2021 Washington Capitals Offseason Primer

Washington Capitals Offseason

As a shortened and hectic offseason approaches, Last Word on Hockey is looking ahead towards how teams will deal with the reality of a flat salary cap. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make. We’ll operate going from worst to best. Today’s piece focuses on the Washington Capitals offseason.

2021 Washington Capitals Offseason Primer

The Capitals are at a crossroads. They are still capable of competing for a postseason birth, but the team’s competitive window is closing fast. The roster is aging quickly and has multiple huge contracts for players in their 30s. That typically isn’t a recipe for sustained success. The good thing is that its a roster that still thrives on an older, gritty style of play that can still keep up with skill-reliant squads. The key is finding better supplemental pieces around the team’s existing stars.

Pending Free Agents

A handful of players are about to hit free agency. None is more important than future Hall of Famer Alex Ovechkin. The Russian wing remains an elite talent at 35 years old and still has an outside chance of overtaking Wayne Gretzky for the most goals in NHL history. Signing him is absolutely paramount. The next most important signing is Ilya Samsonov, but the young Russian is only a restricted free agent. He doesn’t have the leverage to cause problems or the track record to be worth an offer sheet.

The rest of the pending free agents are far less important. It shouldn’t be hard to replace ageing former stalwarts like Zdeno Chara, Henrik Lundqvist, and Craig Anderson. Everyone would love to see those three have one more run at a championship, but it will likely come outside of Washington if they even remain in the league for another year. Nobody else, not even Michael Raffl, warrants much consideration otherwise. There are far younger players ready to fight for a roster spot in 2021-22.

Salary Cap Outlook

CapFriendly’s current tracking has Washington with roughly $9.5 million in space. That is plenty on its own in most situations, but it won’t be nearly enough to keep Ovechkin and bring in outside help. Such a tight situation might necessitate trading a top-six forward just to clear space and restock somewhat for the future.

It certainly helps that nobody critical will hit free agency heading in 2022-23. That is the year that Vitek Vanecek and several others’ contracts expire, but nobody is part of the team’s main core. The team can largely focus on this year without the worry that it hamstrings them in subsequent offseasons.

Major Likely Departures

Evgeny Kuznetsov

This has nothing to do with Kuznetsov’s performance and everything to do with his attitude. The IIHF suspended him two years ago for doping as a result of a positive cocaine test. He also tested positive twice for COVID during the 2020-21 regular season, reflecting a lack of respect for the protocols his own union negotiated. Kuznetsov simply seems like an unreliable headache for the front office. He does carry a cap hit of $7.8 million through 2024-25, but his trade value should be fairly high based purely on his stats.

Michael Raffl

The 32-year-old Austrian is still a useful grinder, but there really isn’t much in his profile for Washington to consider extending. He posted just four goals and 11 points in 44 games with 71 hits and 28 blocks. However, a team might look at the 62.6 percent Corsi For and 8.3 relative Corsi following the trade away from the Philadelphia Flyers and give him another contract. It wasn’t a mistake for the Caps to acquire Raffl, but they can replicate his skill set fairly easily.

Zdeno Chara

Chara’s efforts were admirable in the past year. The big Czech contributed two goals, 10 points, 88 hits and 67 blocks in 55 games despite being 43 years old. He is can still handle himself on the ice, but it just isn’t worth bringing back a defender in his 40s unless all other options are exhausted.

Henrik Lundqvist

This is only a notable departure because of Lundqvist’s history. The future Hall of Famer tried to make one final championship run, but heart trouble ended that early in the year. Washington has enough goaltending depth between Vanecek, Samsonov, and Pheonix Copley to make Lundqvist completely irrelevant.

Major Likely Re-Signings

Alex Ovechkin

Does anyone really question whether or not Ovechkin will return to the only franchise he has ever known? He will probably cost too much money for many fans, but he has done literally everything possible for Washington during his tenure. Ovi will have earned every single cent he can win in contract negotiations when the papers are ultimately signed. Both he and management will do everything they can to put a Capital at the top of the all-time goals list by the time Ovechkin retires.

Ilya Samsonov

Samsonov is the goalie of the future even if he did give up playing time to Vanecek. He isn’t a towering presence at 6’3″, but his skills are apparent. He will have every opportunity to win the primary starting job next year.

Potential Free Agent Additions

Washington’s most glaring weakness, assuming Ovechkin comes back without issue, is improving the depth on the blue line. John Carlson is great, but he can’t do it all by himself. The unit could use another quality body on the left side to help support the team’s main defensive firepower. The most productive player of that sort in 2020-21 was Alec Martinez, who might be free after a solid campaign with the Vegas Golden Knights. It might be worth looking into Mike Rielly as well given his age and moderate breakout between the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins.

The Washington Capitals have an interesting offseason, to say the least coming up when the Stanley Cup Final wraps up.

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