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WHN Mailbag: Capitals Trade Talk, Injury Updates, Laviolette’s Future

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Despite usually being one of the best teams in November, the Washington Capitals are off to one of their worst starts in recent memory. Washington is 7-9-3 to open the 2022-23 campaign. And so far, amid the injuries, uncertain timelines, losing record and other factors, there are only more questions than answers.

So, we reopened the WHN Mailbag to answer those burning Capitals questions and discuss the state of the team.

@ivancapsrock5 — Should the Washington Capitals make a move at a certain position? Who?

Looking at the current record and chemistry at 5-on-5 and special teams, it’s clear that things just aren’t working for Washington offensively right now. The forward lines don’t appear to be meshing, there’s disorganization when trying to make plays and passes and opportunities just aren’t connecting. And, at the other end, the blue line isn’t showing much chemistry either.

Taking all of that into account, I see a move for a center or wing. The Capitals need consistent scoring and someone who can make plays and get the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Anthony Mantha going.

On Friday, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman suggested on 32 Thoughts that Washington may want to consider Bo Horvat if Nicklas Backstrom doesn’t end up playing again. It would be a good choice, as he can win face-offs, make plays and score goals.

Patrick Kane’s name has also come up in speculation, though there aren’t official reports pointing to general manager Brian MacLellan reaching out about No. 88. Still, like Horvat, Kane can score and make plays, and he’d also likely provide a boost on special teams. Plus, with Tom Wilson still recovering, T.J. Oshie out indefinitely and Connor Brown going down for the season, having another right wing who can put up top-6 numbers would be key.

I could also see a move for a third-pairing defenseman. Things just aren’t clicking right now with the blue line, as it lacks chemistry all around. There are also a number of pending free agents, especially on the blue line, so having another d-man come in whose contract goes beyond this season could be a smart option.

@linds7788 – When will we see Tom Wilson back? (Editor also addresses Nicklas Backstrom)

Right now, it’s tough to say. Back in September, Wilson himself said that he was “ahead of schedule” in his recovery from offseason ACL surgery in May. However, the 28-year-old has yet to skate with the team, though he has taken steps skating on his own with the likes of Backstrom. He’s also been around the facility and rehabilitating. No. 43 is coming off a 52-point All-Star campaign, and clearly, the team is missing him. Not only can he be a physical presence and add a spark to that top line, but he’s shown that he can score goals.

His timeline still has him pegged for a January return. However, all injuries are different, and there’s no current timetable right now. Washington’s not going to rush anything, especially with a number of key players missing. He must fully recover to get back to his form from last year. So even know the exact date is unclear, there’s still plenty of time to go, so he could make more progress soon.

READ MORE ON WHN: Washington Capitals’ Nicklas Backstrom Opens Up About Hip Surfacing Surgery, Tough Decision & Optimism

As for Backstrom, it’s the same case. He’s skating on his own and working out. He’s pain-free, but hip resurfacing surgery is an intense procedure that is very difficult to return from. So, Backstrom’s future remains a bit uncertain. Still, he is optimistic that he’ll be back on the ice for D.C. at some point, even potentially at the end of this year.

@pleaseremainclm — If everyone’s back by the end of January, what’s the Washington Capitals lineup? Who is gone?

It’s tough to say right now, especially because of the uncertainty behind these injuries. Right now, it doesn’t look like Nicklas Backstrom is going to be back by January, and Connor Brown and Carl Hagelin are likely done for the season. T.J. Oshie remains out indefinitely, but he has skater. Still it’s unclear when exactly he’ll be back. And of course, Tom Wilson had an original timeline that anticipated a late December/January return, but as mentioned, he hasn’t skated with the team yet so it’s unclear how much longer before we see him back on the ice with the club. Dmitry Orlov has been out with a lower-body injury but has been skating and travelling with the team, so he could be back by then. And then, of course, Beck Malenstyn, who appeared to win the Carl Hagelin spot, is out until January.

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However, if several injured names do come back, there will be moves to make with the roster maximum of 23 skaters. While the team has mentioned the desire to keep Connor McMichael up with the big club, he doesn’t have to clear waivers and could go straight to Hershey, and given he’d be the odd man out as the stars come back, sending him to the Bears for more development is the right move. It’s also possible Malenstyn goes back to Hershey, as he was initially an injury replacement. One also has to question whether Aliaksei Protas would return to Hershey, as he’s been quiet at times and hasn’t been able to maintain the level of play that helped him make the opening night roster.

As for roster players, I could see the Capitals moving Lars Eller, though this is strictly my opinion. If Backstrom does eventually come back, that’s an influx of centers, and Dylan Strome has outperformed Eller to this point, as No. 20 has continued to experience inconsistency.  Plus, he’s a pending UFA with a $3.5 million cap hit, which would offer more cap flexibility to make room for the salaries coming back on the books.

@fortis1051 – There were reports that Peter Laviolette would get an extension. Is that still the case after the uninspiring start?

I think it really depends on the standings at the end of the season. Is he currently on the hot seat? Not necessarily, even with the current record. His run in D.C. hasn’t been easy amid a global pandemic and numerous injuries to top players. So I’d say things would really, really have to take a nosedive to lead to his dismissal this season. Also, there needs to be a solid replacement out there.

Why? His contract expires at the end of this season, anyway. There’s the chance things turn around, especially when those injured names return. So, giving him a chance there with a healthy roster would make a difference, as that’s one of the major things that’s impacting the club.

That being said, whether he gets an extension does depend on how this season ends. While I don’t believe he’d get fired unless things completely collapse, Washington can just elect not to extend him and then search for another coach. Just my two cents, though.

@drakonvetra – Are the Washington Capitals more inclined to keep their first-round pick?

I’d say so. Going into 2023, Washington’s missing a third and sixth-round pick. I doubt the Capitals give up a first-rounder this season and go into a pretty solid draft with just three selections, with their first coming in the second round. Plus, if things continue to go downhill, they could end up with a higher pick, and giving that up won’t be easy unless the return is really something that would make a huge difference for the club.

Also, the core is aging and the Stanley Cup window is closing, and those first-rounders are the future. And with Hendrix Lapierre and Ivan Miroshnichenko making noise as they develop, those picks could pay off big time.

@carterstand3 — So… what’s up with the Washington Capitals and this start to the season?

As I mentioned above, it’s a myriad of things. The injuries are a major factor, but also, there doesn’t appear to be chemistry throughout the lineup. It’s a very tight-knit room, but on the ice, things just don’t seem to be clicking right now. That applies to the 5-on-5 scoring and power play, which isn’t cashing in. You need goals to win hockey games, and those aren’t coming easy right now.

Then, of course, is the consistency through 60 minutes. The Capitals have gotten off to several rough starts that see them trailing early and chasing games, and then there are other times when Washington will give up the lead.

One thing’s for certain: goaltending is not the problem. Amid the rough play in front of them (there appears to be disconnect on the backcheck), Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren have done what they can to keep the Capitals in games.

So, all of those factors could combine for struggles. Whether it’s a trade or some kind of change that ignites a spark remains to be seen. Right now, the ball is in management’s court.

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