As the NHL trade market continues to change, the Washington Capitals are watching closely and sticking to their strategy. At the same time, they ponder several potential moves in regards to cap space and certain players. Then, there’s Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Despite speculation and rumblings that Washington is ready to move on from Kuznetsov, general manager Brian MacLellan clarified “that’s not exactly the case.”
“He’s a good player, we like the player,” MacLellan said in regards to Kuznetsov. “We’ve never said we’re trading Kuznetsov. I said we’re open to discussions on most of our players for the trade market. If it comes up, it comes up, and if it doesn’t make sense, same as always. It’s never been ‘we’re moving Kuznetsov’ as it’s been portrayed in a few places.”
The Russian center struggled with inconsistency and off-ice issues in 2020-21. He tested positive for COVID-19 twice and missed a total of 17 games on the COVID-19 list and as a healthy scratch. Through just 41 regular-season games, he posted nine goals and 29 points, and his .71 points-per-game was the worst of his career since 2014-15. He did, however, boast an impressive CF% of 56.7, his highest since 2015-16.
Right now, the Capitals face a cap crunch heading into free agency and still have to re-sign Alex Ovechkin and come to terms with RFA Ilya Samsonov. Kuznetsov’s contract carries a heavy $7.8 million AAV, and clearing that salary would open up some space for Washington.
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However, MacLellan said the team is going to base its decisions on how much cap space they end up needing. He’s confident Ovechkin will re-sign by a and anticipates a bridge deal for Samsonov, which shouldn’t break the bank too much.
“We have a couple days left. We got free agency, [we’ll] see what happens in the draft market,” MacLellan said. “We’ll try to balance all those things out to get to the spot we need to be.”
In regards to a blockbuster deal, such as the ones we’ve seen unfold over the last few days, MacLellan said that’s not quite the Capitals’ strategy.
“There’s a lot going on obviously with other teams and players being interchanged,” MacLellan added. “I don’t know that that’s the game we’re playing. We’re playing kind of a different game there. As we approach free agency, what we’re trying to accomplish will come more into play than the bigger trades that are going on now.”
Taking that into account, there’s definitely the possibility that Washington elects to give the 29-year-old another chance to prove his worth, especially if the right deal doesn’t come along. Right now, MacLellan said he likes his forward group and also mentioned he has a lot of faith in center Lars Eller, who also subbed in as a top-6 forward this season for Kuznetsov.
Right now, Kuznetsov remains in D.C., but the trade market is still ever-changing, and the right deal could present itself. For Washington, that means staying patient and seeing where things stand going forward.
In regards to No. 92, he made it clear he wants to remain with the Capitals in his exit interview.
“I like this team. I like to be here, and this organization, the team, did a lot of good things for me, and I believe I done some good things also,” Kuznetsov said. “It’s like a long marriage, right? Sometimes in family situations, [things] happen when you have to go through some tough moments… I want to be here. I want to be with these guys.”