Five years ago this week, the Washington Capitals won Game Five against the Vegas Golden Knights to take home the Stanley Cup. The win marked the franchise’s first-ever Cup victory and permanently enshrined the team in DC Sports history.
In the intervening years, the players on that Cup-winning roster have largely gone their separate ways, leaving Washington via trades, signings, or retirement. Of the 20 players who suited up for Game Five, only six remain on the team today: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, TJ Oshie, and Tom Wilson.
The 14 former players have gone on to have a wide variety of careers. Many continue to play elsewhere in the NHL, some have taken their talents abroad, while others have decided to hang up their skates.
As we celebrate five years since the Caps won it all, let’s take some time to see what the Stanley Cup Champs are up to now.
Five years ago tonight
— Ben Raby (@BenRaby31) June 7, 2023
Jay Beagle made history of his own in 2018, becoming the first-ever player to win the ECHL’s Kelly Cup, the AHL’s Calder Cup, and the NHL’s Stanley Cup. He also became one of the first players to leave in 2018, signing a four-year deal with the Vancouver Canucks as an unrestricted free agent. He remains beloved in DC and received a warm welcome in his first game back in Washington.
Beagle played in Vancouver for three seasons, but never quite reached the highs of his career in Washington. The Canucks ultimately flipped him to the Arizona Coyotes in 2021. Though he hasn’t formally retired, Beagle remains a free agent, last playing 33 games with the Coyotes in 2021-22. He was last seen in a video congratulating Chris Bourque during his Hershey Bears jersey retirement.
Andre Burakovsky has continued to develop since winning in Washington, most recently emerging as a star player for the Seattle Kraken. After an underwhelming season with the Caps in 2018-19, he requested a trade and joined the Colorado Avalanche.
Burakovsky thrived in Colorado, regularly contributing to the team’s power play and reaching a career-high 61 points in 2021-22. Later that season, Burakovsky he won a second Cup with the Avs, becoming the first major player from the 2018 Caps squad to do so.
Fresh off a Cup win, Burakovsky signed a five-year deal with the Seattle Kraken in July. He was the team’s leading scorer before injury prematurely ended his season. This offseason, Burakovsky and his girlfriend Johanna Scortea announced she is pregnant with a baby girl, the couple’s first child.
After a career-high 46-point season with the Capitals in 2018-19, Brett Connolly signed a four-year deal with the Florida Panthers as a free agent. He had a strong start in Florida, scoring 19 goals in 2019-20, but saw a much smaller role the following year.
The Panthers eventually traded Connolly to Chicago, where he played primarily on the team’s taxi squad and then later in the AHL. Despite a 35-point season (17g, 18a) with the Rockford Ice Hogs, the Blackhawks bought out the final year of Connolly’s deal. This season, he signed with HC Lugano of the Swiss National League, playing abroad for the first time in his career.
Christian Djoos played an additional season for the Capitals but missed significant time due to compartment syndrome in his thigh. That, combined with problems fitting him under the cap, meant that Djoos spent most of the 2019-2020 season with the Hershey Bears before a deadline deal sent him to the Anaheim Ducks.
Djoos was later claimed off waivers by the Detroit Red Wings in January 2021. He found some success with his father’s former team, scoring 11 points in 36 games. After his contract expired, Djoos returned to Europe where he won a championship with EV Zug in the Swiss National League. After two season there, he recently signed a free agent contract with Lausanne HC of the Swiss National League.
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) March 2, 2023
Lars Eller, who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal itself, continued to play a bottom-six role on the Caps over the next five seasons. He had a slow start to the 2022-23 season, leading then-head coach Peter Laviolette to move him around in the lineup.
Ultimately, Eller’s status as a pending UFA made him a prime target at this year’s trade deadline, and the Colorado Avalanche were happy to deal. The Caps flipped Eller to Colorado for a second-round pick just days before the deadline. Eller spent the rest of the season primarily playing on the Avs’ bottom six and penalty kill before the team was eliminated by the Seattle Kraken in the first round.
Without a contract, Eller has spent part of the summer in DC. He recently made an appearance alongside former teammate Marcus Johansson and Caps anthem singer Bob McDonald at a golf tournament to benefit St. Jude.
“I am Gru” pic.twitter.com/IUnllSsRgR
— Seattle Kraken (@SeattleKraken) March 6, 2023
Philipp Grubauer played an underrated role in the Capitals’ 2018 victory, serving as the team’s starting goaltender to begin the playoffs. He was ready to fight for a starting position in the NHL, a job the Caps couldn’t give him. Instead, the Caps traded Grubauer to the Colorado Avalanche, where he thrived and would eventually emerge as the team’s starting goaltender.
Grubauer was particularly spectacular in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, earning recognition as a Vezina finalist. He then signed a six-year deal with the Seattle Kraken before their debut season. This year, Grubauer posted a spectacular performance in the first round against Colorado, helping lead Seattle to their first-ever series win.
Fan-favorite Braden Holtby would remain the starter in DC through the start of the pandemic, staying with the team through their first-round loss to the Islanders in the bubble. When his contract expired, the Capitals chose not to re-sign him, instead moving forward with the pair of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek.
Without a path forward in Washington, Holtby signed a two-year deal with the Vancouver Canucks in 2020. The Canucks struggled that season, placing last in the North Division. Holtby became a free agent once again when Vancouver bought out the final year of his contract. He signed a one-year contract with Dallas and played alongside developing star Jake Oettinger.
After the pandemic put a halt to cross-division games in 2021, Holtby finally returned for his homecoming game at Capital One Arena with the Stars, receiving a tribute from the team and fans alike.
Holtby hasn’t formally retired, but he and his family returned to DC after his contract expired in Dallas. He was kind enough to speak with RMNB last summer, looking back on his career, potential retirement, and putting down roots in Washington.
“It didn’t take long for us to realize that DC is our home,” he said.
Michal Kempny’s post-2018 career was significantly affected by injury. After setting a career high in points (24) in 2018-19, Kempny would go on to suffer a series of three major injuries to his left leg between 2019 and 2021. He missed all of the 2020-21 season and spent much of the following year on the Caps’ taxi squad.
After several difficult seasons, Kempny joined his native Czechia for the 2022 IIHF World Championship and won a bronze medal at the tournament. He would sign with the Seattle Kraken that summer, but he and the team mutually agreed to terminate his contract before the season began. Kempny returned to his native Czechia, where he currently plays for HC Sparta in the Czech Extraliga.
In a bid to save cap space, the Capitals sent Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2019, getting Radko Gudas in exchange. Niskanen had an excellent bounce-back year with the Flyers, scoring 33 points in 68 games.
Niskanen chose to retire in 2020 with one year remaining on his contract with Philadelphia. Per his agent, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic led to Niskanen’s decision. The Flyers had hoped that Niskanen would continue to play, but the veteran blueliner did not want to spend an additional season isolating from his wife and children.
Dmitry Orlov remained a dependable defenseman in Washington, contributing significantly to the team’s defense and putting up points. As he approached unrestricted free agency, however, the Caps and Orlov diverged significantly. Orlov had angled for a long-term deal, while the Capitals were unwilling to offer such a long contract to the 31-year-old defenseman.
When the Caps decided to pull the trigger and sell at the deadline, Orlov was one of the first to go. He and Garnet Hathaway were flipped to the Boston Bruins at the tail end of the B’s historic regular season. The move proved beneficial for Orlov, who had an explosion of offense upon his arrival in Boston. The NHL named him named him First Star of the Week shortly after the trade, and he scored 17 points in 23 games, setting a career-high of 36 points over the season.
The Bruins ultimately fell to the underdog Florida Panthers in the first round, and Orlov has since returned to DC. He and Evgeny Kuznetsov played with a local beer league team and got ice cream during a bike ride. He’s signaled a willingness to come back to the Capitals.
Brooks Orpik returned to the Capitals for the 2018-19 season after a summer of salary cap shenanigans. The Caps dealt him to the Colorado Avalanche alongside Grubauer, but the Avs bought out Orpik’s contract just three days later. With Orpik conveniently on the market, the Capitals resigned him to a team-friendly deal.
Orpik played one final season in Washington before retiring at 38. He’s remained with the Capitals as a development coach — frequently making stops up in Hershey — and currently serves as an assistant coach for Boston College, his alma mater.
Devante Smith-Pelly solidified his status as a Capitals legend with his game-tying goal in Game Five. He split the 2018-19 season between the Washington Capitals and Hershey Bears before playing for the KHL’s Kunlun Red Star in 2019-20. Smith-Pelly spent the next two seasons in the AHL with the Ontario Reign and Laval Rocket. While on the Reign, Smith-Pelly joined Quinton Byfield and Akil Thomas to form the first all-Black line in pro hockey since the 1940s.
In December, Smith-Pelly officially announced his retirement after a 11-year pro career. He continues to be a fan favorite in DC, both for his monumental on-ice contributions and for his consistent efforts to make hockey a more inclusive sport for all.
The now-retired Smith-Pelly returned to Washington in February for the Capitals’ Black History celebration. He features prominently in the Black Hockey History Display at Capital One Arena, and dropped the puck for the night’s celebration. In March, Smith-Pelly dropped by the Capitals pregame broadcast and reminisced about the 2018 Cup win.
“That special feeling honestly doesn’t go away,” he said. “It’s been years now, but every time I see that goal I get a little goosebumps.”
After defeating the Vegas Golden Knights to win the Cup in 2018, Chandler Stephenson is back in the Final on the other side of the matchup. The Capitals flipped Stephenson to the Golden Knights partway through the 2019-20 season, and he’s only gotten better since. Stephenson has set a career high in points four seasons in a row with Vegas and made the NHL All-Star game this year.
Stephenson has continued to wow in the playoffs as the Knights make their first Final appearance since 2018. He has scored 17 points in 20 postseason games, including an assist on the Knight’s first goal against Florida.
Jakub Vrana continued to develop with the Capitals, but clashes with coaching staff would spell the end of his time in DC. General manager Brian MacLellan explained that Vrana was a “frustrated player” by 2021 under Peter Laviolette, ultimately driving team to trade him to the Detroit Red Wings.
Vrana got a fresh start towards the end of this season when the Red Wings traded him to the St. Louis Blues at the deadline. He made the most of the opportunity, scoring 10 goals in just 20 games to close out the year. He, too, has spent time in Washington this offseason, joining Alex Ovechkin at Nationals Park in late April.
Barry Trotz led the team to their first victory in franchise history, but Game Five would also mark his last with the Capitals. He was due to become a free agent that summer, and the two sides couldn’t agree on a deal during the season. Furthermore, the team had nearly fired him in November of 2017. Though Trotz qualified for an automatic extension that kicked in when he won the Cup, the two sides still couldn’t come to an agreement. Trotz stepped down as head coach less than two weeks after hoisting the Stanley Cup.
He didn’t stay out of the league for long, joining the New York Islanders as head coach just days later. Trotz would coach the Isles for four years, posting a regular season of 152-102-34 over that span. After the Isles missed the playoffs in 2022, the team fired Trotz with one year remaining on his deal. He then took the following season off, reportedly declining offers from multiple teams.
In February, the Nashville Predators announced that Trotz was returning to the Predators in a new role: general manager. Trotz got his start in the NHL under David Poile as the first-ever head coach of the Predators. He spent 16 years as head coach in Nashville, from 1998-2014. Now, with Poile set to retire after 26 years with the Predators, Trotz will replace his mentor in the team where it all began.
The Capitals have seen more downs than ups over the last five years. The team hasn’t won a single playoff series since defeating Vegas, and missed the playoffs this season for the first time since 2014. They’ve also hired three different coaches over the last five years.
Still, the 2018 team feels just as magical as it did then. Shane Gersich, the only remaining black ace from that team in the organization (who ended up playing in two playoff games that year), recently scored the series-winning goal in the Eastern Conference Finals to send the Hershey Bears to the 2023 Calder Cup Finals.
Whether they’ve stayed in Washington, left for teams elsewhere, or called an end to their storied careers, these players will always be Stanley Cup Champions and heroes in our books.
Headline photo: Ian Oland/RMNB
RMNB is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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