2020-21 record 36-15-5, 77 points
2nd in the MassMutual NHL East Division
Eliminated in the First Round by Boston
Additions: F Michael Vecchione, D Matt Irwin, D Dylan McIlrath, G Hunter Shepard
Subtractions: F Daniel Carr (NL), F Phillippe Maillet (KHL), F Michael Raffl (signed with DAL), D Zdeno Chara (signed with NYI), D Brenden Dillon (traded to WPG), D Paul LaDue (signed with NYI), G Craig Anderson (signed with BUF), G Henrik Lundqvist (retired)
Still Unsigned: D Cameron Schilling
Re-signed: F Axel Jonsson-Fjällby, F Shane Gersich, F Beck Malenstyn, F Alex Ovechkin, F Garrett Pilon, F Michael Sgarbossa, F Joe Snively, D Lucas Johansen, D Bobby Nardella, G Ilya Samsonov
Where do I put him? G Vitek Vanecek (expansion, SEA, acquired from SEA, then re-signed)
Offseason Analysis: The Capitals keep telling themselves they can win another Stanley Cup title in the Alex Ovechkin Era, but after three-straight years of First Round exits– most recently in five games to the Boston Bruins– despite being the higher seed in each case might tell you something.
This team is getting old.
The core isn’t as young as they used to be and now Washington is scrambling to piece together some semblance of a run, which will undoubtedly cost them valuable pieces of their youth if they let it go to their heads– as already seen by trading Jakub Vrana for Anthony Mantha at the deadline.
Though it may be unpopular with fans, it would’ve made more sense to try to get T.J. Oshie to submit a list of teams he wouldn’t agree to be traded to and try to save yourself $5.750 million per season through 2024-25 that you could spend elsewhere.
Caps General Manager, Brian MacLellan, didn’t have much to do this summer, because Washington is sticking with their guns whether it works or not.
They’ve tried it before– though with minor recurring character changes– and somehow it worked in 2018, surely it can happen all over again!
MacLellan was more focused on signing Ovechkin to an extension.
Despite the superstar forward’s scoring prowess, he is 36-years-old. That’s not to say that he won’t be able to usurp Wayne Gretzky for the most goals in National Hockey League history– especially if he plays for another 10 years– but it is worth noting that it’s generally not a good idea to hand out a five-year extension worth $9.500 million per season.
That’s sealing your fate right there.
Washington could win another Cup and everything is forgiven or Ovechkin’s cap hit comes back to bite the Capitals in the long run, regardless of increases in the cap ceiling down the road.
Ovechkin could get hurt. Then what?
Sure, there’s the long term injured reserve, but what if he can never play again? Now you’re out of your best talent and the rest of the supporting cast isn’t good enough to carry the show on their own, like The Office after Steve Carell left.
Think about it.
A 40-year-old player with a $9.500 million cap hit is unheard of– especially in the salary cap era. Luckily for the Caps, Ovechkin is only 36-years-old for now.
If Ovechkin would’ve been fine with a two or three-year extension worth even just a $500,000 less per season than his current cap hit– you offer that extension.
Once it starts reaching long-term status, that’s when negotiations should’ve gone from “whatever you want” to “whatever you want, within reason”.
Whether Ovechkin stays or leaves is ultimately “whatever he wants” and, ultimately, the same is true with his new extension.
Who knows, maybe in three years, Ovechkin will request a trade or something. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Anyway, the Seattle Kraken took Vitek Vanecek in the expansion draft only to turn around and trade him back to Washington for a 2023 2nd round pick a week later.
At least the social media teams had fun with it.
Seattle got what they wanted from elsewhere and yielded a 2023 2nd round pick in the process, while Washington just… …opened the door and let him back inside from the rain.
Vanecek went 21-10-4 in 37 games with a 2.69 goals-against average, a .908 save percentage and two shutouts in that span last season while emerging as the de facto starting goaltender for the Capitals after Ilya Samsonov had bouts on the COVID-19 protocol list interspersed with some inconsistent play.
Samsonov went 13-4-1 in 19 games with a 2.69 goals-against average, a .902 save percentage and two shutouts in that span. In 2019-20, he went 16-6-2 in 26 games, amassing a 2.55 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage as well as one shutout.
While both goaltenders are considered viable at the NHL level in Washington, there’s going to be a larger sample size to analyze which one is really better in the long run.
There’s also no safety net if the healthy competition goes awry and with roughly $668,740 in cap space, things could get ugly– and fast.
It’s not like the Capitals are teetering on the edge of a rebuild, but one more year of a First Round exit might thrust them into reactionary maneuvers instead of carefully crafting an exit strategy into a seamless transition from the old core to a new core– whatever that may be.
Craig Anderson, Zdeno Chara and Brenden Dillon are gone.
Anderson was going to retire until the Buffalo Sabres remembered they needed to sign a couple of goaltenders to play in the upcoming season like. Chara went back to the New York Islanders.
Dillon, meanwhile, was traded to the Winnipeg Jets on July 26th for a 2022 2nd round pick and a 2023 2nd round pick, so that seems like a pretty good selling point for a defender that fell victim to the Caps’ cap crunch.
The offense remains the same, the defense is intact and the goaltending leaves a little something to be desired.
Washington proved the hockey world wrong when many said they should dismantle the team heading into the 2017-18 season. Can they recreate that magic again?
Offseason Grade: C-
Ovechkin might have signed a lucrative deal for a player over 35, but Washington’s tight squeeze against the salary cap isn’t the biggest question right now.
Whereas when Braden Holtby began his regression to his present-day form with the Dallas Stars, Samsonov was just a young backup getting a pass for a respectable 2.55 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage in roughly 1/4 of the season.
That was in 2019-20, when Holtby had a 25-14-6 record in 48 games with a 3.11 goals-against average, an .897 save percentage and no shutouts in that span.
When one goalie faltered, the other goalie could step in and fill a hole.
Entering 2021-22, Samsonov and Vanecek have both shown the same results. The former, however, may play a bit too aggressive, while the latter is more tactical in style– as long as he’s healthy, but nevertheless each had a 2.69 goals-against average in their respective stints last season.
There’s no clear-cut winner for the starting job from day one. At the very least, that’ll be good motivation for whoever wants it more.
Other than that, Washington shouldn’t be too worried about regular season results. It’s when it really counts that matters (so… …making it out of the First Round).