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WHN Mailbag: Backstrom & Hagelin’s Next Steps, Capitals Offseason Plans



Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom

This summer is going to be quite an interesting one for the Washington Capitals, who face quite a few questions going into what should be a busy offseason after four consecutive first-round exits.

And with questions comes a need for answers. So, we decided to open up the WHN Mailbag again. Here are my answers and take on some of the reader questions sent my way, from player futures to free agency and beyond.

@GMUHockeyScout – Hags has admitted his vision will never be 100 percent again; is he talking clarity or possible blind spots? Is there a scenario where Hags is placed on LTIR & retires or the league makes him retire due to liability on the ice?

Back on March 1, Carl Hagelin was taking part in normal competition drills to close out practice when he took a stick blade to the left eye. That would rupture his choroid and change the course of everything.

Hagelin has been through a couple of eye surgeries to repair his choroid. To throw in a bit of ophthalmology, the choroid is a thin layer of tissue that is part of the middle layer of the wall of your eye. So, it sits between the sclera, the white outer part of the eye, and the retina, the inner layer in the back of your eye. The choroid contains blood vessels that help bring oxygen and nutrients to the eye.

While his vision will never be 100 percent, his depth perception will improve over time with eye training, which he has been sticking to. There are several players, including Marc Staal, Michael Grabner and more, that have played again after severe eye injuries. Given Hagelin’s two surgeries, and the fact that he’s back on the ice and has been training, I don’t see him being forced to retire. The injury occurred in his left eye, and in a lot of cases, players adjust by using their “good eye” to compensate.

ALSO READ ON WHN: Hagelin Opens Up About Extent Of Eye Injury, Overcoming ‘Total Darkness’

Based on his positivity and attitude alone, I believe that Hagelin will lace ’em up in the NHL again.

“It’s all about patience. It takes time, and at the end of the day, you’ve got that one good eye that’s going to carry you,” Hagelin said.

@Robostop10 – What are the odds Backstrom retires due to his hip?

Back in 2015, Nicklas Backstrom underwent surgery on his hip, and years later, the after-effects from that injury continue to linger. He took time earlier in the season to rehabilitate and took multiple steps to try and get back to full strength, from skating solo without gear to getting back into contact drills. While he came back and finished the year strong while making contributions on the scoresheet, he wasn’t at full strength, and he admitted to close the season that the hip will never be 100 percent — and that there will be decisions to make.

Backstrom wants to not only be comfortable on the ice, but he also wants to be in a position where he can help the team win. I personally don’t think we’ve seen No. 19 play his last NHL game. He will explore all options, and I doubt he’ll forgo the rest of his contract and hang up the skates when there’s still a Stanley Cup window and the potential to help his team and continue playing the game he loves.

“The best thing I want to do is play hockey, and that’s my life,” Backstrom noted. “Obviously, I want to be back. I want to be back to normal, not worrying about this. We’ll see what’s going to happen, nothing’s finalized yet.”

@dcarnevale44 – Which member(s) of the Caps veteran core (8, 19, 92, 77, 74, 9), if any, is most likely to be playing for another team this fall?

I don’t see the Capitals shaking up the core. Alex Ovechkin isn’t going anywhere. While Nicklas Backstrom’s status remains up in the air, he’s not playing anywhere else. Evgeny Kuznetsov just had a huge bounceback season, and Brian MacLellan was happy to see him rebound. T.J. Oshie, meanwhile, had a stellar performance in the playoffs — while not at 100 percent — and he brings a lot of heart and energy on and off the ice.

When it comes to the defense, John Carlson by no means had the strongest end to the season as he struggled in his own end in the playoffs, and his regular season wasn’t spectacular in his own end, either, though he did continue to put up stellar numbers on offense. I don’t see him leaving unless MacLellan gets a very, very, very good offer that helps solve another issue for Washington (i.e. a top-tier goaltender, star to help fill Tom Wilson’s void, promising prospectst/very high draft picks, etc.). Dmitry Orlov isn’t going anywhere, either. He has one year left on his deal and has likely warranted an extension following a career year, and he’s still a key part of the top-4.

@CodingCodes – What will the Capitals goalie lineup look like at the start of next season?

This one is an interesting question and perhaps the biggest one the Capitals face this summer. Washington knows that it has to bring in a goaltender, as neither Ilya Samsonov nor Vitek Vanecek could steal the starting job or maintain consistency as a No. 1. That being said, the free agent market looks pretty good (Darcy Kuemper, Ville Husso, etc.), and the team should have some space to work with. Plus, MacLellan also said the trade market is also a route the team could take. However, both Samsonov and Vanecek are also RFAs, which makes things a little bit more interesting.

That being said, I think we see the Capitals sign a starter, and if I had to choose one of those two young goalies to hold onto going into next year — and this may be the “unpopular” opinion — it would be Vanecek. Between both him and Samsonov, he has had the better numbers and has also shown longer stints of consistency. While Samsonov still has great potential, the 25-year-old has had great games, and then poor performances. Then so-so performances. And so on.

Taking all that into account, I see a veteran and either Samsonov or Vanecek as the backup option. Washington needs a winning, proven netminder after finishing in the second Wild Card spot this season and again falling in Round 1.

@freevikingb – Chances are the Capitals sign Husso in the offseason?

Just as we discussed above, Husso is one of the names that stand out. The 27-year-old Finn had a strong season, going 25-7-6 with a .919 save percentage and 2.56 GAA through 38 games in his sophomore season. In the playoffs, he struggled while coming in relief for Jordan Binnington against the high-flying Avalanche, but he still gave his all and did what he could.

While he is older, he has just two NHL campaigns under his belt. That being said, the Capitals may want to invest in someone in net with a big more experience after going with a young tandem for the last two seasons. Plus, having a veteran presence will help Samsonov or Vanecek — or both if the team elects to re-sign each of them — grow.

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