With free agency approaching on Wednesday, teams across the NHL will look to improve for the 2022-23 season and beyond. While it is obvious that the Washington Capitals are in need of a starting goaltender after trading Vitek Vanecek to the New Jersey Devils on Friday, there could be other areas where the team may look to get better in as well.
In this post I’ll take a look at where the team stands entering free agency and where they could strive to upgrade.
After trading Vanecek, MacLellan said the Capitals will be “in the discussions about all the goalies” this week. The team is expected to acquire a starter soon after Samsonov, who finished the regular season 23-12-5 with an .896 save percentage, a 3.02 goals-against average, and three shutouts despite an 11-1-1 start where he posted a .916 save percentage, a 2.42 goals-against average, and three shutouts through December 9, and Vanecek both could not run with the starting job after picking it up at numerous points last season. At five-on-five last season, Samsonov finished with a .904 save percentage (including .785 at high danger), 2.77 goals-against average, and a -11.59 goals-saved above average (-9.41 at high danger). He also earned an .855 save percentage and 0.70 goals-saved above average on the penalty kill.
The goalie that the Capitals acquire this week will mentor and work with Samsonov to make up the team’s tandem. The Capitals have been linked to pending unrestricted free agents Darcy Kuemper and Jack Campbell in addition to Anaheim Ducks netminder John Gibson and Jake Allen of the Montreal Canadiens (who have reportedly set a high asking price), who are both currently under contract.
The Capitals have plenty of options up front already but the lines included in the organizational depth chart (below) could see some adjustments. Sheary is a natural left-wing and could play that side either next to McMichael or Eller and Mantha could slide next to either, especially after he showed some chemistry with Eller last season.
The Capitals have an opening at right-wing with Wilson out until anywhere in between Thanksgiving and the NHL All-Star Break. Leason would probably be the current favorite to come up to the NHL level in his spot if the team does not go after anyone to play in that role via trade or free agency. It is possible that Oshie could start the year on the third-line given his age and the fact that he missed 38 games due to injury last season.
Protas could compete for a spot at the NHL-level after earning three goals and nine points in 33 games in the big league this past regular season.
On defense, the Capitals are set in their top-four but could look to add another blueliner with Schultz expected to be let go. Van Riemsdyk could play either side but assistant coach Kevin McCarthy prefers his defensemen to play on their strong side. Lucas Johansen, who put together a strong season with the AHL’s Hershey Bears as he earned eight goals, 28 points, and a +20 rating in 62 games, was recently re-signed to a two-year contract, which is two-way for this season but one-way for next. Given that the Capitals gave him a two-way deal for the upcoming season, they hinted that they are not expecting the 24-year-old to be in the NHL lineup full-time in 2022-23. There could be a good chance that GM Brian MacLellan will pursue a bottom-pairing defenseman in free agency.
Pending unrestricted free agents: Johansson, Larsson, Schultz, Kempny, Irwin
After four straight first-round exits in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and with an aging core, changes could happen in Washington this week (and maybe even beyond) which could include shake ups in certain areas. The depth chart shown above will likely not be the Capitals’ opening night roster but there is some work to do if they want to salvage another Stanley Cup out of the current core, especially with Wilson and Backstrom expected to miss the start of the season.
Who knows? The Capitals’ outlook for the 2022-23 campaign could look different in a matter of just a few days.
By Harrison Brown