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Silber: Why Capitals Didn’t Go For Stars Like Kadri & Why It’s The Right Call



Could Kadri be an option for the Capitals?

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the floodgates opened for the start of 2022 NHL Free Agency, the Washington Capitals weren’t looking at the big names or the potential blockbusters.

There had been some speculation that bringing in some star power could be a possibility, especially after Nicklas Backstrom‘s hip resurfacing surgery — a procedure that has ended the careers of quite a few NHL players. Plus, Tom Wilson‘s ACL recovery will hold him out until December, and Carl Hagelin‘s future remains up in the air as he works to get his depth perception back.

So, star players were thrust out into the rumor mill. Colorado Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri seemed like a good fit. The 32-year-old center is coming off a career year, where he dished 28 goals and 59 assists for 87 points in 71 games, while also winning 49.7 percent of his draws. With Backstrom and Wilson out, he could definitely bring that playmaking prowess, as well as that No. 43 grit and physicality. He is also fresh off a Stanley Cup and could bring that pedigree to the table.

Then, there was J.T. Miller. The 29-year-old was sitting close to the top of several NHL leaderboards after dishing 99 points with the Vancouver Canucks. He was on the trade market and would have a hit of $5.5 million for this season but would require a long-term deal afterward. A rental service wasn’t exactly a possibility as he pondered his next destination.

Still, despite the chatter, general manager Brian MacLellan said before the market opened that there wouldn’t be any blockbuster signings.

“It’s not like we can go out and sign a $9 million player,” MacLellan said.

RELATED: MacLellan Gives Update On Backstrom’s Plans To Return To Washington Capitals

And here’s why — Backstrom intends on returning at some point this coming season, and Wilson will be back in the lineup two months into the season. With those two potentially coming back, along with Hagelin (if he does manage to play again after suffering a ruptured choroid), that would be roughly $14 million coming back on the books after they are activated from the long-term injured reserve.

Kadri’s next deal is projected to come in at over $8 million — and he is still on the market considering his options. So, bringing on that kind of salary wouldn’t mean keeping him, and having to deal him away for nothing would be useless in the end. Plus, his numbers have fluctuated over time, and he is coming from a team with a lot of fire power. Would that carry over to D.C. alongside the likes of T.J. Oshie and Anthony Mantha? That uncertainty with his future, as well as the team’s desire to bring in youth, wouldn’t work well.

NET GAIN: How The Washington Capitals Pulled Off The Ultimate Solution To Their Goaltending Problem

The same applies to Miller; though he’s shown some more consistency and flashes of greatness with a couple of 70-plus point campaigns over the last few seasons, having to sign him to a multi-year extension — for quite a bit of money — after this season wouldn’t work. Especially with Dmitry Orlov, Conor Sheary, Nick Jensen, Trevor van Riemsdyk and more requiring new contracts.

“The salary cap is the salary cap,” MacLellan added matter-of-factly. “We have to plan for Nick coming back at some point. [We need to] use that [LTIR] space as his salary.”

Plus, the Capitals didn’t just need help on the forward lines. The main priority was netminding after the Ilya Samsonov/Vitek Vanecek experiment didn’t work out. With both out of the picture, GMBM needed to bring in proven, experienced goalies, and he brought in 2022 Stanley Cup champion Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren. Also, there was the need to fill Justin Schultz’s void on defense and address the departure of Michal Kempny.

So to solve the forward line solution, MacLellan added two cheaper names — and it was the right call. He acquired 28-year-old right-wing Connor Brown from the Ottawa Senators, a proven 20-goal scorer and penalty kill who can fill the voids for Wilson on the PK, at even strength and even on the power play as a versatile top-6 guy. Meanwhile, 2015 third-overall selection Dylan Strome is ready to bring more to the table following his buyout from the Chicago Blackhawks after a career year. The 25-year-old is still young and has plenty of upside, can win draws and make solid plays.

WHN FEATURES: Strome Ready To Begin New Journey With Washington Capitals

Brown and Strome carry cap hits of $3.6 million and $3.5 million respectively. Both are cheaper solutions to the team’s problem, which could be temporary if Backstrom does manage to come back. And given his optimism, willpower and ability, it’s not out of the question. Both are on one-year deals and pose a low risk with the possibility of a high reward.

So, in the end, a splash wasn’t the answer. But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been change. And that change we have seen may just be what gets Washington past Round 1 for the first time in four seasons.

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Stephen Fischer

Do you think that Nick Backstrom (given his injury) is ever again going to play at a $9.2m/year level? A $4.6m/year level? Would the fans accept a diminished level of performance for three years?

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