By: Mike Patt
Hello sports fans, and welcome back to the IE Sports Radio Blog. The 2023 NHL regular season is reaching it’s conclusion. Sadly, for my Washington Capitals, it the season has already concluded. The team was officially eliminated from the playoffs right before this article was published, meaning the off-season begins in eight days. This season was an uphill battle through and through. The team started with key injuries, then lost captain Alex Ovechkin for several games mid-season due to the death of his father. Aside from a few good win streaks, they could never find a rhythm, so this end result is not surprising.
With that said, I am deciding to look to the future instead of what could have been. Washington made several in-season trades that, while likely hindering their playoff chances for 2023, have set the team up for success in the near future. Let’s take a look at how each position group is shaping up entering the off-season, and what moves the Caps should make to bolster the roster. We will focus on free agency since the draft does not immediately impact the roster.
When the season began, this was the position group I was most concerned about. Most of the key contributors were over 30, and only John Carlson had a contract beyond 2023. One of the team’s biggest trade deadline moves was the acquisition of Rasmus Sandin, a developing player from Toronto with tons of upside. Washington also signed veterans Nick Jensen and Trevor Van Riemsdyk to multi-year extensions, and saw the continued development of Martin Fehervary and Alexander Alexeyev, both of whom have team control for next year. Assuming that duo gets their rights exercised, here is how the defensive lines could look enter next season:
Line 1: Carlson – Sandin
Line 2: Jensen – Fehervary
Line 3: Van Riemsdyk – Alexeyev
Yes, the trade deadline did see the departure of long time favorite Dimitri Orlov, but I’m excited about this group. Each duo contains an established veteran and a young player with decent NHL experience. The team also has quality minor league options in Lucas Johansen, Vincent Iorio, and Gabriel Carlsson, who all saw playing time this past year. As long as injuries do not get in the way, I believe this could be one of the better defensive units in Hockey by end of next season.
While the Caps were able to add youth to the defense, the forwards have not been so lucky. Veterans Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and TJ Oshie are the driving cause in this team being the oldest team in hockey entering next season. What the team was able to do, much like with the defense, was sign players who wanted to stay to extensions while moving those with expiring contracts who were unlikely to return. As a result, the team does not have major holes in this group. The wings have reasonable depth, and their are plenty of options at center. This group is also aided by the hopeful rise of top prospects Connor McMichael and Hendrix Lapierre.
There are two issues that will likely be the focal points of the off-season. First is the Evgeny Kuznetsov situation. Kuznetsov has said he wants to be traded from the organization, and has wanted this for some time. Should the team agree to this request, they will need to find a new top three line center. Backstrom and Dylan Strome have two of those spots, but it would be a stretch to expect Nic Dowd or one of the young bodies to fill that spot. The other is a second line left winger. The team has limited salary cap space (even more so with restricted contracts about to hit), so they will have to find an affordable way to fill this gap.
I saved the simplest position group for last. The current duo, Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren, are under contract for the foreseeable future. They were not amazing this year, but they weren’t terrible either. Unless the Caps pull off some wild trade to swap Kuemper for a different option, this will be the pair for 2023-24. What I would like to see is the team develop some younger options to be ready in a few years. Only time will tell if that happens.
In the end, I can understand why Caps fans would be upset by the results of this season. It is disappointing that they flopped in one of the final years of the Alex Ovechkin era. Still, I am much more enthusiastic about the future than upset about the now. With a few key moves, next season will be much better. Tune in to Let’s Wine About DMV Sports, hosted by Mike Patt, on Fridays at 9pm EST/6pm PST. Be sure to check out all of the other great shows on IESR, as well as our partner station USRN. Shout out to our Patreon supporters and all you loyal listeners that continue to help our network grow. Thank you for reading, and we will see you next time on IE Sports Radio; your direct feed for ALL that is sports.