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Washington Capitals

WHN Mailbag: Is Ovechkin OK? Contracts, Trades, Laviolette Future



Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin

As October winds down, the Washington Capitals find themselves in somewhat unfamiliar territory. The team is 4-4-0 through eight games to open the 2022-23 NHL season, and at the same time, head coach Peter Laviolette is working through injuries and tweaks to lines amid a lack of chemistry.

Still, it’s early, and the team insists it’s not time to press the panic button and that these are just growing pains.

Taking that all into account, we re-opened the WHN Mailbag for the month of October to answer all the burning questions about Laviolette, the Capitlas’ shaky start and more.

@AllenCaps1995/@Josephus125: Will Alex Ovechkin’s ice time drop this season as he turns 37 and needs to stay ready for the playoffs? 

Alex Ovechkin is an interesting player and perhaps an outlier from a lot of veterans. The Great 8 entered the season in good shape and crushed his skate test, and so far, has looked fast and solid to start the year. He is someone who has — knock on wood — stayed healthy for the majority of his career and has plenty of stamina, and he hasn’t really let age show when it comes to his endurance.

I don’t see his ice time dropping, especially with the team needing their top players to perform with big names injured and the Stanley Cup window closing. He still has that star power, he’s leading the team in shots (his chances are there, they just need to go his way) and he is laying the body. I wouldn’t expect his ice time to drop, and his early numbers aren’t too much of a cause for concern. If he keeps shooting and playing the way he is, good things will happen. The bounces just aren’t there right now.

READ MORE ON WHN: Washington Capitals Captain Alex Ovechkin Jokes About Ice, Strange Bounces At Capital One Arena

So right now, from the looks of it, 20 minutes a game is ideal for him. He’s still a first-line LW and a star presence and given he usually decides how much PP time he gets too (he’ll stay out the full two minutes usually), he can make it work.

Regarding his performance to start the year, it hasn’t been the most ideal start on the scoresheet. The shots are there, but the bounces just aren’t going his way. He has three goals and three assists through eight games to open the season, and at the rate he’s going, he’s on track for a 30-goal season. Still, we’ve seen this before, and have also seen games where he breaks out. I also haven’t heard anything about him dealing with any injuries.

Still, he’s playing physically, getting his chances and still working to find the right center with Evgeny Kuznetsov and him not clicking that well and him still getting to know Dylan Strome as a teammate.

I wouldn’t sweat it too much. The Great 8’s still got it, and hockey is always changing. There are good times and bad times. The good times will come soon enough.

@PaulMeisel: When Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson return for the Washington Capitals, who goes to make cap space?

Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson both skated for the first time the other day, a great step for them in their recoveries from major surgeries. However, it is still very early in the process, and both still have ways to go in their rehabilitation.

Of course, Wilson is going to come back before Backstrom, as he is pencilled in for a late December/January return after undergoing ACL surgery in May. As for Backstrom, his timetable remains uncertain, and he’s out indefinitely after hip resurfacing surgery in June.

RELATED: Nicklas Backstrom Opens Up About Decision To Undergo Surgery, Optimistic He Can Return To Washington Capitals

Given Carl Hagelin remains on LTIR and Connor Brown is now out long lerm as well, Wilson can come back without the team going over the cap, as both of their salaries will be off the books. It doesn’t look like Hagelin will be back this season, and Brown’s lower-body injury has him out indefinitely, though it’s unclear whether or not he will return. Still, surgery is not off the table.

Now, if Backstrom comes back before the regular season ends, then the Capitals will be in for some moves. Taking that into account, I see Lars Eller potentially being the odd man out. He is a UFA at the end of the season, and his $3.5 million salary would open a lot of space. Washington also has Connor McMichael and other players who can play center, which would make it easier for him to go. As for who else would have to go, the team would obviously send down some of their call-ups to make room, though there would likely have to be another move, as that wouldn’t be enough to bring down the overage.

@NoVaSpartan9: Where Do Aliaksei Protas, Connor McMichael & Joe Snively Fit In Next Season?

All three of these guys cracked the Capitals opening night roster, and it’s because the team likes what they bring to the table. Aliaksei Protas is a big body who’s done a lot to improve his skating and all-around play, and he has shown that he can generate a lot as a bottom-6 player. The 21-year-old still has room to grow, but he brings a good work ethic and also has the versatility to fit in pretty much anywhere.

As for Joe Snively, the 26-year-old has less room for further development but has shown that he can fit in on the top 6 and bottom 6 and be aggressive on the forecheck. He needs to be stronger in his own end and work on consistency, but he does bring a lot to the table.

Then, of course, is Connor McMichael. The 21-year-old has been a scratch for seven of eight games to open 2022-23, and many are wondering if he should head to Hershey at this point for actual game experience and further development with the Bears. However, Washington has made it clear that they like him up with the big club and want him to thrive at the center role.

Laviolette Shares More On McMichael, Why He’s Not Going To Hershey

Considering there are several pending UFAs on the roster, expect each of them to go from fringe NHLers to roster players, so long as they put the work in. Still, as we saw this offseason, things can change depending on who becomes available.

@GMUHockeyScout: Any whispers of any contract extensions?

As mentioned in the previous question, there are a lot of free agents, including 10 UFAs and two RFAs. Dmitry Orlov is the biggest name who could hit the market, but rumblings indicate that he will remain in D.C. and that the organization is set on bringing the longtime No. 1 blueliner back. When it comes to other blueliners, Martin Fehervary and Trevor van Riemsdyk are also two more names that the organization values, and given they shouldn’t break the bank, I would expect them to return. Though that’s just my opinon.

Beyond that, Dylan Strome has made quite the impact so far in D.C., and it’s still early, but he is already taking on a leadership role and showing that he can be a power-play guy and bring a lot to the table, so I would expect him to get an extension. The same can be said for Conor Sheary, who fits in pretty much anywhere, can shift up and down the lineup and play any role at any strength. He has found an identity on and off the ice for the Capitals, so I’d be surprised if he didn’t come back.

There will be further tough decisions made given who is available and how the team ends the season, but ultimately, I would expect those names back to start.

@RoboStop10 & Others: What will Brian MacLellan do if the Washington Capitals’ slow start continues? Latest on a Peter Laviolette extension?

Taking into account the goaltending overhaul and other offseason moves, Washington likely didn’t expect to start the season the way it did. 4-4-0 is not ideal, especially when looking at the underlying performance, struggles on the blue line and lack of momentum or consistency at 5-on-5 through 60 minutes. It’s still early, and there’s definitely time for that trend to go in a different direction. If it doesn’t, then things could get interesting.

There’s a fine amount of depth in the system, and the trade market is everchanging going into the season. If the team is in playoff position, I wouldn’t be surprised to see changes at the deadline to gear up for the postseason. If not, I don’t see a lot going on in terms of switching things around.

READ MORE ON WHN: Washington Capitals Seeing Common Theme Amid Rough Start

When it comes to Peter Laviolette‘s status, MacLellan has said that the team has liked what he has brought to the table over his three years so far.

“I’m not going to comment on negotiations, but I think everybody here is happy with Peter’s job,” MacLellan said at the start of the season. “He’s done a great job, he’s a good coach, good communicator. Done a good job with what we’ve had to deal with as a team. Good communicator to players, holds players accountable, he has a really good skillset and we’re happy with him.”

Still, given the team’s inconsistencies and struggles since, I think it will be more of a “wait and see” decision. But it does appear likely that he is not going anywhere quickly, as the team has loved having him around.

@KMackSports: If you had to challenge any roster player to a board game, who would it be?

Eller is a big chess guy. He likes to stay sharp intellectually off the ice. I’d love to go head-to-head with him in a game of chess.