Scouting a Divisional Opponent - is this finally the year the Washington Capitals regress?
The Capitals are once again the oldest team in the league, but have so far defied the aging curve. Is there one more run left for Alexander Ovechkin?
The Washington Capitals come into the 2021-22 season with the bulk of the roster that finished last season on a 113 point pace over the regular season. Last year at the deadline, the team went out and acquired Anthony Mantha, expecting him to be the piece that put the team over the top in the playoffs. Instead, for the third straight postseason since winning the Stanley Cup, the Capitals were knocked out in the first round.
The Capitals had a fairly quiet offseason, but as their regular season record over the last three years reflects, they are a force to be taken seriously until it is proven that the aging curve catches up with them. As it has not yet, we cannot write them off as division contenders.
Let’s catch up on the Capitals.
Alex Ovechkin signed a five year extension
First among the Capitals priorities this offseason was re-signing the best player in franchise history. Ovechkin, chasing Wayne Gretzky’s career goals, never seriously considered signing elsewhere. When the contract was announced, the only surprise was that the annual cap hit came in slightly under expectation - Ovechkin signed for $9.5 million per year against the cap for five seasons, keeping him in Washington through his age 41 season and free to score as many power play goals as he can as he chases down one of the greatest to ever do it.
Traded Brendan Dillon to the Winnipeg Jets
Dillon was traded to Winnipeg this summer for two second round picks. The Capitals lost a defenseman, but were able to shed his $3.9 million salary from the team’s payroll. He was acquired for two second round draft picks, clearing cap space enough to sign Ovechkin as well as other key players.
Vitek Vanacek picked by Seattle Kraken in expansion draft, then traded back
At the expansion draft, the Kraken chose goaltender Vitek Vanacek from the Capitals to fill out their battery in net. However, one Phillip Grubauer hit the open market, the Kraken pounced and signed the now-former Avalanche netminder to be their number one goalie. As a result, Vanacek became expendable. The Capitals, not keen on losing half of their own battery, traded one of the two second round picks they acquired for Brendan Dillon to the Kraken to bring Vanacek back.
Ilya Samsonov signed a one year bridge deal
Rounding out the second half of their tandem in net is Ilya Samsonov. Samsonov is talented but is coming off an offseason where he faced tough circumstances - he was injured away from the ice, contracted COVID, and was placed on the COVID protocol list a second time. If the Capitals hope to go anywhere this season, they will be counting on Samsonov to show that he has the ability to consistently play to his talent level. A one year prove it deal in a full season could be the motivation Samsonov needs.
No salary cap relief
Perhaps the most critical development this offseason for the Capitals - the team remains firmly crunched against the salary cap ceiling. As of this writing, the Capitals have just $668,740 in cap space. To get said cap space after signing Ovechkin and Samsonov necessitated the team losing Zdeno Chara and Brendan Dillon off the blue line. The team was also reluctant to trade Evgeni Kuznetsov at a low trade value given his tumultuous off-ice issues, keeping his $7.5 million cap hit on the books. The Capitals are running their roster back this season largely out of necessity - they have no flexibility to make changes. Barring a massive shakeup, the roster they head into opening night with will be the roster they have for the season, with no room for upgrades.
What do you think of the Capitals offseason? What do you expect from these formidable division foes?