With the Washington Capitals eliminated from the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the focus in the District shifts toward the 2023-24 NHL season. There are plenty of ways that they could tackle this offseason, which will arguably be the most important that Washington has seen in years, with the team still wanting to make the most of captain Alex Ovechkin’s twilight years. NoVa Caps lays out the possible strategies that the Capitals could use during the league’s “silly season.”
Option 1: Run it back
Washington missed the postseason for the first time in nine years and was without center Nicklas Backstrom, right-wing Tom Wilson, and defenseman John Carlson for most of the campaign as well as right-wing T.J. Oshie for a modest amount of it.
The team could view this season as an anomaly and trim around the edges of what they currently have but not make any major changes.
However, given the ages of most of the players and the team’s league-worst 12-21-3 record (.375 points percentage) after a 6-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on January 5, which ended a stretch where they went 15-3-3 (.786), the third-best in the NHL, since November 23, that seems very unlikely.
Option 2: Change the role players, keep core intact
Washington could choose its guys going forward – likely captain Alex Ovechkin in addition to center Nicklas Backstrom (because of their meaning to the franchise), right-wings Tom Wilson (leadership, production, ability to change momentum of a game and shape of opponents’ rosters) plus T.J. Oshie (leadership, energy, personality, production), defenseman Rasmus Sandin (young, skilled, strong two-way player, just gave up a first-round pick to acquire), perhaps goaltender Darcy Kuemper (who signed a five-year contract on July 13, has played admirably despite playing behind a struggling team), and anyone who has signed a contract extension since January 1 (center Dylan Strome, left-wing Sonny Milano, left-wing Nicolas Aube-Kubel, defensemen Nick Jensen and Trevor Van Riemsdyk).
While Washington could look to make big changes outside of those guys, they could keep more of their contributors (center Evgeny Kuznetsov, defenseman John Carlson) that they view as important to the organization and make changes around to the supporting players (like center Nic Dowd and left-wing Anthony Mantha as examples).
A fresh, younger cast with a balance coming from the AHL’s Hershey Bears and outside of the organization around the main players could be a breath of fresh air for the core and change the chemistry up. Of course, Washington would need to ensure that they get market value for whoever they move and not just make deals to make them.
Option 3: Youth Infusion
Left-wings Conor Sheary and Carl Hagelin, right-wings Craig Smith and Connor Brown, and defenseman Matt Irwin can all become unrestricted free agents on July 1.
Instead of replacing them with veterans via free agency or trade, Washington could replace them in-house and attempt at giving players such as centers Connor McMichael and/or Hendrix Lapierre, defenseman Alexander Alexeyev, and left-wing Beck Malenstyn shots at become full-time NHL players for 2023-24.
With some (or most) of the players under contract for next season, Washington could make deals to bring in more youth. Though, such deals would likely be made involving players who can make an immediate impact (like they did with Sandin).
While Washington’s prospect pipeline has improved over the past couple of years, it is likely no gold mine of possible game changers so help outside of the organization will be necessary.
Option 4: Make significant change(s) to core
Washington entered this season on the heels of four consecutive first-round exits, suggesting that they were bound for a further drop at some point.
It could very well be time for a key piece, not Ovechkin or Backstrom, to be traded. Kuznetsov reportedly had a request to be dealt on the table for two years, though he shot it down recently. Carlson could be another option.
The challenge for Washington and a team making such a deal with them would be a way to make the money work as Kuznetsov counts a hefty $7.8 million against the NHL salary cap for two more seasons while Carlson is signed up for $8 million for three more.
Washington would likely have to find a trade partner in a similar situation: needing a spark that could happen from a major move. Examples of possible types of shake-ups could include Kuznetsov in a package for a center such as William Karlsson of the Vegas Golden Knights, J.T. Miller of the Vancouver Canucks, Brayden Schenn of the St. Louis Blues, or center Nick Schmaltz of the Arizona Coyotes; and Carlson in a deal for defensemen Jared Spurgeon of the Minnesota Wild-type acquisition.
The Nashville Predators took such an approach in 2016 when they traded captain Shea Weber to the Montreal Canadiens for defenseman P.K. Subban, which benefitted them as they advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history the next season and won the President’s Trophy the following campaign. 2017 was the first time in franchise history they broke past the second round of the postseason.
While Washington is in a much different position now than Nashville was then, a major shake-up could be a possibility.
Option 5: Blow it up
Washington has made it past the second-round one time with Ovechkin and Backstrom and is 7-16 (.304 winning percentage) in the postseason since winning the Stanley Cup in 2018. It was no secret before this season that the team’s contending window is nearing its end.
So, they could opt for somewhat of a fresh start. Under this approach, the six players mentioned previously in addition to anyone who just signed a contract extension would stay in Washington but looking past them, all other balls are in the air.
Some replacements would be promoted from within the organization while others could be acquired via free agency or trade. This would give the team more of somewhat a fresh start while keeping the parts that they value.
This offseason will be the most important Washington has seen in a very long time as the Capitals hope to make the most of Ovechkin’s final years while doing what is best for the post-Ovechkin team. We listed a lot of ways Washington could approach this season and there are many more possibilities as well. Ultimately, the team will have around two months to figure out what their plan is leading up to the 2023 NHL Draft on Wednesday, June 28. Whatever it is, expect a very different-looking team when Washington opens training camp in September.
By Harrison Brown
Or Option 6 -All of the above
Half of this years team is staying put, the defense which is middling at best is locked in barring a FA which might affect Alexeyev (just let him play)
Getting out from under Mantha, Kuznetsov, and Carlsons contracts would be a major boon to bring in some much needed younger top end talent
Along with the overall success in Hershey there are some intriguing players that hopefully make the immediate impact the current team needs
Also the next head coach will show if major changes need to happen because if this core fails again this will be the third coaching staff that couldn’t lift this team
All of the above is impossible. That’s why they are broken into options. 🙄
Here’s what they need to do this Offseason, Acquire 1 way or another a top 6/25 goal+ Winger and via trade, cut or otherwise Dump Mantha and let Craig Smith Walk.
Here’s best options- Without blowing up the future talent pool or the roster in general. Something like Vlad Taresenko on right term 2-3 yrs 5mil per. 40 goal ceiling but more likely 25-30 bc inconsistent at times. A Vrana reunion. Hes got the speed& he never should’ve been let go. He’s scored 9-10 goals in STL in like 20 gms. Mantha entire season production. Or trade route, if Leafs decides to break it up after early exit Mathews and Nylander are coming up get 1 of them.. I’ll give up McMichael or something if you landed a AM34 or something truly Significant.
But not for These mud level trades like Schmaltz etc
Don’t Stephenson McMichael!
You won’t be getting Matthews for McMichael. This isn’t fantasy hockey. Even in fantasy hockey, that McMichael and picks for Matthews is a tough sell. Get real.
Excellent analysis Harrison!
New question for you and NovaCapsFans Staff:
What should be the Caps’ strategy with its Coaching Staff?
Thank you! And fresh start, not necessarily that it’s all on Laviolette.
I mean, a lot of Caps fans are anxiously awaiting PL’s departure. But it wouldn’t be an incredible thing to see him back for the last of Ovi’s tenure. They could see that there’s no use getting a good young coach until they actually rebuild!
In seeing these options and then thinking more in reality, I wonder if it’s even possible to break anyone from the core players? To me, Orlov was one. Look how the D played without him and Carlson injured. Not too good.
Of the top 6 I think only Wilson would be greatly desired but he shouldn’t be moved anyway. Bmac usually does what he says and HE SAID he would like to ADD a top 6 player. So I think he keeps it simple and does this.
I don’t see him trading anyone out because no one would want them (backy, kuzy, oshie) and for their own reasons.
Caps will be fighting to get into the playoffs next year but I would hope that the season and overall health next year give them a better shot at it. Even if they sneak in next year, they will have a better chance with Boston dropping a bit. Boston will have less cap space with bonuses to Bergeron and Kreji coming due on next years cap. I doubt they can keep Orlov and Hathaway, They will want more than Boston will be willing to pay them.
Boston was forecasted to miss the playoffs when this season began. They had two proven players in their prime, and one of them, Pastrnak, had gone through an injury riddled and fairly unproductive season in 21-22. Marchand and Bergeron were well into their 30s and showing their age. And the situation past Bergeron at center was so bad they had to pull Krejci back out of Czechia at age 37. Against all odd, they are having one of the best seasons in NHL history. What could make that happen for the Caps? Nothing could do it. We don’t have a Pastrnak. We don’t have a Charlie McAvoy (although we can hope Sandin turns into something special for us).
So what is our path to meaningful contention? 1. we win the draft lottery and trade that pick for two players with Pastrnak potential. 2. Great comeback seasons from Backstrom and Kuznetsov (assuming the latter is not part of the trade in part 1). 3. Much less reliance on Oshie and Carlson. They’re very good when they’re near 100% and they are near 100% about 20 games a year these days. So what very, very good players would be available in trade for a Connor Bedard?
Having said this, if we win the lottery the smarter move is to keep the damn pick and accept that the handshake promise to Ovechkin has been overtaken by events and the rebuild is on. Barring a major infusion via trade using assets the team does not currently have, we’ll be a mediocre team at best next year.
This is a team game that the owner does not get. If Ovie is satisfied to play for a mediocre to bad team his last years just to get a record that says a lot about him.
IF the Caps were to win the lottery they ae better off keeping the pick, taking Bedard moves Strome to 2nd line and either Backy or CMM on the 3rd and Dowd on the 4th. That leaves Kuzy as trade for either picks and you will probably get a 1st and a 3rd and maybe a high if not ready prospect. That gets Kuzys’ contract off the books. Next trade Calson and Oshie probably getting a 3rd or mid prospect for both. Thus freeing up more cap and now have 1 open slot and if you want to go out and sign a UFA D-man you have the money and slot for him.
However, first the owner has to decide which is more important getting a record or being a Cup competitive team. He also ahs to realize that they are NOT mutually exclusive. Then they have to sign a HC and staff and sit down as a unit (GM, owner and HC) and decide the direction that this tam is to take: being mediocre or less for the next 3 to 10 years or start the rebuild and become a competitive team for the Cup!!
I love your take here as far as the rebuild is concerned. As for what chasing the record says about Ovie, I think chasing the record does carry some reputational hazard for him and the team. If the team becomes terrible — which it may do, record chase or no — he and the chase will be targeted. It could get ugly. But the organization has decided that this record would be a great accomplishment for the entire franchise and I heartily agree. I don’t think Ovechkin is a paragon of moral virtue — he’s pure id out there on the ice — but he has been the heart of this team and he has made Washington into a hockey town. I believe he said specifically he wants another Cup and that’s why he didn’t want a rebuild. I don’t think a rebuild hurts his chances of getting that record, and the fact that the team has brought in offensive players like Sandin, Strome, and Milano will only help Ovechkin.
Great come back season for Backstrom? Really. Backstrom is trash, no better than a mediocre 4th liner. He’s been the death of this team this season. No way they’re doing anything good next season if he’s still in the line up. They’re not building a competitive team with that 9.2 millions penalty.
Great break down of the potential paths this summer. I know they will never label it a “rebuild” but I think we see a lot of changes this summer.
I think a lot of teams are shying away from complete tear it down rebuilds anyway. There is no guarantee that you’ll stumble on a generational talent in the draft and even if you do, it’s not guaranteed it will work out. Just ask Buffalo (remember the Eichel drama) who took i don’t know how many tries to finally make a push for a wild card. In the Western conference Dallas and LA started missing the playoffs a few years back but didn’t get rid of their core headliners like Benn, Seguin, Kopitar and Doughy. They’re now in good shape again. At the end of last season a lot of people were yelling for a Bruins sell-off. I think you can do a soft rebuild without gutting everything that made teams good in the first place. It’s also good for young players to be on the same team with veterans who know how to win and expect to win every night.
I might be wrong but I think Kopitar and Doughty put a stop to the rebuild (2021?) that the GM wanted to do. They then switched gears and brought in Arvidsson and then Danault and Fiala and boy do they look good now.
If the players are calling the shots, then the GM should be fired.
You could say the same about the Caps, but that’s clearly the owner meddling, and telling his GM to do things in a manner to placate their aging star.
Dallas is a slightly different situation, in that they were coming out of bankruptcy, with a new owner, in 2011. When Leonsis bought the Capitals, they were a stable franchise, but the Stars were a mess. Tom Gagliardi had to reorganize the entire front office, from GM to team president. They got lucky with some good, late drafting, some shrewd trades, and then hit a home run, by winning the lottery in 2017, and drafting Miro Heiskanen. Then they got unlucky, when their handpicked young coach had a substance abuse problem, and left the team (he’s now coaching Boston to a record setting season). They’ve been very competitive since 1996, with only one losing season (the Capitals have had more), and several deep playoff runs (the Capitals have had two, to the Stars 5). I don’t know where everybody’s getting this idea that Dallas is such a lousy team. People need to research.
I feel like you should have every player that is close to being NHL ready playing these last few games to see what you have.
As long as you have over $20 million tied up in Kuz, Backy , and Mantha the outlook isn’t good.
Sad to say but deciding what players to keep and which go is 3rd on the list of thing to do this summer and before the draft. First the owner needs to decide which mean more a record or being in the playoffs as a legitimate Cup contender. If he decides the record then there is no need to change anything including the coaching staff. However if he decides that being a winning team and contending for the Cup then the 2nd thing to do is decide on the HC and staff. Once the HC and staff are in place and the owner has decided which is more important (realizing that if he decides that he wants a playoff team and a Cup contender he will still get the record, I truly believe that the owner thinks that those are to separate and unequal things and that is why he is so desperate to keep this deteriorating core together.) then let the purge begin and trade players for either younger players or picks. Players to be traded need to have several years on their contracts like Kuzy and Oshie (if anyone wants a 36 year old often injured player), Carlson, Down, Milano, Jensen and TVR and Backy if anyone will take him. Let the PURGE begin!!!
A winning and competitive team will provide a much better opportunity for Ovi to get to the record. Although he can get the record on a lousy team, the odds of achieving it and getting to it quicker requires a competitive team. Let’s hope Caps ownership and management realizes that.
My off-season and next season organizational plan:
Trade Carlson and Kuznetsov, buy out one of Oshie/Backstrom and tank, tank, tank.
While we have some good, mid-tier D prospects, we don’t have a genuine, two way stud, in the organization. There’s one available in the 2024 draft, Aron Kiviharju. He’s torn up the men’s league Liiga, as a not quite 17 year old. He’ll probably be the next Miro Heiskanen, who was drafted one spot ahead of Cale Makar, and might be a better long term producer, due to staying healthy.
Seems like a lifetime ago, during the Poile-era, that we always had a stud D, or two, or even three, like Hall of Famers Langway, Murphy and Stevens.
Just wishful thinking on my part. Terrible Ted won’t let us be more than a playoff bubble team, till Ovi breaks the record.
There is a market for Kuzy but not one for Carlson, Oshie or Backy. Kiviharju would be a great pick however you have to remember the Caps don’t draft players from Finland. Ted forgets that Ovie is going to score no matter if this team is a playoff team or not. I wish Ovie would tell Ted to either make this team a playoff team, trade him or he will retire. I honestly do not understand how Ovie can stand playing for a mediocre team at best for the last 3 years of his career just to get a record. IF he is good with that and does not demand Ted invest in players to win games to be a team that makes the playoffs and runs at the Cup then my opinion of him changes drastically.
Like I said, wishful thinking on my part. I do think there’s a market for Carlson, because he checks a lot of boxes. Right handed shot, can put up points, Cup experience, all of which are things teams look for, and will pay for. Now would they get market value in return…..? Meh. Probably not. But I think he could be moved. I didn’t suggest trading Oshie, I said buy him out.
There would definitely be a market for Carlson. He brings more than most in the forums realize.
Too many answers on here are the same typical DC Sports fan rhetoric “Sky is falling ” non sense.
Caps don’t need to sell off everything nor will they. If they had a top 6 winger who produced like a top 6 winger should 25 goals& 50-60 pts atleast instead of Mantha dead weight they are a playoff team.
Its simple move or buyout Mantha, however it needs to be done. Let Craig Smith walk.
Seek out a top 6 goal scoring winger via trade or free agency. Reunion with Vrana, Taresenko on 2-3 yr 5mil per deal etc. Trade for Willy Nylander if Leafs try to move a piece etc
I don’t look at it as “the sky is falling”. I look at a sell-off as the best long term solution, and the quickest way to rebuild, and become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender again.
But hey, if you’re happy being a playoff bubble team, maybe squeaking into the 2nd wildcard next year, and a 4 or 5 game loss to the first seed, be my guest. Let’s get Tarasenko, or William Nylander, and continue to be mired in mediocrity. I really hated our Cup run in 2018. It was SOOO boring giving up my summer nights to scream in delight, at Ovi’s goals, or Holtby’s saves. And I didn’t have tears in my eyes when Ovi lifted the Cup. Who needs it? First round playoff losses rock!
Retooling has not worked for the last 5 years but if that is what you want then be prepared for this same type of team for the next 3 years before the become really bad for probably 5-8 years and maybe even 10. You really want Varna back? I don’t see that happening. As for Taresenko I don’t see him taking $5 million a year to be in Wash. At the age of 31 and a UFA he is going to get offers in the $7 and $8 million range. Also don’t see Nylanders’ almost $7 million contract fitting in Wash and don’t see Toronto trading him for peanuts.
I agree that they will not sell off everything but they should sell off pieces and reduce the cap hit and keep it that way for several years until they are ready to be competitive.
TO get a top 5 scoring wing you have to be able to take his contract or give him one and who do the Caps have that other teams would want to give up a top 6 forward? And please don’t say Mantha s he is worth nothing. So how much of the teams future do you mortgage to obtain a top 6 forward?
I like options 3 and 4. I think the full rebuild is out based on what Ted Leonsis and Brian MacLellan have stated re: Ovi’s final years.
Its a shame that Ovie is happy with that and playing on a mediocre to lousy team for his last 3 years just to get a record and salary.
Only f**king moron would think that Ovie is happy with the state of this team.
On player personnel changes, I figure Mantha is traded. My guess is they can find a taker as he has just one year left on his contract. Caps could trade him for a small return and take back salary. Better to have just one year of dead money than two. They probably would not need to pay a prospect like the Ghost Bear deal with Arizona.
There’s probably a good chance that Kuzy is gone, if he has expressed unhappiness with the team. The catch is … replacing him at center. They do need to go younger (as I mentioned in my comment on Harrison’s FB post yesterday.
Given that this season has had such a horrible finish, as in worst team in the league since Jan 6 level bad, if next season starts off the way this season is ending, it will be time to blow up the team as much as possible.
In one way, it’s hard to evaluate the real level of the Caps, due to so many horrific injuries. But current group would be on double secret probation for next season and if it starts off really bad, it will then be time for a rebuild.
I don’t believe any rebuild is going to work with current coaches and their current schemes. It would be like putting Ursain Bolt in a wheelchair. And I’m just not convinced yet that Caps are not going to re-sign Lavi.
My guess is that the next few years are about helping Ovechkin chase the record. Outside of that, I don’t think we’ll see too much movement till Backstrom and Ovechkin are gone.