It’s been an atypical offseason for Evgeny Kuznetsov.
The Washington Capitals center has long been the focus of trade speculation, caught up in rumors of whether he would prefer to suit up with the only NHL team he’s ever known or go elsewhere. And at a time with the Capitals handcuffed by the salary cap and seeking an upgrade, the talks make some sense.
But with a month to go until the start of training camp, it appears as if Kuznetsov will be working out his on-ice struggles in Washington.
“I think he’s a very, very important player for our team,” Capitals head coach Spencer Carbery told NHL.com. “What he’s capable of when he’s on his game is world class and that’s my challenge to help identify parts of his game, things I can help him with, put him in positions to have success.
“I have a real appreciation for the game that he plays and the style of play. I think understanding and appreciating the impact that he can have on a nightly basis when he’s on his game, there’s not a lot of players that can do what he can do. I’m going to do everything I can to help him get back to that level.”
Getting “back to that level,” as Carbery says, could very well be the team’s most important offseason move.
The recent struggles of Kuznetsov, who tallied an uncharacteristic 55 points — 12 goals, 43 assists — in 81 games, were one of many factors contributing to the Capitals missing the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons last season. He finished third on the team in points when most everyone underperformed, but his swift year-over-year decline was, statistically one of the largest.
During the 2021-22 season, Kuznetsov collected 78 points — 24 goals, 54 assists — in 79 games. His 23-point drop between the two seasons was greater than that of Alex Ovechkin, who tallied only 15 fewer points last season than the year prior.
Reaching the 70-point plateau is nothing new for Kuznetsov, who has hit the mark four times in his 10-year career. He hit his career-high of 83 points during the Capitals’ 2017-18 Stanley Cup season before collecting 72 points the following year.
Since then, he’s totaled a mere 214 points in 264 games. Over those four season, the Capitals made the playoffs three times but never advanced past the first round.
In an offseason with the Capitals searching for answers, a return to form from Kuznetsov very well could be the missing piece.
Capitals training camp opens on Sept. 20, with the team hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins in Oct. 13’s regular season opener.