With changes almost certainly coming to the Washington Capitals after a fourth consecutive first-round exit in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, NoVa Caps takes a look at who could stay and go. Only players under contract for at least next season and who played in at least 10 games with the team this past season are included. Pending unrestricted free agents are not included.
Alex Ovechkin — GM Brian MacLellan said that the soon-to-be 37-year-old is one of only two untouchables on the roster after last season and why would that change after Ovechkin had his best season in a dozen years with 50 goals and 90 points in 77 games? He just completed the first season of a five-year contract that he signed last July.
Nicklas Backstrom — Even though the 34-year-old has a nagging hip injury that may require surgery in the coming weeks, MacLellan said that Backstrom is the other untouchable on the Capitals. In addition to his bad hip, Backstrom, who earned six goals and 31 points in 47 games in 2021-22, has a contract (three years at $9.2 million against the NHL salary cap) that should protect him from moving to another team.
Dmitry Orlov — Orlov, who will turn 31 on July 23, was the Capitals’ best defenseman this past campaign with career-highs in goals (12), points (35), and plus-minus (+25) in 76 games. At five-on-five, he tallied a 52.42% Corsi-for percentage (best among Capitals who played at least 38 games), a 52.02% expected goals-for percentage (third), and a 52.18% scoring chances-for percentage (fourth) while averaging 20:58 per game (second), including 45 seconds shorthanded (sixth among blueliners) and 59 on the power play (third). Orlov can become an unrestricted free agent after next season and can sign a contract extension at any time after July 16 but will almost certainly start the season in Washington at the very least.
Evgeny Kuznetsov — After being in trade rumors last offseason, the 30-year-old put up 24 goals and 78 points in 79 games (both the second-best of his nine-season NHL career). Kuznetsov was also tasked more responsibility on the penalty kill, averaging 1:07 per game (sixth among Capitals forwards).
Martin Fehervary — In his rookie season, the 22-year-old posted eight goals, 17 points, a +15 rating, a 49.1% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 47.57% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 48.19% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage while averaging 19:39 per game (third among Capitals defensemen), 1:47 of which coming shorthanded (also third). Overall, Fehervary turned in a strong rookie campaign but saw his numbers take a hit after his bout with COVID-19 around the holidays. With the Capitals emphasizing getting younger, expect him to stick around for the long haul.
Tom Wilson — The 28-year-old had the best season of his nine-year NHL career with personal highs in goals (24), assists (28), points (52), and plus-minus (+13). Wilson, who will miss the first month or two of the 2022-23 campaign with a torn ACL suffered in Game 1 against the Florida Panthers, is looked up to for leadership, to swing momentum of a game in the Capitals’ favor, and provide physicality. He also dictates some of the team’s division rival’s moves and is seen by many as their next captain.
Connor McMichael — The 21-year-old recorded nine goals and 18 points in 68 games during his freshman season and will be in line for a bigger role come the fall, especially with Backstrom set to miss the start of (at least) the season. McMichael also succeeded at creating scoring chances.
T.J. Oshie — The 35-year-old missed 38 regular-season games due to three different injuries and COVID-19 but finished with 11 goals and 25 points. The Capitals were 26-11-7 (.670 points percentage) with Oshie, who provides leadership and energy, in the lineup this past season but 18-17-5 (.513) without him. Oshie led the team with six goals and seven points in the first round.
Would Have to Be A Very Good Offer
Anthony Mantha — The 27-year-old missed 44 games after undergoing shoulder surgery but finished with nine goals and 23 points, a 20-goal, 51-point pace over a full 82-game season. He played well in the postseason, earning four assists. If the Capitals were to chase a young, promising top-six forward via trade, Mantha, who tallied a team-best 55.95% expected goals-for percentage during the postseason, could be considered throwing in as part of the package.
Nic Dowd — The 32-year-old set a career-high in points (24) last season when he also hit the double-digit plateau for second straight year. Dowd, who signed a three-year contract extension in November, averaged a team-high 1:57 on the penalty kill and is relied upon to shut down other teams’ top guns and finished the season with a 50.44% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 51.83% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 51.81% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage.
Joe Snively — The 27-year-old also signed a contract extension mid season, which is one-way, after earning four goals and seven points in just 12 NHL games in addition to 15 goals and 38 points in 35 AHL games. The Capitals clearly have plans for the Herndon, Virginia native for the upcoming season.
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby — With Carl Hagelin’s status unknown after he underwent eye surgery on March 3 and Johan Larsson set to become an unrestricted free agent, the 24-year-old could see a bigger role in 2022-23. Jonsson-Fjallby recorded two goals, four points, a 47.26% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 49.94% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 49.7% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 23 NHL games in addition to 16 goals and 34 points in 44 AHL games this past year. He also averaged 42 seconds per game on the penalty kill when in Washington.
Aliaksei Protas — The 21-year-old could be in line for a full-time NHL job next season after putting up three goals and nine points in 33 NHL games and eight goals and 24 points in 42 AHL games. Protas fits the Capitals’ desire of strong and big at 6’6” and 225 pounds.
Trevor Van Riemsdyk — In 72 games this past regular season, the 30-year-old put up a goal, 17 points, a -3 rating, a 49.44% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 51.2% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 50.92% five-on-five scoring chances-for while averaging 17:28 per game (fifth among Washington defensemen), including a team-leading 2:39 on the penalty kill. Van Riemsdyk, who accounts for just $900,000 against the salary cap for one more season, impressed in the postseason with a goal, two points, a +3 rating, and a 51.92% expected goals-for percentage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where he averaged just 15:19 per game (fifth), including 3:11 on the penalty kill (second).
Conor Sheary — Sheary will turn 30 on Wednesday and turned in 19 goals and 43 points (both the second-highest of his seven-season NHL career) in 71 games. He has one season left on a contract that pays counts a bargain $1.5 million against the salary cap but also has earned just one goal, two points, and a -6 rating in 11 postseason games as a Capital. However, Sheary earned a team-best 53.01% Corsi-for percentage and was second with a 55.9% expected goals-for percentage during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Nick Jensen — The soon-to-be 32-year-old was one of the Capitals’ best defensemen in 2021-22 where he recorded career-highs in goals (five), assists (16), points (21), and plus-minus (+32) in 76 games. Jensen, who has one season remaining on his deal, tallied a 50.16% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 51.76% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 49.82% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage.
Could Go If Right Offer Comes
John Carlson — The 32-year-old had a strong campaign with 17 goals, 71 points, a +13 rating, a 50.73% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 49.52% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 49.71% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 78 games. While his defensive play was stronger this past season, it is by no means Carlson’s bread and butter and he has four seasons left on a contract that pays him $8 million, which the team could try to shed some day. However, that day may not come this offseason after Carlson’s strong regular season. Though, he recorded a -5 rating, a 44.2% Corsi-for percentage, a 50.63% expected goals-for percentage, and a 47.62% scoring chances-for percentage at five-on-five in the postseason.
Brett Leason — The 23-year-old tallied three goals and six points in 36 NHL games and six goals and only 13 points in 31 AHL games this past season. Leason has seen his number of games played dip in each of his first three seasons with the Bears, so it is possible to see him being part of a trade.
Ilya Samsonov/Vitek Vanecek — It is no secret that the Capitals are looking to upgrade their goaltending ahead of next season and the plan appears to be to keep one of their current netminders and pair him up with a veteran while trade the other. Both Samsonov, who started the Capitals’ last final 12 periods of the postseason, and Vanecek can become restricted free agents with arbitration rights this offseason and coughed up the No. 1 job after grabbing it during the season. More factors that will go into this decision can be read here.
Beck Malenstyn – The 24-year-old tallied one goal in 12 NHL games in addition to 10 goals and 16 points in 65 AHL games this past season. Malenstyn, who averaged 44 seconds on the penalty kill when up with the big club, will likely be in the mix for the Capitals’ 13th forward spot in training camp.
Possibly on block
Garnet Hathaway — The 30-year-old had the best season of his seven-year NHL career where he set personal bests in goals (14), points (26), and plus-minus (+19) and tied it in assists (12). He earned a 51.58% Corsi-for percentage, a 52.18% expected goals-for percentage, and a 52.56% scoring chances-for percentage in 76 games, which also tied his career-high. Hathaway, who added a goal and two points in the first-round, has one season left on a contract that counts $1.5 million against the cap before becoming eligible for unrestricted free agency.
Michael Sgarbossa — The soon-to-be 30-year-old played well when in the NHL this past season with two goals and four points in 10 games but will not likely see much playing time in the big leagues. Sgarbossa also scored 10 goals and 21 points in 30 AHL games in 2021-22.
Likely on block
Lars Eller — With McMichael set to become an NHL regular in 2022-23 and Protas pushing for time as well, the Capitals could part with the soon-to-be 34-year-old, who earned 13 goals and 31 points in 72 regular-season games and a -4 rating in the postseason. Shaving his $3.5 million cap hit for the last season of his contract would also be a plus. Though, with the uncertainty of Backstrom for next season, the Capitals could either hang onto Eller or look for an upgrade at center, which he could be included in.
Carl Hagelin — The 33-year-old, who will also enter the final season of his contract, tallied three goals and 14 points in 53 games before getting hurt and his availability for next season is in question. Even if Hagelin, who averaged 1:54 on the penalty kill (second on the Capitals behind Dowd, 1:57), is healthy, his $2.75 million cap hit is lucrative for a fourth-liner and the Capitals have a similar player in Jonsson-Fjallby ready to take on the role.
Other of Samsonov/Vanecek — Samsonov, 25, finished the regular-season with a 23-12-5 record, an .896 save percentage, a 3.02 goals-against average and three shutouts in 44 games and postseason with a 1-3 record, a .912 save percentage, and a 2.97 goals-against average. Vanecek, 26, tallied a 20-12-6 record, .908 save percentage, 2.67 goals-against average, and four shutouts in 42 regular-season games in addition to going 1-1 with an .863 save percentage and a 4.21 goals-against average before yielding the net to Samsonov.
With the Capitals’ Stanley Cup window nearing its end, the team must make adjustments to its roster after another early postseason exit. They will most likely look to get younger and will have the cap space to do improve with defenseman Justin Schultz’s $4 million cap hit off of the books and some injured reserve relief. The coming weeks should be very interesting in the nation’s capital.
By Harrison Brown