Things aren’t going well at all for the Washington Capitals. Not only are a number of key guys injured, but the team is also struggling to find chemistry on offense and seeing the playoffs get further out of reach as the race intensifies and losses mount for D.C.
Washington is 10-12-3 and failing to get much going on offense beyond Alex Ovechkin, Conor Sheary and T.J. Oshie. Evgeny Kuznetsov, while leading the team in assists with Dylan Strome, isn’t getting much done in the goal-scoring department and is experiencing his own inconsistency. Meanwhile, Anthony Mantha isn’t playing to his full potential, and Lars Eller and the bottom-6 isn’t clicking.
It also doesn’t help that Nicklas Backstrom (hip resurfacing surgery), Tom Wilson and Connor Brown (ACL surgery) are all out of the picture. Carl Hagelin (hip surgery), Dmitry Orlov (lower-body injury) and Beck Malenstyn (hand surgery) are also missing. And to make matters worse, Darcy Kuemper and Martin Fehervary joined the injured list on Sunday with upper-body injuries.
Taking that into account, how are the Capitals planning to dig themselves out of this, and what’s the best solution going forward with plenty of hockey left to play and points still up for grabs?
For general manager Brian MacLellan, the only way out at the moment is through.
“It’s tough for an LTI team,” general manager Brian MacLellan said in a presser in Calgary. “You know, [Backstrom and Wilson] are making progress. We have to make room to have them in the lineup. To help our team, you would have to add a high-end guy, top-6 guy. But they’re $5 million, $6 million. You can’t add that player while you’re bringing two guys back from LTI. That’s why we say our top guys have to carry us to that point.”
READ MORE ON WHN: Washington Capitals Locker Room Reacts To Losing Kuemper & Fehervary, Defeat In Calgary
And he’s right. There’s not really an option for a trade for a big name right now. Backstrom has been making progress, taking part in a few skates with the team in a non-contact jersey. It appears that the recovery from the highly-experimental procedure, which has ended some NHL careers, is going better than expected, and it’s’ becoming more realistic that he could return at some point this season.
Meanwhile, Wilson is also skating on his own and progressing, and his initial timeline has him pegged for a late December/early January return. MacLellan also added that they’ll know more about No. 43 in the next two weeks or so.
Both Backstrom ($9.25 million) and Wilson ($5.166) combine for a cap hit of roughly $14.4 million. That’ll be a lot of money coming back on the books, and even with the other names on IR, there won’t be room to bring in another top scorer. However, when they come back, the top-6 will certainly look a lot better.
In the meantime, though, it’ll come down to guys like Mantha to step up to the plate. Mantha, whose $5.7 million cap hit is the fourth-highest among forwards, needs to pick up the production and play up to the standards of a top-6 winger. The 6-5 forward has the skill and talent to do so, and once he gets going, the team will have an instant boost in secondary scoring.
WHN FEATURES: After Getting Lost In Mix Due To COVID, Conor Sheary Finds Identity With Washington Capitals
It doesn’t just come down to him though; it also falls on the shoulders of Kuznetsov to put in 100 percent each night, while Eller and more can work on finishing their chances.
However, at the March 3 trade deadline, deals will become more of an option for Washington, as the Capitals will have a clear idea of where they stand and what position they’re in going as the 2022-23 campaign comes to a close. At that point, they can evaluate their assets, which include a number of pending UFAs, and start planning for the immediate or distant future.