the Maple Leafs because several of them were going to the Hockey Hall of Fame to donate an extra 2018 Stanley Cup ring.

The Capitals, who have not found the going easy this season after their first NHL championship, are the subject of much talk ahead of next Monday’s trade deadline. So when forward Dmitrij Jaskin was not on the ice for practice, the team’s regular chroniclers took note. Then a few minutes into practice another forward, Devante Smith-Pelly, a Toronto native, was called off the ice. When he did not return, that tidbit was filed away as well.

Following practice, the media did their usual interviews, including a small scrum with forward Tom Wilson, another Toronto native who was part of the delegation headed to the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was asked if there was more tension that usual in the dressing room ahead of the trade deadline because the Capitals are fighting for a wild-card playoff spot rather than cruising along with the Metropolitan Division lead.

“With our team we’ve got a pretty mature group,” Wilson said. “It doesn’t feel that much different. Obviously, there might be a couple of guys [for whom] the feeling is a little different. That’s just the nature of the business.

“As a group, we go out there on the ice and it’s business as usual. We’re pretty tight knit. It always sucks if you have to say goodbye to a teammate but until that happens we’re a team and we go out on the ice and do our jobs.”

A few minutes later, Capitals head coach Todd Reirden appeared for his media scrum and Wilson’s comments soon had an eerie echo. He and Smith-Pelly are friends going back to their days in minor hockey.

The first question for Reirden concerned the whereabouts of Jaskin and Smith-Pelly.

“Earlier in the day we made the decision to put Jaskin on waivers,” Reirden said. “Then we changed our mind and were notified during practice. We made that adjustment and Devante’s been put on waivers.”

This, to say the least, is highly unusual. And not just because Smith-Pelly’s father was watching practice from the seats.

It indicates Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan may have received a trade offer for Jaskin and didn’t want to lose him on waivers. At the very least, it is a strong indication the Capitals plan to make at least one move before the deadline.

According to, Washington was up against the cap, just US$100,000 under the US$79.5-million salary cap before either player was waived. Jaskin’s cap hit is US$1.1-million so when he had to come off waivers, someone else had to go to free up enough room for MacLellan to manoeuvre through the trade deadline. That someone was Smith-Pelly, who was a playoff hero for the Caps last spring with seven goals in 24 games, many of them important ones, after scoring seven goals in the entire regular season.

However, the NHL is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league and Smith-Pelly had just four goals in 54 games this season. He also carries a US$1-million cap hit and by dropping him the Capitals now have just under US$960,000 in cap space.

What will happen next is anyone’s guess. Until Wednesday’s moves, the Capitals player whose name came up the most in trade speculation was underachieving forward Andre Burakovsky who carries a US$3-million cap hit. If MacLellan can get someone to take Burakovsky as part of a trade, that clears enough room to bring in the solid top-six forward the GM is said to be seeking.

Reirden admitted the moves were part of the team’s strategy for the trade deadline but that was all he would say.

“That was an organizational decision that was made, a little bit of what’s going on behind the scenes here,” the coach said. “That’s something we’ll keep between ourselves at this point, especially with the amount of stuff going on in the league right now.”

But Reirden did say it was not a pleasant task to deliver this kind of news to Smith-Pelly, especially in his hometown and with his father looking on.

“Yeah, it’s always tough to tell a player that,” Reirden said. “It’s part of the business, especially for someone in a situation like we are, pushed to the cap and trying to make our team better. Disappointing for him, obviously. He was a big part of our team’s success last year.”

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