Where Do The Washington Capitals Go From Here?
After winning it all in 2018, the Washington Capitals have been bounced out of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for three consecutive seasons. It is understandable that management would like to give this core another shot at a deep playoff run, but their title window has closed. Vendetta’s hockey aficionado, Andrew McGuinness, was right on the money in his 2021 series prediction, as the Caps flamed out in 5 games against the Boston Bruins. Despite continuing to have one of the most talented rosters in the league, they have been unable to replace some notable departures from the championship squad. Future hall of fame head coach Barry Trotz left D.C. for Long Island, where he and GM Lou Lamoriello have revived the New York Islanders franchise into a perennial playoff team. Star goalie Braden Holtby left the Caps in free agency last summer and is now past his prime, but he is still playing with the Vancouver Canucks. Important depth pieces like Andre Burakovsky and Jakub Vrana have also departed Washington, as the Anthony Mantha trade with the Red Wings was, in hindsight, a questionable decision. Trotz and Holtby provided stability to Washington’s foundation, but their positions now desperately need help. The head coaching position has become a revolving door with Todd Reirden failing to be the team’s protege behind the bench and Peter Laviolette’s tenure likely coming to an end in the near future. The Caps’ goalkeeping has suffered in a similar fashion, with neither Ilya Samsonov nor Vitek Vanecek looking like the goalie of the future. Both are young but neither proved to be as effective or clutch as Holtby was in the Caps 2018 run. Furthermore, signing the 33-year-old Nicklas Backstrom to a new contract that pays him over $9 million for the next 4 years is a questionable decision as well.
However, the Caps’ hand could be forced to rebuild, as Captain Alex Ovechkin’s 13-year, $124 million contract expires this summer, potentially allowing the Russian sniper to enter unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career. Even at age 35, the line of suitors would be out the door, as he continues his quest to catch Wayne Gretzky’s all-time record of 894 career NHL goals. Without Ovechkin, the Capitals are not even close to a playoff team. There are, however, some enticing pieces that GM Brian MacLellan could use to jumpstart a rebuild. John Carlson, one of the NHL’s very best defensemen, would collect a lot of assets in a trade, and forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and TJ Oshie have solid value as well. There might even be interest in the aforementioned Backstrom, who is still productive down the middle despite his large contract and age. Those possible trades and more will completely hinge on Ovechkin’s impending, but not yet definite, free agency. All in all, the Washington Capitals find themselves at a difficult crossroads heading into the 2021 offseason as a recent Stanley Cup winner unsure of when to begin their rebuild. Do not be surprised if there is a lot of turnover in the nation’s capital this summer.
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