As we enter an important off-season for the twilight of the Ovechkin era, the Washington Capitals and General Manager Brian MacLellan are figured to shakeup the current roster. With four straight first round bounces after hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup in 2018, the answer can no longer be “we have the group to win” and should instead be “we have some of the pieces to win, and we need to add more to get over the hump.”
In this post, we’ll play “keep, trade, cut” with this roster. With how NHL contracts are structured, we know that “cuts” typically are either buy-outs or letting pending RFAs walk without tendering a qualifying offer. We’ll look at the current NHL level or near NHL level players on the roster and make a call on their future with the team. Contract information used in this post are courtesy of CapFriendly.
Alex Ovechkin: Keep
We’ll start with a no-brainer. Ovechkin is the face, heart, and soul of this team, and he’ll be a Capital until he breaks the goal-scoring record, or decides to hang up the skates for good. Moving on.
Nicklas Backstrom: Keep
Backstrom is the Robin to Ovechkin’s Batman, but the hip injury is a huge concern with Backstrom’s contract not expiring until the end of the 2024-25 season and a $9.2M cap hit. Backstrom’s recovery is a very heavy “wait-and-see” for the Caps’ front office, but if Backstrom goes onto the long term injured reserve list for the remainder of his contract, the Caps open up $9.2M in cap space to potentially add other players.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Keep
After a tumultuous 2020-21 season, with off-season trade rumors circling, Kuznetsov put up one of his best seasons in 2021-22, showing just how valuable he is to this team. On top of that, Kuznetsov showed that he still has the remarkable talent that put the Caps over the top in 2018. With Backstrom’s injury likely keeping him out most of, if not all, of the 2022-23 season, Kuznetsov is indispensable.
TJ Oshie: Keep…for now
Oshie still has trade value, but would have likely been floated on the trade market if it weren’t for Tom Wilson needing ACL surgery. If the Caps want to stay in the mix for the playoffs next season, they’ll need all the veteran top six help they can get, especially if they’re looking to balance the aging roster with some more youth.
Anthony Mantha: Keep
Mantha was a catalyst in the regular season, after returning from his shoulder injury and selling him off now would be selling low on his value. Additionally, the Caps will really need a power forward with Wilson on the shelf.
Tom Wilson: Keep
Wilson isn’t going anywhere. He brings one of the most unique skillsets in the league: a powerful, physical, speedy winger that can pot goals and generate offense. Unless something unforeseen happens, it’d be surprising if Wilson wasn’t a Capital for long term, even after his current deal expires following the 2023-24 season.
Lars Eller: Trade
The Capitals can clear some cap space by trading out Eller, who saw his role and effectiveness diminish this past season. The Capitals have younger and cheaper alternatives for the third line center spot in Connor McMichael and Aliaksei Protas. Eller likely won’t return much, likely a mid-round pick, but the cap space and a spot for younger legs is worth more than the pick.
Garnet Hathaway: Keep
Hathaway has been a steady presence in the Caps’ bottom six. He is elite, defensively, and helps reduce the pressure on Wilson to be the enforcer on the ice for the Caps. Hathaway can help solidify the bottom six with younger linemates and his cap hit is affordable.
Conor Sheary: Trade
Sheary does not have an expensive contract, which makes him an attractive option for cap-strapped contenders that need middle six wing help. Sheary’s skill set and play style is extremely similar to Joe Snively, and Snively is younger and cheaper.
Nic Dowd: Keep
The Caps extended Dowd recently, and for good reason: he’s been consistent and as prototypical of a fourth line center as you could get. Dowd is an effective penalty killer and one of the Caps’ better performers at the face-off dot.
Connor McMichael: Keep
McMichael is going to be an option for third line center, especially if the Caps go out and acquire a rental second line center to fill the gap in the lineup left by the injured Backstrom. The big question is, does Peter Laviolette give him the minutes he needs?
Joe Snively: Keep
The Caps should keep Snively around, especially if they deal Sheary. He can fill in a playmaking wing role in the middle six, and generated offense at an effective level before his hand injury ended his season. Snively is only 26 and is signed at an $800k cap hit for the next two seasons, making him a great option for the Caps’ depth.
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby: Keep
Jonsson-Fjallby is a perfect option to replace the injured Carl Hagelin on the fourth line left wing. His playstyle is very similar to Hagelin and was a PK ace in Hershey. The main difference is Jonsson-Fjallby has a better shot than Hagelin does and could end up potting more of those breakaway chances he generates using his speed.
Marcus Johansson: Cut
Johansson is a pending unrestricted free agent, and likely one the Caps will let hit the open market. The only reason the Caps should consider re-signing Johansson would be if he takes the league minimum and plays more of a depth role.
Johan Larsson: Cut
Larsson filled in well on the fourth line for the Capitals after he was acquired to replace Hagelin in the lineup. The Capitals have cheaper options in Jonsson-Fjallby that can take that spot on the fourth line, and the Capitals have bigger needs than bottom six help. Larsson should hit the open market.
Carl Hagelin: Trade
Hagelin is on an expiring contract and will likely be on the LTIR for the rest of the season. Why trade him then? If he does come back, that’s $2.75M in cap space that the Capitals will have to account for on the active roster. Teams that need to hit the cap floor (like Arizona) could use his contract to get there. Hagelin’s contract is perfect in that regard, since his cap hit is $2.75M but his true salary for this season is only $1.8M.
John Carlson: Keep
I’m sure there’s a fair bit of the fan base that thinks that the Caps should trade Carlson. If the right move is there, it could make sense, but there aren’t a lot of teams that are looking for a 32-year-old offensive defenseman with four years remaining on a contract with an $8M cap hit. Carlson is an important piece of the current Capitals’ core group and is still one of the best offensive defensemen in the game. Perhaps his role should change a bit since he’s not that effective, defensively.
Dmitry Orlov: Keep
Orlov was one half of the Caps’ best defensive pairing last season and is probably the Caps’ most gifted two-way defensemen. He’s on the last year of his current deal, which would make him a possible extension candidate for the Capitals.
Nick Jensen: Keep
Jensen was the Capitals’ best defenseman last season (if you follow his goals above replacement value). He’s also on a deal that expires after this season at a reasonable cap hit of $2.5M. It’d be surprising if the Caps don’t try to keep him around longer after this season.
Trevor van Riemsdyk: Keep
van Riemsdyk was a solid option on the backend last season and showed versatility in the fact that he was playing on his off-hand side all season long. It’ll be interesting to see how he performs back on his strong hand side with more than likely a new defensive partner.
Martin Fehervary: Keep
Fehervary started his first full NHL season on a strong note but appeared to hit a wall after the new year. It’s definitely not time to pull the rug out from under one of your most promising young players. It may be better for Fehervary to work with a more stable defensively-focused partner next season.
Matt Irwin, Michal Kempny, and Justin Schultz: Cut
Irwin and Kempny didn’t see a ton of ice time with the Capitals last season and the Caps have younger and cheaper options in the pipeline to step into depth roles. Justin Schultz is likely going to be out the door with an underwhelming 2021-22 campaign. The Caps will likely slide Trevor van Riemsdyk back to the right side of the third pairing and will look for another left-handed defenseman to join the fold.
Ilya Samsonov: Trade
Samsonov has shown flashes, but generally has not played up to the Caps’ expectations. Since Samsonov has a first-round pedigree, he could likely return a bit more in a trade than his counterpart in Vitek Vanecek.
Vitek Vanecek: Keep
Vanecek had the better season in 2021-22 but faltered in the playoffs to give way to Samsonov. Vanecek has a lower overall ceiling than Samsonov, but Vanecek has shown more consistency and would be an ideal option to pair with a more veteran goaltender.
The Caps will likely keep most, if not all, of the core group around for the 2022-23 season. The main question is, do the Caps part ways with prospects to bring in more NHL-ready talent like Vancouver’s JT Miller, Winnipeg’s Pierre-Luc Dubois, or other high-end talents? Time will tell.
By Justin Trudel