The Caps own the Cup, but the future is unclear. Now, at the dawn of the offseason, it’s time to ask ourselves the big questions.
In this episode: Can Andre Burakovsky come back from two broken wrists in the last two years?
Let’s rewind exactly one year. Late in the 2017 Penguins series, Andre Burakovsky got a surprise promotion to the top line and rewarded the team with three big goals in Games Five and Six to keep the Caps alive. The team lost Game Seven, but the future looked bright for Andre. TJ Oshie seemed destined to leave in free agency, leaving the top-line right-wing spot open for the creative young Swede.
That didn’t happen at all.
Oshie got a lifetime extension, walling Burakovsky off from a top-line role. And once Oshie dropped to the second line with Backstrom, it was Tom Wilson who stepped in as Ovechkin’s off-wing. Instead of having his breakout year, Burakovsky languished on a third line that was far less impressive than it was a year earlier.
And then he got hurt, breaking a wrist (the other one) for the second time in eighteen months. Not surprisingly, Burakovsky’s offensive volume took a big hit.
Burakovsky’s creativity with the puck, especially on the rush, is at the core of his value as a player. It shows up in the rates above, all of which dropped profoundly in 2017-18. Burakovsky missed much of the playoffs due to his most recent injury (plus one game as a healthy scratch). Though he had a huge two-goal night when the Caps eliminated the Lightning, it was a low-key postseason for him overall.
So now, one year after looking like the future top-line right winger of the Washington Capitals, Burakovsky might be at the lowest point of his career. The two-year, $3 million deal the Caps signed him to last summer, which once seemed like an overly cautious bridge deal, now looks savvy for the team.
The question here is two-fold: can Burakovsky return to form in a contract year, and will Washington let him?
With Jakub Vrana doing a lot of the things Burakovsky does but better, the front office might view Burakovsky as a redundancy – especially if Barry Trotz, never particularly a Burakovsky true believer, returns as coach. With big offensive upside, a short-term affordable contract, and restricted free agency rights, Burakovsky could be a very attractive trade chip.
But that would probably be a mistake. With a summer of rest and given the right opportunity, Burakovsky should regain his shooting form. Unless two broken wrists have irreparably damaged him, he’s still got the fundamentals to become a 20-goal scorer. I just hope that happens in Washington.
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