Evgeny Kuznetsov had a difficult 2022-23 season that saw him play two more games than he did during 2021-22 but record 23 fewer points. The Capitals came into the season hoping to rely on Kuznetsov to carry more weight at center knowing that Nicklas Backstrom was going to miss at least half the year due to offseason hip surgery.
He did not come through on those expectations and Kuznetsov now will enter another summer full of question marks.
During his Breakdown Day interview on Saturday, the 30-year-old centerman balked at answering how he’d personally evaluate his performance this past season.
“I have nothing to comment about that at this point in time, Kuznetsov said. “Sorry.
“I still need a little more time,” he said later. “Fought till the end and tried to get healthy and all that stuff. Just wasn’t there so I gotta sit and think why it’s all happening. But I’m pretty sure I’m going to come back stronger next year.”
Kuznetsov’s no comment on his performance comes a day after the Capitals parted ways with head coach Peter Laviolette.
Kuznetsov was first asked to evaluate his play during a press conference in late March while addressing a Russian report that said he had twice requested a trade from the Capitals. He punted on the critique then until the end of the year.
“I guess we’ll talk about that after the season is over,” Kuznetsov said. “We’re still pushing and still grinding and still trying to be healthy fully so it’s not easy.”
Kuznetsov also gave a non-answer of sorts then in regard to the reported trade requests, saying there was nothing to comment on and blaming the media for wanting likes on social media.
On Saturday, Kuznetsov was not asked to address the reported trade requests again.
What is sure, the Capitals struggled mightily with Kuznetsov on the ice this season. In over 1,043 minutes at five-on-five with Kuznetsov over the boards, the Capitals saw just 47.5 percent of the shot attempts, 42.2 percent of the expected goals, 46.4 percent of the scoring chances, and 41.2 percent of the high-danger chances.
Kuznetsov was also a team-worst minus-26 on the season and a complete non-factor at the end of the team’s schedule, posting just two assists in the final eight games.
— good tweet pete 🌮 (@peterhassett) April 12, 2023
Kuznetsov also had his worst, full 82-game goal-scoring season in his career since his first full season in the NHL (2014-15). His twelve goals ranked just eighth on the team.
The Russian pivot thinks he knows at least partially why he struggled to put the puck in the net compared to how he has in the past.
“I feel like last year there was a few more breakaways and this year just the two breakaways,” Kuznetsov said. “I think some of those high-danger shots that I used to have I didn’t have this year. I have to work on that. There is a lot of time right now to think about and refocus. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to find the solution.”
The stats don’t really follow that logic though as Kuznetsov recorded just .58 fewer individual high-danger chances per 60 minutes this season than he did in his 24-goal 2021-22 campaign.
This summer, Kuznetsov says he and his family will stay in DC for the majority of his time off. It will be a huge offseason in terms of determining if he stays in DC as his name has come up in potential trade talks from league insiders and he still has the somewhat dark cloud of the rumored trade requests hanging above his head.
But Peter Laviolette’s departure may give Kuznetsov another life with the team. As of today, Kuznetsov did not sound like a player that had plans other than DC.
“I want to be better, I want to be stronger,” Kuznetsov said. “I’m pretty sure we’re going to come out hot [next season].”
Kuznetsov has two years remaining on his contract which pays him $7.8 million annually.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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