NHL Rumors: Washington Capitals at crossroads with veteran lineup
Today’s NHL Rumors looks closely at key players who appear available from the Washington Capitals and why they remain in the nation’s capital.
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Washington Capitals must balance books to be considered contenders again
The Washington Capitals were Stanley Cup champions five seasons ago. Surprisingly, the team didn’t qualify for the playoffs in 2022-23 for just the second time since 2007-08. However, fans still got to cheer Alex Ovechkin as he inched closer to the all-time goals record, sitting at 822.
As the team prepares for training camp, they are roughly $700,000 over the salary cap, which means the club is still open for business. While researching news and rumors for the Capitals, they have been shopping Evgeny Kuznetsov and Anthony Mantha to teams interested in making a swap.
After last season’s fire sale at the deadline, which saw longtime defender Dmitri Orlov end up with the Boston Bruins and Erik Gustafsson sent off to the Toronto Maple Leafs, many wondered what direction the franchise is going. In the twilight years of Ovechkin’s career, the team has to prepare for the future without him and move some of their highest-paid players, including Kuznetsov and Mantha, who have the fifth and sixth highest salaries in the lineup, to retool the lineup.
Considering Kuznetsov is taking home $7.8 million a year for the next two seasons, the salary they pay him doesn’t quite measure up to his career .82 points per game average. Although many rumors were circulating about a rift between player and coach over the past few seasons, Peter Laviolette is now gone, so Kuznetsov gets a clean slate for 2023-24 and a chance to boost his trade stock. Even though the Capitals have not yet been able to move him, expect to see his name in the rumor mill as the regular season begins.
“He’s back home in Russia and I’ve had multiple conversations with him over there,” new Caps head coach Spencer Carbery said. “He’s healthy, his training has gone well thus far. In my conversations with him, it sounds like there’s a real focus to his preparation for next season, which is great to see.”
Meanwhile, Mantha, a former 20-goal scorer with the Detroit Red Wings, has yet to maintain that level of play with the Capitals after 118 games, leading to the franchise making him available in a trade. Interestingly, he will be a free agent at the end of 2023-24, but with 24 goals since 2020, it will be a tough sell to move a guy making $5.7 million this year.
However, like Kuznetsov, with a new head coach, Mantha could regain his confidence and start scoring again, boosting his stock heading into the trade deadline or next summer. Ultimately, he will be in charge of his destiny, and how he responds to those pressures will determine if he gets to keep his current salary figures or settle for less on the open market.
The Capitals’ problems run deeper than just Kuznetsov and Mantha
Realistically, the biggest story to watch with the Capitals heading into the new season will be Ovechkin’s chase of Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 goals. Even though he is at least two full seasons away from the mark, the Capitals only did a little over the summer to improve outside of re-signing some of their UFAs and RFAs. However, since the team is not ready for life without Ovechkin just yet, these latest rumors surrounding the roster will be an exciting storyline to follow, with so many adjustments required to keep the team competitive, not just this year but for seasons to come.
Although Washington has a handful of players available, no one is ready to do business with them. But, once the puck drops and these players find a groove, things could change, and they could turn into buyers instead of sellers. Just don’t sleep on any Capitals rumors right now because where there is smoke, there is fire.