Evgeny Kuznetsov’s future emerged as one of the Capitals’ biggest question marks going into the offseason. After an underperforming season and with reports indicating Kuznetsov had requested a trade, the Capitals seemingly tried to make a deal for the 31-year-old forward this summer to no avail. Kuznetsov remains a Capitals as of late August and appears increasingly likely to start the season in Washington.
With less than a month to go until training camp, new head coach Spencer Carbery thinks Kuznetsov can still be a big contributor to the the team and used a welcoming, optimistic tone while sharing his thoughts about the Russian centerman.
“I think he’s a very, very important player for our team,” Carbery said. “What he’s capable of when he’s on his game is world class and that’s my challenge to help identify parts of his game, things I can help him with, put him in positions to have success. I have a real appreciation for the game that he plays and the style of play.
“I think understanding and appreciating the impact that he can have on a nightly basis when he’s on his game, there’s not a lot of players that can do what he can do. I’m going to do everything I can to help him get back to that level.”
Carbery’s arrival could offer Kuznetsov a fresh start after three seasons under Peter Laviolette. The two have already spoken on the phone in preparation for the fall.
“He’s back home in Russia and I’ve had multiple conversations with him over there,” Carbery said. “He’s healthy, his training has gone well thus far. In my conversations with him, it sounds like there’s a real focus to his preparation for next season, which is great to see.”
Kuznetsov’s performance dropped precipitously in 2022-23 as he struggled at both ends of the ice. Offensively, he registered his lowest scoring pace since his sophomore season in 2014-15, earning only 55 points (12g, 43a) in 81 games. The Capitals were outscored 51-46 at five-on-five with Kuznetsov on the ice and gave up 58.37% of high-danger chances.
“Probably disappointed in [Kuznetsov’s season],” MacLellan said during the Capitals’ Breakdown Day. “I think it wasn’t as good as last year. I liked his season last year. He played well. For whatever reason he never quite found his game. There were stretches where I thought he played well but overall I think he underperformed the season he had last year.”
Reports emerged in March that Kuznetsov had asked for a trade in consecutive seasons, further indicating a split could be in order. Kuznetsov did not directly deny the news when asked, with Capitals senior writer Mike Vogel confirming the trade request in July.
Earlier this summer, Kuznetsov seemed likely on his way out the door. Brian MacLellan reportedly “openly engaged teams” about a trade for Kuznetsov, including discussions with the Nashville Predators. MacLellan confirmed multiple trades fell through prior to free agency, likely including the failed Nashville deal. As of now, no suitable trade has materialized, though MacLellan noted as recently as early August that the team was still in the market for a top-six forward.
Kuznetsov, meanwhile, indicated a willingness to repair his relationship with the Capitals in a recent interview with Russian hockey outlet Hockey on Kinopoisk.
“It’s probably like in marriage – you constantly swear, back and forth, some moments happen, but you still have this love,” Kuznetsov said. “Unfortunately, in hockey, it happens that you are dependent on them. This is a business, and what you want, in principle, is not important to anyone. They do the right thing.
“But, I hope everything will be fine, and it will turn out (that I) play hockey (for the Capitals) a little more.”
With no viable trades emerging and both Carbery and Kuznetsov on board, Kuznetsov’s time in Washington may not be done just yet.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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