The Washington Capitals, post-2018 Stanley Cup victory, are a team with their roster constantly in flux as the front office staff fights to keep them competitive while dealing with an aging core. That has not changed for the 2022-23 campaign and has been exacerbated by an inundation of unfortunate, long-term injuries to key players.
The Caps are also scheduled to have thirteen current roster members become unrestricted free agents this summer. Another three will be restricted free agents. So, the current injury issues on top of not having a ton of salary committed toward the future mean the Caps will be an intriguing follow for the next year in terms of roster construction.
The 32 Thoughts Podcast, hosted by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek, pondered those exact points in their most recent episode. The duo contemplated if some of that potential Caps tinkering could come during this season and specifically brought up San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson and Vancouver Canucks center Bo Horvat.
Note: Friedman explicitly said he has no concrete information on either player regarding the Caps. He is just spitballing given the current state of the team, outlined above.
“Washington is going to have a lot of flexibility on defense,” Friedman said. “This is not me digging on it, this is me just looking at it and saying I could see situations where [the Caps] are players on [Karlsson]. Again, Karlsson has got to want to go and there’s gotta be a willingness to work out a deal.”
The flexibility that the NHL insider refers to is the fact that John Carlson is the sole NHL defenseman the Caps have with a guaranteed contract for next year. That will be very important for any team that wants to acquire Karlsson as the 32-year-old Swede is signed for another four seasons after this one at $11.5 million.
The oft-injured Karlsson has seen a return to his Norris Trophy form this season, tallying 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists) in 19 games so far for the Sharks. Only Connor McDavid currently tops him for the league lead in overall scoring.
“The one thing I wonder about with the Washington Capitals is – the [Caps] are going to do whatever it takes to get Ovechkin that record,” Marek followed up. “To catch Gretzky and to beat Gretzky. I know John Carlson is already there as a right-hand shot. Do you want another right-hand shot in Erik Karlsson to ensure someone is getting the puck to Ovechkin? There’s not going to be any rebuild for the Caps as long as Ovi is chasing this record. They’re just going to keep putting in players to give him the best possible chance to get it.”
Horvat is a player of the same ilk, but his situation is drastically different as he is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Marek and Friedman discussed his status more in the sense that he would be an addition to help the team compete better for the rest of this season’s schedule.
“I agree with your theory on [the Capitals],” Friedman continued. “I’m curious to see what they’re going to do. They have a lot of flexibility here – I think that they’re going to be a fascinating team to watch. Number one, they have to figure out if there is any chance Backstrom can play. I have to say if he can’t, I wonder if they become a Horvat team.”
“Wow, that makes a ton of sense,” Marek replied.
The overall team picture down the middle is still interesting though, especially considering Backstrom’s up-in-the-air future. The veteran Swede skated with the team for the first time this season on Saturday. Current Caps middle-six centers Dylan Strome and Lars Eller don’t have contracts for next season and prospects Connor McMichael, Aliaksei Protas, and Hendrix Lapierre have yet to be trusted with any significant time at center ice in the NHL.
“The only thing is that [Horvat] is a scorer, and Ovechkin is a scorer,” Friedman finished. “Backstrom is more the passer. Just something I was thinking about. These are things that are just popping into my head.”
Horvat is Vancouver’s second-leading scorer with 20 points (14 goals, 6 assists) from 17 games and is behind only McDavid when it comes to the league lead in goals scored.
The Caps have picked up five points from nine November games so far and currently sit seventh in the Metropolitan Division with 17 total points. They have also played at least one more game than every other team in the Eastern Conference.
If the plan is to still make the postseason this year despite the vast number of major injuries, a move like one for Karlsson or Horvat may need to be made sooner rather than later.
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