As the Washington Capitals approach the 2022 NHL Draft, free agency and development camp over this next week and a half, the team finds itself in a situation they haven’t seen in the last few years.
Washington’s depth chart has taken a major hit, and heading into 2022-23, the team needs to fill several voids throughout the lineup. Nicklas Backstrom’s NHL future remains in flux after hip resurfacing surgery, and Tom Wilson is out until at least December as he recovers from ACL surgery. Carl Hagelin’s status also remains unknown as he tries to work his way back from a ruptured thyroid that took part of his vision.
And, on top of all that, Washington has to find a proven No. 1 with neither Ilya Samsonov nor Vitek Vanecek — who are also both RFAs in need of new deals — able to take the reins and find consistency to get the Capitals to where they want to be.
In the end, there is a long to-do list for this offseason, and the team also has to address questions beyond the present about prospects and the future of the franchise.
Taking all that into account, let’s open up the WHN Mailbag and answer some burning questions heading into the dog days of summer.
Editor’s Note: Some questions have been tweaked for clarity and to avoid repetition. Thank you for submitting via Twitter @sammisilber and @WSHHockeyNow. All are welcome to participate in our mailbags.
@cnels93: Do you think the Caps will pursue a goalie via trade, i.e. John Gibson or Robin Lehner? At forward, if the priority is a second-line center and right wing, will this be solved via free agency with names like Nazem Kadri and Ilya Mikyehev as options?
When it comes to this offseason, Washington has a lot of options thanks to — potentially — quite a bit of cap space to work with. With the long-term injured reserve and some names potentially leaving, the Capitals should have quite a bit of space to work with, and the market and the trade route is actually quite deep.
Let’s take a look at goaltending trade options.
There are plenty of names out there, as John Gibson’s name has come up quite a bit in the rumor mill. The 28-year-old is a great option and an All-Star caliber goalie who can steal wins and make big saves. However, he is coming off a bit of a tough last couple of years with the Anaheim Ducks — his save percentage hasn’t been above a .904 since the pandemic — but the team hasn’t been fantastic in front of him, either. He can make a group competitive and has good playoff experience. That being said, he would be a good fit in the District as the team hopes to contend and make it past the first round.
2022 OFFSEASON: What route should Capitals take for a netminder?
Personally, I don’t see Robin Lehner leaving Las Vegas, but general manager Kelly McCrimmon did say something interesting recently on Cam and Strick: Pete DeBoer wanted Lehner as the No. 1. If that means anything, I don’t know, but it’ll be interesting to see if DeBoer’s departure and Bruce Cassidy’s welcome changes anything there (I don’t think it will, but who knows?). Sergei Bobrovsky’s name is also floating around, but he has a reputation for playoff struggles and is 33 years old with a hefty cap hit and a deal that runs through 2026. Considering all that, I don’t see him as a fit for Washington.
Beyond the trade route, there are several standout names in free agency. Stanley Cup champion Darcy Kuemper has been linked to the Capitals, and I think he’d be a great fit. He has been part of a winning culture, can steal wins and make big saves and has years of experience as a proven No. 1. The 32-year-old is older, but he could serve as a mentor to either Ilya Samsonov or Vitek Vanecek. Right now, I don’t see a scenario where Washington keeps both Samsonov and Vanecek if they also bring a starter on board. Beyond Kuemper, there’s also Ville Husso, Jack Campbell and even Braden Holtby (again, I don’t think this is likely, but that’s just my take).
READ MORE ON WHN: Do Capitals Keep Samsonov or Vanecek? Team May Have To Choose Between RFAs If They Pursue No. 1
Then, of course, there are forwards to address. Backstrom’s surgery is difficult to come back from, and it’s going to be a “lengthy” recovery process. And, without Wilson too to open the year, Washington will need secondary scoring and a catalyst on the power play.
Joe Snively, Brett Leason, Aliaksei Protas, and more are waiting for their opportunity to make the NHL roster, so I don’t see the Capitals making a splash for an expensive right wing.
So, then the attention shifts to center. Kadri is a great option, as he can play 2C and help boost the man advantage while bringing Wilson’s toughness to the table. However, he doesn’t come cheap, and his numbers have fluctuated over time. There’s also Evgeni Malkin, but there are some risks: age, recent knee surgery and future consistency.
With regard to the trade market, J.T. Miller’s name has been coming up in discussion and speculation quite a bit, and I think he’d also be a great asset.
Miller is coming off a great season in Vancouver that saw him dish 99 points. He possesses great two-way play and can be an X-Factor at even strength and on special teams. The 29-year-old is also still young, has shown he can be a consistent top producer, win draws and log heavy minutes while serving as a leader. He won’t come cheap, but he fits the team’s identity well. He also carries a $5.25 million cap hit for next season, which is better than dishing out $8 million or more for a player like Kadri.
Personally, if I had to choose, I’d go for Miller via trade and then use free agency to bring in a starting goaltender, which would be cheaper than a star center on the market. Then, the team could use the extra money to perhaps re-sign some of their pending free agents like Dmitry Orlov and Conor Sheary or even go back to a right wing conversation if they wanted.
@OwenKreeps – What will Evgeni Malkin’s reception and legacy be like in Pittsburgh if he signs with the Capitals?
Given my answer above, I don’t see Washington making a strong, strong run for Malkin. But, of course, there is the Russian connection, as he knows Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov and would click well with them.
In 2021-22, speculation indicated that Marc-Andre Fleury turned down a trade to the Capitals because he didn’t want to play for his rival after his legacy with the Pittsburgh Penguins. I’m sure the reception for Malkin switching sides wouldn’t be great among Penguins faithful. But at the end of the day, it’s a business. And if he can’t get a deal done with Ron Hextall, he’ll go elsewhere. Where that is matters ultimately to him.
@RhandyDillon – Should the Capitals try to move up or down in the 2022 NHL Draft?
I think they should stay exactly where they are. No. 20 is a great position, and there are so many good names available. Washington needs to bring in some star power and think of the future, especially with the Alex Ovechkin era ending in a few years, Backstrom’s future unknown, the core again and the Stanley Cup window closing.
Considering the depth of the draft, I wouldn’t try to move up. The team’s in a good spot and will still have high-caliber options with a lot of upside. Plus, they need assets to address other parts of a roster.
@Ivancapsrock5 – Do you think the Capitals will have a reunion with Semyon Varlamov or Filip Forsberg this offseason?
Elliotte Friedman said on his “32 Thoughts” podcast that Lou Lamoriello will trade Varlamov if he’s given “an offer so good he can’t say no,” and I can’t see the Capitals making an “all-in” major trade to bring in their former netminder. He’s approaching 35, had a great 2020-21 and hasn’t had bad numbers. However, he spent last year as a backup and costs $5 million next year. So, I don’t see that reunion personally, especially with Gibson and more top names out there.
As for Forsberg, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun said both parties are off by less than $1 million; Forsberg wants high 8 million while GM David Polie is thinking something in the low 8s. I don’t see him not staying in Nashville over that discrepancy, as he’s found great success with the Predators.
So no, I don’t see this personally. But hey, anything can happen.
@Robostop10 – Will Connor McMichael be part of any trade package out of Washington?
I can say no with a fair amount of confidence here. MacLellan sees him playing a vital role at pivot, and with Backstrom’s return to the NHL unclear and Lars Eller coming off a challenging season, the team needs him for now and for the future with the core getting older.
@ChrisLetsGoCaps – How long do you think the Capitals have before they start a true rebuild?
I think when the Ovechkin era comes to an end, the Capitals will start a true rebuild. They still have a lot of talent and firepower beyond Ovechkin – there’s Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson, Tom Wilson and even T.J. Oshie. That core has shown they can be top contributors who know how to win, and the team holds itself to a high standard as a contender each season.
Until Ovechkin hangs ’em up, I see Washington doing what it takes to win now and not doing a complete overhaul with him and the aging core wanting to win another Stanley Cup. Rebuilds take time and often, teams can take a step back during this. I don’t see that approach with the current group still in the room and the playoffs still well within reach given the roster.
@dmddusseau – Is Jesse Puljujarvi a good fit for the Capitals?
Puljujarvi has plenty of upside as a former fourth overall selection. The 24-year-old a right-winger with size and speed, and he can play the game at a high level. That would come in handy for the Capitals. While he hasn’t found consistency in Edmonton, I don’t necessarily put that on him. I just don’t think he has clicked well with the Oilers. Plus, rifts with the organization haven’t made anything easy for the young Finn.
Considering the team’s needs, he’s a solid right wing, but the RFA would have to come at a good price. He hasn’t been able to put up the numbers required for a big contract. Plus, the team has money to work with and a plethora of options in free agency. Still, he’d bring that youth factor on the table. I haven’t heard of anything linking No. 13 to D.C., but I like his style. Plus, the team needs identity on the middle-6.