No cap crunch for Capitals, who land Mantha at deadline

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Nashville Predators defenseman Ben Harpur (17) and Detroit Red Wings right wing Anthony Mantha (39) chase a loose puck in the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, April 6, 2021, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

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. They have literally no room to maneuver now with $0 in salary cap room but felt it was worth the risk.

The 26-year-old Mantha is a two-time 20-goal scorer, who uses his big 6-foot-5, 234-pound frame to create space and is signed for three more seasons at an average salary cap hit of $5.7 million.

"We’ve been aggressive," Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said. “It wasn’t a conscious decision, ‘Let’s shake the team up.’ I think we’ve had a good year so far. ... Things lined up, and this is what we ended up doing.”

The Capitals were among the few teams taking an aggressive approach at a time a flat salary cap of $81.5 million left many others handcuffed.

Only 17 trades were completed Monday, involving just 26 players. That’s down from the NHL trade deadline day record of 32 deals involving 55 players a year ago, two weeks before the coronavirus pandemic paused the season and dealt a devastating blow to the league’s financial picture.

The previous time fewer players were dealt on deadline day was 23 in the NHL’s pre-salary cap area on March 14, 2000.