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Not again you were thinking. The Washington Capitals aren’t going to be knocked out before the conference final AGAIN! Sure enough, you wake up to the same story.
Caps ousted by Pens…What will Capitals do after another early exit? Ovechkin to…Vegas?!
Everyone’s autopsy report of the Capitals situation shows something different even a week later. Fire the coach. Trade Ovechkin. Do very little or nothing. But with a number of free agents – restricted and unrestricted – change is coming. What the change will look like however, is anyone’s guess.
The Capitals trading Troy Brouwer for T.J. Oshie in the summer of 2015 proved to the hockey world Washington had a two-year window with this new core of players to win a championship. The problem is they didn’t win and now comes the difficult personnel decisions. Signing players like Brooks Orpik to five million dollar plus deals hurts when youngsters Burakovsky and Kuznetsov need big raises. The list of meaningful free agents isn’t that long but carry a lot of salary.
Capitals RFAs: Andre Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Brett Connolly, Nate Schmidt, Philipp Grubauer
Capitals UFAs: T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Karl Alzner, Daniel Winnik, Paul Carey, Kevin Shattenkirk, Tom Gilbert
From the free-agent list, it’s clear restricted free agents will set the tone for the Caps moving forward. Whichever contract comes first between Evgeny Kuznetsov and Leon Draisaitl will be instrumental in how restricted contracts will go this summer as the two youngsters seem to be comparable. Kuznetsov is going to want similar money, if not more than Draisaitl and vice-versa for the Oilers forward who is just coming off his 77 point season, the same career high Kuznetsov had in 2015-16 when he finished tied for 9th in league scoring.
They aren’t similar players though. Kuznetsov hasn’t scored more than twenty goals in a season, while Draisaitl nearly hit 30 goals this campaign. They should get similar deals regardless, but whichever one comes first sets the precedent for the other. I would say 6.5-7.5 million is the ballpark figure, but one thing about the NHL offseason is you can never truly know what a contract is going to look like.
Nikita Kucherov’s contract was larcenous last summer, coming off of back-to-back mid 60 points seasons, the twenty-three-year-old signed for three years at $4.7M per season. Ouch. Maybe each team can take a page out of the Lightning playbook and say you need to take a pay cut to stick around. This methodology makes sense for the Oilers as they need to sign McDavid’s extension sooner rather than later and hope you get the number in the low double-digits. But it likely won’t work for the Capitals who’ve stumbled many times on the championship path.
The Caps must consider moving someone from the veteran forward core to insulate a “new wave” of Washington playmakers. Burakovsky seems like a great asset moving forward and looked good for several shifts playing in Ovechkin’s stead on the top line. If the Capitals are wise, the 22-year-old will get a deal with term and reasonable money to set the tone. If they could get him in the high three million to low four million range, I think they’d be happy. Richard Panik is worth $2.8 Million for example and Burakovsky has tons more upside.
Any trade the Capitals pull off would appear to be bold (insert Craig MacTavish jokes) but if you need to move a forward that has value and a high cap hit, I would trade Nicklas Backstrom. As the rumour mill swirls and swirls about Ovechkin’s whereabouts in the playoffs – how about Backstrom’s? He’s been a part of all the same postseason unluckiness shall we say, does he get let out of the hook?
Backstrom has lots of value as a 29-year-old, first line center, coming off an 86 point season and an insanely consistent career as a top flight NHL player. Since entering the league Backstrom has played in 734 games and has 728 points. 2010-11 might be his worst season besides his injury ridden 2011-12 (where he put up more than a point a game). He only scored 65 points that year.
Considering the tepid free agency pool and the general uncertainty with Las Vegas, would Nicklas Backstrom wet the appetite for a team that misses on Ilya Kovalchuk or Martin Hanzal in the UFA category? Perhaps. His value should be high. Is it a deal the Capitals would look at if they’re serious about a shakeup?
The Leafs made the Capitals defense look loose often and the way the Metropolitan Division is going, they might try a straight across defenceman trade to synthesis someone else into their lineup. That appears to be the only way a new established NHLer comes into their defense.
The Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik contracts came with big prices in 2014 that won’t allow them much flexibility to bring back both Dmitri Orlov and Karl Alzner.
If it comes between the two the Capitals must side on the wave of youth if they’re serious about a team rehaul. Orlov, 25, is three years younger than Alzner and would appear to have much more upside than the plateaued first rounder from 2007. Orlov might be cheaper too depending on the general manager and whether Alzner, unrestricted, wants to test the market.
Behind teammate Kevin Shattenkirk, Alzner could be the second best defenseman come July 1. Alzner would be cheaper than Shattenkirk and doesn’t appear to have much of an attitude problem or issues in the dressing room. Teams don’t like rock-the-boat players.
My guess when it comes to Shattenkirk is the Rangers sign him because it’s July and it’s the New York Rangers. It’s what they do.
The word seems to be the Caps won’t resign Justin Williams which would clear over $3M on the books, roughly the same amount of money they need to placate the raise for Burakovsky. But big holes in the top six remain if T.J. isn’t returned. Recently, Oshie expressed he wants to stay in Washington and you’d assume there’s mutual interest. Losing your top two right wingers for nothing is something must teams couldn’t handle. But where does the money come from for Oshie who is likely due for a pay raise from four million dollars?
Washington could bring back most of their big names and again be a cap team, but they would be a top heavy roster and have to get clever quick on how to find no-name players who can plug holes for them.
Pittsburgh does it with Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust. Chicago has done it forever before them. But if the Capitals can’t win with established players, what makes you believe they would be able to do with these guys?
Frankly, the Capitals are going to need to look hard at their core group and decide if they keep spinning the tires on them.
I know nothing about the Washington Capitals fan base. But a quick search on Reddit found a thread, not a day old titled “Number of years this team has taken off your life.” Yikes.
Caps fans are ready for a shoe to drop. The boldest of them would be somehow trading Ovie/Backstrom, which is tough. A long summer lies ahead of Washington. And a team like Ottawa getting through to the third round with their talent pool and notorious owner won’t ease any frustration for an already ailing fan base.