The 2022-23 Washington Capitals will miss the postseason for the first time in nine years, failing to meet expectations of management and ownership. The team’s been so poor that the Caps have clinched their worst full, 82-game season since Alex Ovechkin was just a sophomore in the NHL.
That sort of unsuccessful year and how the team is currently constructed means the upcoming, long offseason is going to be an important one.
The Capitals’ Mike Vogel laid some of that out in his recent “Caps in the Mailbox” article.
I’d pay close attention to MacLellan’s words on exit day, the day the Caps clean out their lockers, speak to media and sift through the rubble of a season gone awry. MacLellan is arguably the League’s most candid GM, and he isn’t shy about sharing his shopping list every spring when the offseason gets underway. Personnel plans in the hockey operations department are already well underway, and a host of possibilities and potential moves and paths to take this summer are already being discussed.
When he took over this job nine years ago next month, MacLellan spoke of the need to add to the team’s defense. A month or so later, Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen were in the fold. MacLellan generally sets his objectives and then sets about achieving them, and I wouldn’t expect this summer to be any different.
But yes, my sense is that the Caps are in for a big summer with some big moves.
That last line is perhaps the most important although it’s important to note, it is just Vogel’s opinion. It tracks with what general manager Brian MacLellan said in early March when he was making the rounds with media after the Trade Deadline passed.
For the first time in years, the Capitals have the potential to do some major maneuvering after moving a lot of key pieces off the roster with trades this season.
“I think that was the idea, to get some picks, clear some space,” MacLellan said then. “Create a little bit of opportunity for our guys coming up and to be in the trade market, being in the market for free agents. Should be able to participate in all those things. It’s going to be what you want to have going into next season.”
As of right now, it appears the blueline is already set for next season as the team has John Carlson, Nick Jensen, Rasmus Sandin, and Trevor van Riemsdyk all locked up with contracts and still have team control of youngsters Martin Fehervary and Alex Alexeyev as restricted free agents. It’s a different story up front.
While Craig Smith, Conor Sheary, Connor Brown, and Carl Hagelin are the only unrestricted free-agent forwards, MacLellan has made it clear that he wants to add to his core forward group.
“I think, our lineup needs a little skill right now,” MacLellan said. “Ideally, if we could add a top-six winger that has skill in the offseason I think that would help.”
There are also some potentially unresolved issues with players currently on the team that may be solved via trade this summer. Namely, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Anthony Mantha.
Kuznetsov reportedly requested a trade from the Caps through his agent twice over the past two years. While he went on to somewhat deny that report, it’s clear that his relationship with the organization has been strained in recent seasons.
Kuznetsov has 54 points (12g, 42a) in 76 games this season.
Mantha has not fit with the team since he was acquired from the Detroit Red Wings in a deal that saw Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, and a first-round draft pick head in the other direction. Mantha has been an occasional healthy scratch under head coach Peter Laviolette, hasn’t received much special teams ice time, and is currently skating on the team’s fourth line.
Mantha has been involved in rumors aplenty this season after not impressing in his first full, injury-free season with the Caps.
In non-roster-related business, Laviolette’s contract will also be expiring and his status could affect if Kuznetsov or Mantha are moved. MacLellan will need to determine if Lavy’s three years in charge of the team are worth an extension or if it’s time to move in another direction. A lot of that hinges on the fact that Alex Ovechkin has just three years left on what could be his final NHL deal.
Taking all of that under consideration, it’s safe to say that the Caps will be a team to watch when the curtains officially close on the current campaign.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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