For the Washington Capitals, summer will be a tough time going forward. And that goes beyond 2022.
Looking at this offseason, the Capitals have a lot to address. The team has to fill Nicklas Backstrom‘s void at 2C as his return to the NHL remains a mystery. Beyond that, Washington needs another right wing to serve as understudy for Tom Wilson until his return from surgery in December, and perhaps most urgent behind No. 19, the team needs a proven No. 1 netminder.
With some big names potentially needing to come in (the team has been reportedly linked to J.T. Miller and Nazem Kadri), cap space could be limited for 2023. And then, looking at the grand scheme of things, the summer of 2023 could be a major question mark.
Half of the Capitals’ blue line will require new contracts. Both of the team’s second-pairing defensemen in Dmitry Orlov and Nick Jensen, and perhaps one of the most underrated blueliners in Trevor van Riemsdyk, will be UFAs. On the forward lines, Lars Eller, Garnet Hathaway and Conor Sheary will also hit the market without extensions. Carl Hagelin is also a UFA, but his future is also uncertain as he rehabilitates from a ruptured choroid that took away some of his vision and depth perception.
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Then comes the matter of depth signings and RFAs that may be ready to make the NHL jump for Washington: Alex Alexeyev, who underwent shoulder surgery and will likely miss camp this year, needs a new contract. Goaltenders Zach Fucale and Hunter Shepard are also UFAs.
More depth in Hershey won’t be an issue with that not impacting the salary cap. But in this instance, the Capitals’ issues remain at the NHL level.
Beyond Carlson, Orlov is Washington’s No. 1 defenseman and even may be considered their top defender in terms of plain defense. Orlov did set a career-high in goals and points this season, which was arguably his best season yet, dishing 12 goals and 35 assists. He was also a plus-25 and added 124 hits and 94 blocks, and his 20:58 minutes per game ranked second behind Carlson, who had the upper hand in power-play time to contribute to his ATOI.
Orlov’s 52.42 Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 led all Capitals blueliners, as did his expected goals-per percentage (52.02). His scoring chances against (47.82) also ranked second-lowest among blueliners, less than .5 percent than leader Justin Schultz).
Given his performance, he will require a major pay raise. He is a key factor and staple on the team’s blue line, and letting him walk likely wouldn’t be a strong option for the team, especially with the Stanley Cup window closing and them requiring a defensive-minded, shutdown guy on the top-4.
Jensen also arguably had his best year yet, registering a career-high 25 points and leading the team with a +/- rating of plus-32. His GA% (36.27) was lowest among Washington’s D-corps at 5-on-5, as was his high-danger Corsi-for percentage (49.28) and HDGA% (40 percent). He also proved to be a strong top-4 defenseman and worked wonders with Orlov on that second pairing. So, he will likely require a bit of a raise, too.
Van Riemsdyk has also become an underrated D-man who put himself more on the radar. He managed a goal and 16 assists, establishing a new career-high in helpers and points. The 28-year-old also had the least amount of giveaways (19). Also, his xGA (38.48) was the lowest of the six regular blueliners. He won’t likely warrant a big pay raise, but other teams could outbid Washington as he has proven to grow into somewhat of an X-Factor.
While re-signing Alexeyev could help fill a void at the NHL level, and though TVR could get promoted, having two top-4 defenseman potentially walk would be a major loss.
Then come the forwards. Sheary plays several roles, as he can move up and down the lineup and log time on the power play and penalty kill. Eller is also someone who will likely need to stick around next year with Backstrom out but could walk after this season following some inconsistency and challenges. With Joe Snively, Beck Malenstyn and Brett Leason entering one-way deals, Hathaway could also be on the outs.
Ultimately, there are several decisions that have to be made after this offseason, and there could be a cap crunch. So we can expect the road ahead to be interesting — and even rocky — for the District.