A Look At Opportunities For The Capitals To Upgrade At Center

Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan told the media at his season-ending press conference on Wednesday that any player other than captain Alex Ovechkin or center Nicklas Backstrom will be available for trade. Center Evgeny Kuznetsov’s name has been floated in trade rumor discussions after the 28-year-old’s offensive production has declined in each of the past four seasons and he landed on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol twice this season, missing 15 games.

There has been word that frustration is mounting with Kuznetsov in the Capitals’ organization after he tested positive for COVID-19 twice this season and for cocaine last season. Responding to questions about trading Kuznetsov, MacLellan didn’t address the issue directly but said, “I think we’re always open to trading people if it makes sense for what’s going on. If it’s going to make our team better, I think we’re open to it.”

Card: Tableau Public

This summer’s unrestricted free agent class is relatively weak as the only big-name center on the market is 28-year-old Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who has spent the first 10 NHL seasons with the Edmonton Oilers. The Capitals could trade Kuznetsov for picks and sign Nugent-Hopkins, but it is more likely that they will look to get another center back. Though, it will not be easy to pull off such a deal as Kuznetsov has four seasons left on an eight-year contract that pays him $7.8 million per season and includes a 15-team no-trade list. The Capitals may be forced to give up a mid-round draft pick or get a third team in to take on some salary if they hope to move Kuznetsov but they will likely have suitors considering Kuznetsov’s potential. So, let’s look at the options.

Nugent-Hopkins

After back-to-back seasons with at least 60 points, the first overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft has seen his production decline this season, posting 16 goals and 35 points (1.94 points-per-60) in 52 games. In an 82 game season, that production equates to 25 goals and 55 points.

Nugent-Hopkins also finished the regular season with a 51.9% Corsi-for percentage, 55.53% expected goals-for percentage, and a 54.11% scoring-chances for percentage at five-on-five, according to Natural StatTrick. He also recorded a 51.9% shot-attempts for percentage.

Per MoneyPuck, Nugent-Hopkins spent a majority of his ice time at five-on-five with forwards Connor McDavid and Jesse Puljujarvi. The three played 258.3 minutes together this season.

10 of his 19 assists this season were primary. 18.3% of his starts were in the offensive zone and 10.2% of them were in the defensive one. He was credited with 22 takeaways, 33 giveaways, and a -1.2 goals-above expected. Nugent-Hopkins won 45.6% of the faceoffs he took this season and converted on 11.9% of his shots.

Nugent-Hopkins averaged 20:46 of ice time per game this season, including 4:13 on the power play (slightly more than McDavid) and 1:52 on the penalty kill (third among Oilers forwards).

Acquiring Nugent-Hopkins would require just making room under the NHL salary cap to sign him. That would mean trading Kuznetsov (likely for just draft picks).

Nugent-Hopkins will likely have a cap hit around the $6 million range for six to seven seasons in free agency.

Card: Tableau Public

Sean Monahan – Calgary Flames

After the Flames lost in the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the organization expressed a desire for change and that will likely be the same narrative this offseason after the team failed to qualify for the tournament during the 2020-21 season. Monahan, who carries a $6.375 million cap hit for two more seasons, could be on the blocks as the team has only reached the second round once in his eight years in Calgary. His contract features a 10-team no-trade clause, but the Capitals will not likely be one of the teams on it. The Ottawa Sun’s Mark Garrioch reports that the Flames are willing to listen to offers on the 26-year-old.

Monahan recorded just 10 goals, 28 points, and a -6 rating in 50 games this season and is on a very similar trajectory to Kuznetsov. After an 82-point campaign in 2018-19, Monahan’s production dropped to 48 points last season before hitting 28 this season.

Monahan tallied a 49.68% Corsi-for percentage, 51.6% expected goals-for percentage, and a 49.81% scoring-chances for percentage at five-on-five this past regular season, says Natural StatTrick. In addition, he posted a 49.4% shot-attempts for percentage.

According to MoneyPuck, Monahan spent most of his ice time at five-on-five with forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Brett Ritchie. The trio skated 132.6 minutes with each other during the 2020-21 season.

12 of his 19 assists were primary this season. 21.9% of his zone starts were in the offensive one and 10.7% of them were in the defensive one. Monahan earned 28 takeaways, 35 giveaways, and a -4.3 goals-above expected. He won 49% of his faceoffs and scored on 10.2% of the shots he took.

Monahan averaged 17:36 of ice time per game this season, including 3:11 on the power play and 30 seconds on the penalty kill. His ice time has dipped in each of the past three years.

It will likely cost Kuznetsov plus a high-to-mid pick to acquire Monahan due to the difference in salary between the two players. Though, the Capitals could probably net a slightly lower pick as part of the assets that came their way.

Card: Tableau Public

Tomas Hertl – San Jose Sharks

The 27-year-old recorded 19 goals, 43 points, a +1 rating, a 51.78% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 56.68% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 52.48% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 50 games this past season. Hertl also posted a 51.7% shot-attempts percentage, one of two Sharks to have one above 50%.

The Sharks could be willing to trade Hertl as they are at the front end of a rebuild and teams were poking around at the NHL Trade Deadline last April even though he ended up staying in San Jose. He has one season left on a contract that carries a cap hit of $5.62 million before becoming eligible to hit unrestricted free agency.

As recently as two seasons ago, Hertl scored 35 goals and 74 points. He has hit the 40-point mark three times in his career and would have last season (36 in 48 games) had he stayed healthy.

MoneyPuck tracked Hertl playing mostly (156.6 minutes) with forwards Timo Meier and Rudolfs Balcers at five-on-five during the 2020-21 regular season.

Hertl recorded 13 primary assists (out of 24 total) this season. 16% of his zone starts came in the offensive one and 16.4% of them in the defensive. He finished the year with 22 takeaways, 25 giveaways, and a 1.1 goals-above expected. Hertl won 55.1% of the faceoffs that he took and scored on 17% of the shots he took.

Hertl averaged 19:08 of ice time per game this season, including 2:38 on the power play (fourth on the team) and 1:42 seconds on the penalty kill (sixth among team forwards).

On top of Kuznetsov, it will likely require a third-round pick or a mid-tier prospect to lure Hertl from San Jose. The Capitals may also want some contract certainty before acquiring him. His next contract will likely be for five-to-six seasons at a cap hit of around $5 million.

Card: Tableau Public

William Karlsson – Vegas Golden Knights

The 28-year-old racked up 14 goals, 39 points, a +19 rating, a 56.05% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 54.39% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 56.03% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 56 games this past season. Karlsson recorded a 56% shot-attempts percentage.

There is nothing to suggest that the Golden Knights are shopping Karlsson but the team has had trouble finishing on their chances and closing out series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs over the past three seasons, which could lead to a desire to shake things up in Vegas. Though, The Hockey News listed Karlsson as a possible fit for the Capitals.

Karlsson has been on pace to hit at least 50 points over an 82-game span in each of his four seasons with the Golden Knights. In 2017-18, he recorded 43 goals, 78 points, and an NHL-best +49 rating. Karlsson has missed just 10 games since becoming a full-time NHL player in 2015-16.

MoneyPuck had Karlsson playing most of his five-on-five ice time (538.5 minutes) with forwards Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith during the regular season.

14 of Karlsson’s 25 assists this season were primary. 18.6% of his zone starts came in the offensive zone and 14.2% of them in the defensive one. He tallied 30 takeaways, 15 giveaways, and a -0.8 goals above expected. Karlsson won 54.1% of the faceoffs that he took and was earned with a 12.6% shooting percentage.

Of the 18:40 of ice-time that Karlsson averaged per game this season, 2:43 came on the power play (fourth on the Golden Knights) and 1:47 on the penalty kill (most among forwards on the team).

On top of Kuznetsov, the Capitals will likely have to throw in a third- or fourth-round pick to acquire Karlsson, who will enter the third season of an eight-year contract that carries a $5.9 million cap hit. Karlsson’s deal includes a 10-team no-trade clause but the Capitals will not likely be one of those on it.

Card: Tableau Public

Nick Schmaltz – Arizona Coyotes

The 25-year-old scored 10 goals, 32 points, a -1 rating, a 56.05% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 52.66% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, a 53.55% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage, and a 50.86% shot-attempts percentage in 52 games during the 2020-21 season with the Coyotes.

There is no word that Schmaltz is on the trading block but the Coyotes are in need of changes after finishing the season 24-26-6, nine points out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They have made the tournament only once since 2013.

Schmaltz has averaged at least .63 points-per-game in each of the past three seasons, including an 11-goal, 45-point output in 70 games during his first full season in the desert in 2019-20.

MoneyPuck recorded Schmaltz playing primarily (194.2 minutes) with forwards Clayton Keller and Connor Garland at five-on-five ice time over the course of the regular season.

Half of Schmaltz’s 22 assists this season were primary. 17.8% of his zone starts occured in the offensive zone but only 4.2% of them came in the defensive zone. He recorded 26 takeaways, 22 giveaways, and a -2.4 goals above expected. Schmaltz was credited with only a 42.8% faceoff-winning percentage and a 9.5% shooting percentage.

Of the 17:03 of ice-time per game that Schmaltz averaged this season, 2:45 occurred on the man advantage, which was tied for fourth on the Coyotes.

On top of Kuznetsov, the Capitals will likely have to throw in a third- or fourth-round pick to persuade the Coyotes to send Schmaltz, who will enter next season with five left on a contract that pays him $5.85 million per year, to the nation’s capital. This trade would be hard to envision occurring since the Coyotes could be on Kuznetsov’s no-trade list.

Card: Tableau Public

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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7 Responses to A Look At Opportunities For The Capitals To Upgrade At Center

  1. hockeydruid says:

    I can see 5-7 players from this years team either being traded or not with the team next year. As for Kuzy, he may be gone in the draft before he gets traded. I can also see Carlson going this summer and as much as this one would really come back to haunt I can see Wilson going possible in the draft.

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  3. novafyre says:

    What about AHL prospects?

  4. Anonymous says:

    where can i find these player cards? I don’t see a way to find them on moneypuck

  5. James Reid says:

    Where can I find these player cards? I can’t find them on moneypuck.

  6. Marky says:

    I see underneath the cards it says Tableau Public.

  7. Pingback: Friday Caps Clips: - Baltimore Sports Today

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