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WHN Mailbag: Ovechkin’s Next Deal With Capitals, Kuznetsov’s Future

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The Capitals face offseason questions, from Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

The 2021 Expansion Draft is getting closer and closer, with free agency starting shortly after. All the while, the Washington Capitals are bracing for an offseason that could see significant change.

Pending UFA Alex Ovechkin is due for an extension, Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s future hangs in the balance and Seattle has plenty of top-tier Caps to choose from.

In our first-ever mailbag, we take a look at Ovi, Kuzy and other loaded questions heading into the offseason.

*Editor’s Note: The inaugural mailbag questions were sent through Twitter. We’ll open it up to those on Facebook, Reddit and other social media accounts going forward. So be sure to follow us and share your thoughts.

WHN Mailbag

If the Capitals choose to move on from him, what kind of return for Kuznetsov should we expect? (@TyMBelt)

Right now, reports are signaling that Washington wants to move on from No. 92. According to Frank Seravalli, the team is “tired of Kuznetsov’s antics” and it may be time to move on. Sure, the Capitals could expose him in the expansion draft and have Seattle take him. However, it’d mean that they’d lose him for nothing in reutrn, and letting a 70-point scorer with All-Star potential walk away for nothing is far from ideal — especially considering it leaves a major void at center.

So, if Brian MacLellan does choose to let Kuzy walk this offseason, I see it happening through the trade market. He’s too talented to just get rid of, and I’d see the return being a top-6 center or a couple of roster players and a draft pick. His $7.8 million cap hit will also be a major one for another team to take on, so the Caps may even face potentially having to retain salary.

I still stand by my opinion that Washington should give Kuznetsov one last chance to start 2021-22. After all, he’s capable of being one of the NHL’s elite; he just needs to have the right mindset. But ultimately, I’m not the GM.

READ MORE ON WHN+: Should Capitals Give Kuznetsov One Last Shot At Redemption?

What is your guess on what Alex Ovechkin’s next contract will look like with the Capitals? (@ChrisCaps08)

I personally stand by the “blank check” policy for Ovechkin. He’s the captain, the greatest goal scorer of all time and the foundation of this roster. The 35-year-old managed to not only climb up to sixth on the all-time goals list this season (he sits one goal from tying Marcel Dionne for fifth), but he also put up another 22-goal campaign despite time on the COVID-19 list and an injury down the stretch. He also led the charge in the postseason with four points through five games against Boston.

Ovechkin currently carries a $9 million cap hit following his historic 13-year, $124 million deal from 2008. However, the cap has gone up since then, and so has the level of pay. That being said, I personally wouldn’t be surprised to see something in the $10-11 million range. One thing’s certain: he’s staying in Washington. He said he wants to finish his career in D.C., and the feeling appears to be mutual for the Capitals. That being said, I expect them to work out a deal that gives Ovechkin a respectable amount.

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How much tolerance do you think Ovechkin has for playing on the Capitals if they are not making the playoffs? If he wants to chase Gretzky’s record, it appears that will go beyond our expected ability to contend. (@svartey)

Washington’s third-straight first-round exits aren’t ideal, but that doesn’t take aay from the fact that this is a team capable of being a Stanley Cup contender. Injuries and adversity got the better of them through 2020-21, and having a full season (hopefully) unimpacted by COVID-19 will show what this team is truly capable of.

At the end of the day, it’s evident that Ovechkin’s priority is to win another Stanley Cup rather than break the goal record (still would be incredible to see). I don’t really see a world where he gets “fed up” or has a low tolerance to remain in D.C., even if something happens where the team struggles to make the postseason. The team has a good culture and a playoff-caliber group; they just need to keep the foot on the gas and stay healthy. If they can do that, contending shouldn’t be an issue.

Regardless, though, Ovechkin was adamant that he wants to finish his career here and built his legacy as a franchise player, so I can’t see a lot forcing Ovechkin out at this point. He knows what it takes to win, he’s won a Cup in D.C. and he wants to win another here.

If the Capitals lose Vitek Vanecek to Seattle, who do you think is brought in? In house option, sign cheap vet, trade? (@LukeAdomanis)

The Kraken could have several appealing options from Washington, including Kuznetsov, Lars Eller, Conor Sheary, Carl Hagelin and more. On the blue line, only three defensemen can be protected. If Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson win those first two spots, that leaves Justin Schultz, Brenden Dillon, Nick Jensen, Trevor van Riemsdyk and more potentially for the taking — and they’d be solid pickups. However, the Capitals’ situation in net is intriguing, as the team will have to choose between protecting either Vanecek or Ilya Samsonov.

Both young netminders helped carry the load in 2020-21, but neither truly established themselves as a starter. Inconsistency got the better of Vanecek and an injury spoiled his chance to rebound in the postseason. As for Samsonov, COVID-19 issues and off-ice struggles held him back from winning that starting spot. Still, Brian MacLellan remained optimistic about the team’s goaltending, especially when it came to Samsonov’s future as a starter. That has me believing that he’ll earn that seal of protection.

RELATED: Assessing the state of the Capitals’ crease

So, if the Kraken do need a goaltender, and look past all the other names on Washington’s list, Vanecek would be an interesting pickup. He finished sixth in Calder voting and led all rookie goaltenders in victories last season. Personally, I think this kid’s going to be a top starter between the pipes in the coming years, given he continues to trend upwards.

With Vanecek out, I personally would turn to signing a veteran to guide Samsonov. As I wrote earlier this week, I think that the team should try the Henrik Lundqvist experiment again, given he’s healthy, willing to return to NHL action and available for the right price. If not, there are a lot of top free agent names out there to consider, including James Reimer, Jonathan Bernier and even Jaroslav Halak. Honestly, if we want to play the armchair GM game to the max, Marc-Andre Fleury could be a fun name to consider if Vegas wants to deal him away.  But ultimately, Washington needs a veteran leader to help between the pipes. And so does Samsonov.

What are the chances GMBM makes a deal with Seattle to take one of the more albatross contracts, with either another player or picks as incentive? (@Thecapsfan30)

When it comes to the expansion draft, anything’s possible. Honestly, I’m not too sure what Washington will do. There’s plenty of top-names that need protection. Given the Capitals’ depth, the team will lose a decent name. I personally don’t think that MacLellan will try to get Seattle to take a certain name (even considering the Kuznetsov situation), as the return could be better if he goes the trade rout and sees what other options present themselves in free agency.

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