The narrative that the Capitals are on the brink of a rebuild continued last season, but it just won’t happen. The truth is that Washington probably will contend as long as Alex Ovechkin is still scoring. And the day that Ovechkin stops scoring will probably feature him as the league’s all-time greatest scorer. A solid offseason has lengthened the team’s competition window, but a group of major injuries are already threatening.
Offseason additions: G Darcy Kuemper, F Connor Brown, F Dylan Strome, D Erik Gustafsson, G Charlie Lindgren, F Henrik Borgstrom.
Offseason subtractions: D Justin Schultz, G Ilya Samsonov, G Vitek Vanecek, F Johan Larsson.
Ovechkin is now at 780 career goals after scoring 50 in 2021-22. At age 36, he reached the 50-goal mark for the ninth time in his career. While he didn’t win his tenth Rocket Richard Trophy, Ovechkin is obviously a favorite to do so this year. He still throws everything possible at the net with his amazing shot, with 334 shots last season. The top line is already weaker, as both Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson will miss multiple months. Backstrom only played in 47 games last year, and only had 31 points, so his age could be a concern going forward. Wilson had 52 points with his signature controversial play last year. At this stage in his career, Ovechkin has played less with Backstrom as his center and more with Evgeny Kuznetsov. There were a good amount of trade rumors surrounding Kuznetsov after a bad 2020-21 season, but he rebounded with 24 goals and 78 points in 79 games. Two-time 20-goal scorer Connor Brown came over this offseason in a trade with the Senators. Brown averaged over 20 minutes of ice time a game, but only had 10 goals in 64 games last season. He still had 39 points and is a lot more disciplined than Wilson.
Washington traded a fortune for Anthony Mantha at the 2021 deadline, but he has been banged up and disappointing since the deal. Mantha was limited to just 37 games last season, with nine goals and 23 points. He has no goals in 11 playoff games over two seasons with the team. He scored four less goals in 11 more games than Jakub Vrana, who was a part of the package to acquire him. Not only are Ovechkin and Backstrom getting up there in age, but so is TJ Oshie. Playing in only 44 games last season, Oshie had just 25 points. His 42.76 GF% was the worst among Capitals forwards with at least 500 minutes of ice time. On the positive side, he did suffer from some bad PDO luck, and had the best xGF% of the top-six forwards. Backstrom’s injury elevated the role of Lars Eller last year, and will continue to in 2022-23. Eller had 31 points in 72 games, which is in the range of his career norms.
One of the many players to be confusingly non-tendered by the Blackhawks over the past few seasons was Dylan Strome, who the Capitals scooped up. While he hasn’t lived to the hype of being drafted after Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, Strome had a very good season on a lowly Chicago team. Playing in 69 games, he scored a career-high 22 goals with a total of 48 points. For just $3.5 million in free agency, that’s a great deal for Washington. The team’s first-round pick in 2019, Connor McMichael got regular run last season. While he showed flashes of talent, the overall production wasn’t exactly there, with only nine goals and nine assists in 68 games. McMichael didn’t have a big role on the team, which could increase with Carl Hagelin out indefinitely. Hagelin sustained a scary eye injury last season, and is still dealing with another, undefined injury. Conor Sheary had his best season since he broke into the league with the 2016-17 Penguins. He scored 19 goals with 43 total points.
Old friend Marcus Johansson returned to the Capitals after short-lived stints with five other teams. Playing in 18 games after the deadline, he had six points. Johansson is not as effective as he was when he was first a Capital, but can still impact the bottom-six in a positive way. While a lot of it was luck, Garnet Hathaway still had an incredibly impressive GF% of 64.4 percent last year, easily leading the team. Hathaway also scored more than ever, with 14 goals and 26 points, along with 250 hits. His center, Nic Dowd, also set a career-high in points, with 24. Dowd had 139 hits with a 58 GF%. Undrafted forward Joe Snively broke into the league last year, and produced seven points in 12 games. He also succeeded in the AHL, with 38 points in 35 games. A third-round pick in 2019, Aliaksei Protas put up nine points in 33 games last season. He had 24 more in the AHL.
The same story is still true for John Carlson: he will put up a ton of points, but the defense isn’t great. Carlson quietly scored a career-high 17 goals with 71 points in 78 games last year, finishing tenth in Norris voting. Carlson also had the second-worst xGA/60 on the Washington defensive core. The only guy worse than him was his regular partner, Martin Fehervary. In his rookie season, the 22-year-old put up 17 points with 117 blocked shots and 251 hits.
Dmitry Orlov’s game keeps improving, even as he has been moved off the top pair. His 12 goals and 35 points were both career-highs, and his goals for percentage was an even sixty. Orlov and his partner, Nick Jensen dominated at even strength. Jensen actually had Orlov in GF%, at nearly 64 percent. He added 21 points and 135 hits.
The defense’s leader in xGF% was Trevor van Riemsdyk by a slim margin. Playing in a regular NHL role for the first time since 2018-19, van Riemsdyk had 17 points with 129 blocked shots. While he doesn’t bring much offense, that could come from Erik Gustafsson, who once had 60 points in a season. Gustafsson had 18 in 59 games for Chicago last year. He was playing in a very sheltered role because of his lack of defensive ability. The Washington power play was surprisingly weak last season, and Gustafsson can improve the second pair. Veteran Matt Irwin was signed to provide depth last year, and he did exactly that, playing in only 17 games. The journeyman has played for six teams, averaging less than 16 minutes of ice time a game for exactly 400 games.
The Capitals had two fine goalies last year, but both are gone in favor for a more clear-cut split. While starting for the Avalanche has its benefits, like a Stanley Cup ring, Darcy Kuemper was legitimately strong in last year’s regular season. He had a .921 save percentage and was fifth in the league in goals saved above expected. He did struggle in the postseason, with a .902 save percentage. Five great games last year led to Charlie Lindgren securing $3.3 million over the next three seasons. Lindgren had a 1.22 GAA and a .958 save percentage in a short stint as the Blues’ third goalie. To be fair to Lindgren, he was also great in the AHL. Playing in 34 games, he had a 2.21 GAA and a .925 save percentage.
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Connor Brown
Anthony Mantha – Lars Eller – TJ Oshie
Connor McMichael – Dylan Strome – Conor Sheary
Marcus Johansson – Nic Dowd – Garnet Hathaway
Scratched: Aliaksei Protas, Joe Snively
Martin Fehervary – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Nick Jensen
Erik Gustafsson – Trevor van Riemsdyk
Scratched: Matt Irwin