What is the next step after another exit of the first round?

By on May 24, 2021 0

In 2018, the Capitals finally defeated their demons and made the climb to the top of the NHL’s tallest mountain, winning their first Stanley Cup.

That was a long time for an organization that had only experienced playoff frustration and disappointment its entire existence, and for a core that was more defined for second-round losses than the all-time great superstar who made it. head of programming.

In the three years since they successfully lifted the cup, the Capitals have maintained their status as one of the best teams in the league.

Their 125 regular season wins are the third most important in the league (behind only Tampa Bay at 141 and Boston at 126), they have won two division titles and finished in second place this season thanks to a breakout. equality. They are still good. Very good. But as their core begins to age a year, and another year slower, and another year withdrawn from this championship, the playoff success has almost entirely dried up.

[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Their 3-1 loss to the Bruins on Sunday ended in a five-game first-round outing, the third year in a row they failed to advance to the playoffs, something that had never happened before. Alex ovechkin time. What is more worrying than the losses is the path they lost, gradually getting worse and more and more unmoved with each passing year.

They have won just five of the 17 playoff games they have played since the Cup relaunch and at times seemed to be close to the teams that knocked them out.

So what’s next?

You know Ovechkin will be back (even though he’s technically a free agent). You know Nicklas Backstrom Will be back. As long as these two are on the roster, you can be sure that the Capitals’ management will do everything in their power to try and win again. And frankly, that’s the only way to work in this situation. But how do they build a list around these two who can win again? There are big questions to answer this offseason.

the Evgeny Kuznetsov situation

This could be the most interesting situation to watch this offseason.

Kuznetsov is 29 years old, he has four years left on a contract that carries a cap of $ 7.58 million, and by the time he entered the COVID roster for the second time this season, there were rumors that the Capitals may be ready to consider listening to trade offers this offseason.

This is a delicate question.

There are reasons the Capitals have some frustration here. When he was part of the roster for the past two years, he was not the influential player he once was. His offense dropped, defense was never a big part of his game, and his overall game was just relatively ordinary. At least by the standard he set for himself at his peak. If you trade now, you are doing so at what might be its lowest possible value and the return might not be what you expect. There probably isn’t a huge roster of teams lined up to trade for a 29-year-old one-dimensional forward with a big salary cap who hasn’t been a game-breaker offensively for two years. This is especially true when the salary cap does not increase this offseason.

So with that in mind …

How about something daring

While Kuznetsov’s value is probably at its lowest, there is another player on the roster whose value could be at its peak.

Maybe you are exploring this?

This player – Tom wilson.

Capitals fans will revolt at this suggestion, but listen to me.

While opposing supporters, the media, and anyone not associated with the Capitals hate Wilson’s style of play, there is a group of people in the sport who absolutely love and love him. There are 31 of them and they are the general managers of the NHL.

Each of them crawled miles of jagged rocks and broken glass to have a player like Tom Wilson on their team. They can’t get enough of this guy. A big, powerful 6-4, 220-pound forward who shakes the cages, defends and scores over 20 goals? You speak of a hockey people’s dream player. Each of them, especially those in the Eastern Conference, are always on the lookout for someone to counter Tom Wilson. What if the Capitals put the real Tom Wilson on the market?

Not to say that they to have to exchange it. Not even suggesting that they should trade it.

But does it hurt to pull out a few feelers and see if an overly aggressive GM loses his mind. I bet at least one of them would.

For all the talk about ‘heavy hockey’ and how players like him are essential in the playoffs, he hasn’t had much of an impact in the last three playoffs, and you also have the X factor. of him being misplaced or knocked inadvertently away to withdraw from the roster for a long time.

The Capitals need a spark. They have to get younger and faster, and they have to do it inexpensively given the salary cap situation. Ovechkin and Backstrom are not going anywhere. We could probably say the same for John carlson. Kuznetsov (contract, recent piece) and TJ Oshie (age and contract) might not bring you huge returns. So what else do you have?

Anytime a player’s perceived value exceeds their actual value on the ice, it’s probably a good time to consider buying them. Wilson could be at this point in the eyes of opposing GMs. So why not explore?

The worst case scenario is you don’t get an offer you like and just keep a good player.

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Is the right goalie on the list?

Then there is the goalkeeper situation. After a decade of reliability and consistency with Braden Holtby, the Capitals entered this season with the uncertainty of an unproven starter (Ilya Samsonov) and a random backup situation that no one expected.

Overall, their game could probably be best described as “good”. They weren’t a handicap, but they weren’t game thieves either. Coach Peter Laviolette said following their playoff loss that goalies weren’t the reason why they weren’t moving. But that didn’t really do much to keep them from losing. Samsonov is a restricted free agent, so some sort of decision will have to be made here. How confident are you that he is the guy? Do you bet on raw talent and natural ability and commit to the goalkeeper you’ve scored as your long-term starter for years? Or are you exploring exterior options? Old friend Philipp grubauer would be interesting if the Avalanche couldn’t re-sign him.

The Capitals still have the heart to compete, even though he’s older and nearing the end of his run. But there are still big questions to address this offseason to help them get out of the first round.

Adam gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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