The Capitals have a number of players’ whose futures must be decided this offseason, with Brett Connolly and Carl Hagelin headlining the group as unrestricted free agents. One player whose future was debated throughout the 2018-19 season is Andre Burakovsky, who struggled throughout the majority of the season with inconsistency and lack of production, before picking up his play at the tail-end of the season. Despite his struggles, however, the 24-year old forward should be back with the Capitals next season. Here’s why.
As a pending Restricted Free Agent, Burakovsky would require a qualifying offer that at minimum, matches his current salary of $3.25 million (plus a minimum escalation of 5%, or $3,412,500) in order for the Caps to retain exclusive negotiating rights with the former first-round pick (23rd overall in 2013). And while some may argue against bringing the embattled Swede back after a 2018-19 season in which he struggled again with inconsistent play and lack of offensive production, Burakovsky’s play at the end of the regular season heading into the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs should be enough to convince Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan to bring Burakovsky back next season, on a one or two-year, prove-it deal.
In his first 36 games played of the 2018-19 season, Burakovsky recorded just nine points (five goals, four assists) with a minus-3 rating, averaging 11:40 of ice time. In his final 40 games played in 2018-19, Burakovsky scored seven goals and added nine assists for 16 points, with a plus-5 rating and a 13.2% shooting percentage. And while he recorded just two points in seven playoff games, the team as a whole outside of a few players struggled to maintain consistency in their first round series loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. But Burakovsky’s pedigree also warrants giving him another chance to prove himself worthy of a long-term deal.
As a former first-round pick, Burakovsy obviously showed that he had the potential to be an impact, game-changing player for an NHL team and throughout his five-year NHL career, Burakovsky has shown flashes of being just that, with his two-goal performance in the Capitals’ Game 7 Eastern Conference Final victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2018 en route to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup victory being a prime example.
No matter his struggles this past season, Burakovsky deserves at least one more chance to find the abilities that not only made him a first-round pick, but have caused the Caps to stick by him through injuries and inconsistencies. While Burakovsy may not be re-signed for the minimum, the Caps should give him one more chance to establish himself as an impact player at the NHL level and a core player for the team going forward. The reward may be even greater than the risk.
By Michael Fleetwood