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Jets’ Mark Scheifele Could Solve Capitals’ Kuznetsov Problem



Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele (55) plays against the Detroit Red Wings in the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele (55) plays against the Detroit Red Wings in the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Washington Capitals will enter the prime weeks of the offseason with — on paper — one of the NHL’s most talented teams. But how the Capitals navigate Evgeny Kuznetsov’s future contends to be the main focus.

After Sergei Fedotov, a Russian hockey agent and purported friend of Kuznetsov, spoke earlier this month about the center’s lack of drive to play in Washington, many have speculated that a Kuznetsov trade is a matter of when, not if.

Fedotov’s comments, coming a little over a month after an alleged trade demand, stoked the flames of such a move, especially after a down season where Kuznetsov tallied a mere 12 goals in 81 games plus a career-low in points per game.

“For whatever reason, he never quite found his game,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said after the regular season. “There were stretches where I thought he played well but, overall, I think he underperformed the season he had last year.”

Kuznetsov’s recent woes — which came after a near-point-per-game season — were an uncharacteristically sudden surprise, but with the aging Capitals’ window approaching closure, waiting around for him to regain his form may do more to damage the team’s Stanley Cup chances than improve them.

At 30-years old, Kuznetsov carries a reputation around the league as a cerebral facilitator who can be an effective secondary option at putting the puck in the net. One lackluster season may have done little to tarnish that reputation, and with two years left on his contract, he still stands to be a very in-demand forward if the Capitals make him available.

For Washington, any such return would require a piece to help the team win now. Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele, who himself could be made available, would check that box.

The fellow 30-year-old center scored a career-high 42 goals last season, helping the Jets narrowly clinch a wild card spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. His scoring made up for a down year in assists, where he has sat above 40 in each of the previous four seasons.

But the Jets have a difficult year ahead of them with Scheifele, veteran winger Blake Wheeler and Vezina Trophy finalist Connor Hellebuyck slated to hit free agency next offseason. With the expected loss of forward Pierre-Luc Dubois this offseason, the Jets’ front office may be better suited to trigger a retool now rather than at next year’s trade deadline, allowing them to maximize the value of any of their players.

Scheifele and Hellebuyck would likely command more than their $6.1 million salaries on the open market. While Kuznetsov’s $7.8 million is much higher that what Scheifele currently makes, a top line center with an additional year of team control could appear appetizing to a Jets team looking to make the 2024 offseason a touch easier to maneuver.

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Stephen Fischer

If Shceifele could be had in return for Kuzy, give my vote to Brian MacLellan for GM of the year right now….

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