It's a confusing time for Capitals general manager George McPhee. His team beats first-place Florida one night and appears in line to challenge for the Southeast Division title and the No.?3 seed in the Eastern Conference. But two losses later, including a horrible 5-0 defeat at Carolina on Monday, and he looks like a guy who could be dealing players, not bringing them in.

Washington had another crack at the Stanley Cup playoff chase Wednesday night in Ottawa. Win or lose, the direction is still unclear with 22 games left. But if the worst happens and his club falls out of contention, McPhee has an opportunity to retool his roster quickly. He just doesn't have much time to do it with the trade deadline next Monday at 3 p.m.

Defenseman Dennis Wideman, forwards Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble and Jeff Halpern and goalie Tomas Vokoun are all unrestricted free agents this summer. Dealing any of them could cripple the playoff hopes of a team fighting just to get in. But it also could pay off next season if the return is good enough.

Semin's value likely has taken a hit. He's at 16 goals and 21 assists this season -- not quite what you expect for $6.7 million. But you also could argue he's not playing with a center commensurate with his skills. Still, given Semin's options back home in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, it's hard to see him bringing full value in return.

Wideman is a different story. He could bring more than his expected value. That's because puck-moving defensemen are hard to find. On the open market, Wideman could clear as much as $5 million. He's at $3.9 million right now and is tied for fourth in the NHL in points among defensemen. He's still just 28. He made the All-Star team for the first time.

Plus, it's unclear whether the Caps would move to re-sign Wideman given where his price is headed. Mike Green and John Carlson are both restricted free agents and still under team control, and rookie Dmitry Orlov has established himself as a full-time NHL player. All three, like Wideman, play on the right side.

- Brian McNally