Keep, Trade Or Cut? Who Should Stay And Who Should Go On The Washington Capitals?


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.

FORWARDS

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.

DEFENSEMEN

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.

GOALTENDERS

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.

Conclusion

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

About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager. Justin enjoys geeking out over advanced analytics, roster construction, and cap management.
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21 Responses to Keep, Trade Or Cut? Who Should Stay And Who Should Go On The Washington Capitals?

  1. Anonymous says:

    I agree with everyone but Sheary. 20 goal scorers at his cost don’t grow on trees. Caps were trying to extend him, which I think they should.

    • I’d be okay with keeping Sheary too. I just think that Snively plays the same type of game, and I’d rather a 26-year-old be in my lineup than a 30-year-old.

      • Anonymous says:

        Snivley has played all of 12 NHL games who knows if he will make it long term in the league. Until last year his numbers hadn’t been anything spectacular in the AHL either. It is very unlikely someone all the sudden breaks out and becomes a top 9 NHL player after showing no real signs of it until he is 26.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Flip the goaltenders and I agree… You keep the Goalie w/the higher ceiling and you ship out the goalie that appears better on paper.

    Maybe change ‘Cut’ to UFA…we can’t get people to stop saying ‘we signed so & so’ when it was a trade acquisition….

    • I was contemplating having Samsonov and Vanecek listed together saying “keep one, trade the other” haha. I think I’d rather keep Samsonov too but maximizing trade value might be key for a team that doesn’t have a lot of assets. Thinking more down the line — getting more picks will allow the Caps to go after bigger fish in the trade market when the cap issues are a bit more settled.

      I kept it keep/trade/cut because it’s a familiar concept for fantasy football. Tried to make it clear that “cuts” don’t really happen unless it’s in preseason camp and they’re sent back to the minors, or a team chooses to buy someone out.

      • Jon Sorensen says:

        I’ve been flipping between the two as well. Can’t remember a position battle where I had such a tough time deciding on the best player. In the end, who brings greater return in a trade seems counterintuitive, but it might apply here.

  3. Franky619 says:

    Buy out Backstrom or go back in time and trade him a year before the end of his contract.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Caps could get out of paying big buyout dollars if he goes on long-term injured reserve. I’d expect that to happen for at least the 2022-23 regular season. As for the time machine..I need one.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Trade Jensen and sign or trade for top 4 LD. Have enough right D.

    • Jensen has been going under most folks’ radars. He was tremendous last season and I don’t think he’s getting enough credit for it. What if I told you that Jensen was a top ten defenseman in total value above replacement last season? Would you still want to trade him?

  5. Anonymous says:

    I would move Eller and Hags for sure… the money can be better spent on the D. I am very confident in the F pipeline but little worried about our D… Hated the Siegs trade and thought a solid D like Siegs at his age was worth a late 1st or early 2nd.. wanted to keep him but.. I say keep keep Connor S and Joe S….

  6. steven says:

    NO problem trading Eller adn hags but is ther a market for them where we dont have to toss in a pick. Also have no problem trading Sammy and shocker Carlson. Look at Johansson and Larsson to not be resigned along with Schultz and Kempny. Keep Irwin as the 7th or 8th D as he is cheap and plays well after sitting for long periods. NOt only put backy on LTIR but ask him about eithre retiring after the year or waiving his no trade clause if he doesnt. Sorry TJ but due to age you are on the trading block immediately. Play as many of the young guys as possible giving then much needed experience as this team is not in a position to make a Cup run. I would rather start the rebuild now than wait 3/4 years and then have it last 5/6 years.

    • Franky619 says:

      Problem with the young guys is that there’s no one worth playing. Caps have one of the worst farm system in the league. Bunch of 4th liner, 6th or 7th Dman.

  7. Lance says:

    I expect Eller to play in DC this year since Backstrom will be out. Eller is still a solid 3C and I don’t see a way to improve on him without giving up a lot in return. Kuzy at 1C, McMichael at 2C, Eller at 3C, Dowd at 4C. Far from the top C corps in the league but no a bad group.

    Ovie – Kuzy – Wilson (Protas/Leason)
    Mantha – McMichael – Oshie
    Sheary – Eller – Snively
    Axl – Dowd – Hathaway

    Extras: Pilon, Hags

    Fehervary – Carlson
    Orlov – Jensen
    Lucas – free agent

    Extras: Alexeev, Irwin

    Sammy
    Vanicek

    Extras: Fucale

    I love Eller but if there’s a decent return I’d consider trading him to be free of the salary. But his salary is fair for the time being. I’m ok with Jensen in the bottom pair. He gets outclassed by good teams in the playoffs but he competes well in the regular season.

    If there’s a goaltender available that BMac really likes that would be a bold trade or signing worth doing. John Gibson or Hellybuyck would be very interesting. Sammy has the physical skills but I don’t think his compete level will reach that of a top 10 NHL goalie. And he probably has some trade value. If so, trade Sammy and replace him with someone better. Vanny can back up or be traded out as well.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Lance, please remind me of your philosophy. You are in favor of a full rebuild, now, I believe. Play all the kids noe, let them learn on the job, etc. if that’s the case, I like your lineup.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Keep all the non UFAs for now. When the trade deadline comes around next season and returns are at their maximum we should offer everyone on the list other than Ovi, Kuzy, McM, Fever and Wilson.

  9. Scottlew73 says:

    Can’t include Coach & GM on this cut list???

  10. Anonymous says:

    Well they only got rid of our goalies Shultz Larrson pretty much kept everyone else. Ellers Hagelin staying

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