As we head into the vast unknown of yet another off-season for the Washington Capitals we immediately shift our focus to looking at team “needs” and the roster moves required to address those “needs”. Some of the decisions have surely already been made, but others may take further assessment by Capitals brass to determine.
But before addressing needs, any smart general manager will take a look around and see what’s working, and maybe just as importantly, what isn’t working, for the successful teams in the league. In other words, what do the Capitals “need” to do to compete with and beat the top teams in the Metropolitan Division, and what do they need to do to compete with and beat any of the top teams in the league.
Here is a quick preliminary “to-do” list:
1. Sign or Trade For Goaltender
This one is obvious. And while the need may be obvious, the means for the change is not. By free agency? or via trade? The Capitals must resolve the goaltender issue. They can’t go into next season with the same two-headed question mark they have been dealing with for the past two seasons.
2. Part Ways With Michal Kempny, Justin Schultz and Carl Hagelin
Justin Schultz and Michal Kempny should not be re-signed. Their departures will generate $6,500,000 in salary cap space that could be used for better value (sign a goaltender, a veteran defender, a scoring center).
Parting ways with Carl Hagelin and replacing him with Johan Larsson or Axel Jonsson-Fjallby would save more than $1,500,000, although it will be difficult to deal Hagelin with his current injury status.
3. Get Younger
The Capitals elevated some of their youth this season (Martin Fehervary, Connor McMichael) and that needs to continue. Replacing Schultz and Kempny with Lucas Johansen, Alex Alexeyev, Tobias Geisser or even Bobby Nardella would be ideal, if they are ready/capable of making the jump to the NHL. That’s a big “if” for all of them right now. The trading of Jonas Siegenthaler begins to really hurt at this point.
Replacing Hagelin with Axel Jonsson-Fjallby (restricted free agent) would reduce the age of the fourth-line left wing position by 10 years. Johan Larsson would cut the age by four years. Ideally, Joe Snively, Aliaksei Protas and/or Brett Leason will also be part of the roster discussion in September.
4. Find Potential Upgrades
There are players like Lars Eller, who are on the bubble, with potential replacements (Connor McMichael, Aliaksei Protas) waiting in the wings. With one more year remaining on Eller’s contract, the Capitals need to seriously consider dealing him and upgrading at the position. They might also consider moving Nicklas Backstrom down to center the third line and look to sign a second-line center this summer.
Then there is John Carlson, who’s game is becoming more and more bipolar. His offensive game and point production has been great, but the defensive side of his game has been steadily deteriorating. His contract is also a huge negative. The Capitals need to think long and hard about possibly moving on from Carlson.
The Work Begins Now
The work for the start of the 2022-23 season is already underway and you can be assured that changes are on the way. It’s easy to say the Capitals need to get younger, but the execution is critical. Experience is very valuable in the NHL, so the balance of youth and experience needs to be carefully crafted.
By Jon Sorensen