The Capitals have made some big headlines in the last week and a half. One, if not the biggest, surprise was Evgeny Kuznetsov’s monster contract. The 25-year old Russian signed an 8-year contract that will pay him $62.4 million ($7.8 million AAV). We all know that Kuznetsov was in line for a large pay raise, but by this much?
Kuznetsov had a breakout year two seasons ago, scoring 20 goals and 77 points, which led the Capitals in scoring for the 2015-2016 season. After a down postseason in 2016 – only scoring two points in 12 games, Kuznetsov got off to a slow start in the 2016-2017 season, scoring just 3 goals the first 37 games. Kuzy finished the season with 19 goals and 59 points in 82 games, 3rd on the Caps last season.
This wouldn’t have been a shock following the 2015-16 season when Kuznetsov was 9th in the NHL in scoring, but with his production dipping by 18 points, most analysts predicted he’d make around $6 million a year in his new deal. No one expected him making close to $8 million, particularly with an 8 year deal.
Part of the reason the Caps overpaid him, according to Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan, is that they wanted to prevent him from going to KHL and returning to the NHL as an unrestricted free agent in two years. On a conference call on Monday morning, Caps’ GM Brian MacLellan said that Kuznetsov had a lot of leverage and it was important to avoid letting Kuzy go to the KHL. He’s right, the Caps are better off getting Kuzy under contract for the long term rather than risking losing him without any compensation.
If Kuznetsov left for the KHL, it would leave a HUGE hole in the Capitals lineup. He gives the Capitals more flexibility than before. The Capitals have two legitimate No. 1 centers, something they didn’t have before he arrived. They may have overpaid him, but the Caps had little alternative. The price was high, but it was a necessary move, even if it meant they had to dump Marcus Johansson, who’s coming off a career year, for picks instead of a player. The Capitals can replace Johansson more easily than Kuznetsov, because they have Jakub Vrana in the pipelines and he has the potential to become a legitimate Top 6 forward.
Evgeny Kuznetsov has been terrific for the Capitals ever since coming to North America. It would’ve been difficult, if not impossible, for MacLellan and the Capitals to find a No. 2 center to replace Kuzy, something the team struggled to find before Kuznetsov came to Washington. Now it’s up to Kuznetsov to show the doubters that he deserves his massive contract.
By Harrison Brown