After missing the playoffs for the first season in nine years, it’s been somewhat of a cruel summer for the Washington Capitals.
Three roster players, including last season’s fifth-best scorer Conor Sheary, signed elsewhere. The team opted to gamble on Max Pacioretty, fresh off of two torn Achilles’ tendons in 12 months, who came at a bargain price amid the team’s cap situation. But the Capitals were quickly tapped out in free agency, limiting the team’s roster turnover headed into next month’s training camp.
Any major roster move is tough to be had, but that hasn’t stopped Brian MacLellan from trying to find an upgrade in the team’s top six.
“I think we had a few discussions at the draft that might carry forward or might not carry forward,” MacLellan, the team’s general manager, said Monday. “We’re comfortable where we’re at. We’d still like to make a change, but we’ll see where it goes here before camp.”
The Capitals have no cap space, according to CapFriendly, making a free agent signing nothing short of impossible. A trade, allowing the Capitals to swap salary for salary, would simplify things, but there have been a lack of takers for what the team has been offering.
Earlier this offseason, the Capitals were willing to trade Anthony Mantha, according to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, but made little progress on that front. Mantha, who has yet to tally 30 points in a season in Washington, drew little, if any interest.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, who is also emerging from an uncharacteristically down year, has been the center of a multitude of speculation, primarily on whether he is looking to stay in Washington or would prefer being moved elsewhere. The Nashville Predators were reported to have kicked the tires on Kuznetsov, who has two years remaining at a $7.8 million cap hit, but no deal came to fruition.
Acquiring talent hasn’t seemed to be a priority around the league, according to MacLellan.
“There’s a lot of chatter, but I think there’s a lot of frustration with — seems like a lot of teams have players but no space and money,” MacLellan said at June’s NHL Draft. “It’s not really hockey trades that are being discussed, it’s how-to-create-space trades, so it’s frustrating I think for managers in that way.”
In part, the primary reason is the lack of growth from the salary cap, which has jumped a mere $2 million since the 2019-20 season.
“Ideally, I think everybody would like a little room to play with and you’d probably see more action then,” MacLellan said.
Capitals training camp will open on Sept. 20, before the team’s first scheduled preseason game on Sept. 24. The regular season opens on Oct. 13.