Evgeny Kuznetsov has long been in the crosshairs of trade rumors.
Last season alone, there was talk that the 30-year-old center requested a trade from the Washington Capitals, the team with which he has spent the entirety of his NHL career. And this offseason has done little to extinguish that notion.
With the entry draft a week away, and free agency starting shortly after, could the Capitals ultimately move on from Kuznetsov?
The Case For Keeping Him
Part of the appeal of keeping Nicklas Backstrom around, amid the 35-year-old’s health problems, is his familiarity with Alex Ovechkin, who is chasing the all-time scoring record. Kuznetsov would likely fall into that category after 10 seasons in Washington while, as of Jan. 23, he’s collected the third-most assists all-time on Ovechkin goals.
And while Kuznetsov’s 2022-23 season was uncharacteristically unproductive — 12 goals and 43 assists in 81 games — he is only one season removed from a 78-point season across 79 games. He tallied 24 goals that season, which is the second-highest total of his career, and could be a welcome presence with Backstrom surrounded by questions and T.J. Oshie set to turn 37 in December.
Kuznetsov’s $7.8 million cap hit accounts for almost 10% of the Capitals’ payroll. While the idea of getting his contract off the books and having more cap flexibility is always appealing, a move may be short-sighted as the 31-year-old has been generally productive on the ice, excluding last season.
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The Case For Moving On
All signs point to the notion that Kuznetsov, who has spent his entire NHL career in Washington, wants to go elsewhere. A May report from a purported friend of Kuznetsov’s — which was not confirmed by Kuznetsov or his agent — aligns with his alleged trade request toward the end of the season, and where there is smoke, there is fire.
Relocating Kuznetsov would make some sense for the Capitals on the ice, as Kuznetsov struggled to produce last season. One year removed from a near-point-per-game season, the 31-year-old tallied 55 points in 81 games — his second-worst scoring rate since becoming an NHL regular during the 2014-15 season.
However, with Kuznetsov being only one year removed from his best NHL season, there is still some value in regard to a trade. With two years remaining on his deal, he’s not a rental — and the thought of taking Kuznetsov’s $7.8 million AAV off the books sounds pretty appetizing, to say the least.