Before we begin, some background:
In May, Brian MacLellan gave an open-ended response about about trading Caps forward Evgeny Kuznetsov. In June, Frank Seravalli reported that the Caps were “tired of Kuznetsov’s antics” and ready to move on after the Caps would pay Kuznetsov his $5 million signing bonus in July. And just last week, Seravalli linked Kuznetsov potentially to the New York Rangers.
But on Saturday night, Caps general manager Brian MacLellan walked back the trade hype.
“[Kuznetsov]’s a good player,” MacLellan told the media. “We like the player, and I don’t know, we’ve never said we’re trading Kuznetsov. I said we’re open to discussions on most of our players for the trade market. And if it comes up, it comes up. Same as always. It’s never been, we are moving Kuznetsov as it’s been portrayed in a few places. That’s not exactly the case.”
MacLellan’s right about having not named Kuznetsov in particular. Here’s exactly what he said in May:
“I think we’re always open to trading people if it makes sense for what’s going on if it makes our team better. I don’t think anybody’s off the table. We’re not going to trade [Ovechkin] or [Backstrom], those types of people, but you have to be open on anything. So we would talk to anybody about any player.”
In that same availability in May, MacLellan also put some doubt around the reliability of Kuznetsov’s recent performance:
It’s tough to evaluate his year. He had COVID twice. It’s hard for us to determine what impact that had on his performance. It was inconsistent throughout the year. We needed more from that position, from that amount of salary that we expend on him. I think he’s the key to our organization in what decisions get made of how he plays or how he comes out of this. We won the Stanley Cup because we had a great one-two punch and Eller in the third spot. Center depth is important.
Here’s how MacLellan ended that quote, our emphasis added:
We need [Kuznetsov] to play at his highest ability and if he can’t play at his highest ability, we’re not going to be a good team and we’d have to make some other decisions.
Kuznetsov, 29, will be paid $7.8 million per year through 2024-25. Kuznetsov commanded extraordinary leverage for a restricted free agent in the negotiations for that contract by threatening to return to the KHL. Last season he missed 15 games due to suspension, COVID, and injury.
Headline images: Ian Oland/RMNB, Capitals
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