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Julio Cortez/Associated Press
The Washington Capitals’ run to the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs ended Friday with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers in Game 6 of their first-round series.
Alex Ovechkin & Co. made their seventh straight playoff appearance with a 44-26-12 (100 points) regular-season record, but their quest to win a second Stanley Cup in the past five years has failed.
Almost the entire Caps core is under contract to return next season, including the team’s top 12 scorers, so they should once again be a contender in the Eastern Conference. That said, the championship window won’t stay open forever, with age becoming a factor for Ovechkin (36), Nicklas Backstrom (34) and other key stalwarts.
That could lead the Washington front office to make aggressive roster changes in the offseason, though limited financial flexibility under the salary cap could be an issue.
Let’s take a closer look at the Capitals’ summer outlook as they prepare for the 2022-23 season.
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Julio Cortez/Associated Press
Unrestricted Free Agents
- Marcus Johansson
- F Johan Larsson
- Dr. Justin Schultz
- Dr. Michal Kempny
- Matthew Irwin
- G Pheonix Copley
Restricted Free Agents
- F Brett Leason
- F Beck Malenstyn
- G. Vitek Vanecek
- G Ilya Samsonov
- F Damien Riat
- Dr. Tobias Geisser
- Dr. Lucas Johansen
- F Brian Pinho
- F Shane Gersich
None of the Caps’ UFAs would be a major loss if released on the open market. Schultz is the most notable player in the group, but his performance was only marginally above replacement level, and the front office could likely fill the void for less than the $4 million he earned in 2021- 22.
In turn, the bigger question is how they are going to handle the goalkeeping situation. Several teams will be in the market to add a goaltender in the offseason, meaning Vanecek and Samsonov could be targeted with an offer sheet.
Washington may want to keep both guards in order to keep the workload shared, potentially with the hope that one of them will eventually emerge as a true No. 1 option.
The other option could be to try to entice Marc-Andre Fleury on the open market if he’s not re-signed by the Minnesota Wild. The 37-year-old three-time Stanley Cup champion would be an ideal fit alongside the Capitals’ older core.
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Chris Tanouye/Getty Images
Given Washington will pick in the second half of the first round and the 2022 draft class is among the weakest pools in recent years, which one the team takes with its first pick likely won’t have an impact. in the NHL for a few seasons.
Given that, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Capitals took a chance on a high-potential prospect with boom-or-bust potential rather than someone more NHL-ready.
Here are some options for the first round:
Owen Pickering, CEO, Swift Current (WHL)
Pickering, 18, has shown solid improvement in his first two years with Swift Current. After collecting nine points (two goals and seven assists) in 23 games during the 2020-21 campaign, he had 33 points (9 Gs, 24 As) in 62 appearances last season.
He’s a commanding presence (6’5″) who emerges as a potential power-play quarterback with advanced offensive instincts. He’s also displayed a long stride that puts his top speed among the best in class, including the attackers.
Pickering isn’t as advanced defensively. He’s still developing his awareness of his own side and needs to get better at getting out passes in situations where he can’t get the puck out himself. These concerns explain why he is at risk if caught in the first round.
Seamus Casey, RHD, University of Michigan (NCAA)
The biggest knock against Casey is his height (5’10”, 162 lbs). Teams are hoping a late growth spurt can add an extra inch or two to his frame, and there’s no doubt he’ll have to adding more weight before reaching the NHL to handle the bigger and more physical competition.
From a pure talent standpoint, however, he has the skills of a top-10 selection. He is a reliable two-way defender with impressive speed and passing ability. Like Pickering, he should become a key part of the power play at the height of his career.
The 18-year-old Florida native is heading to Michigan for his college career after a few years with the United States National Development Team. Two or three seasons in an elite program like the Wolverines will help his development before he’s ready for the jump to the NHL.
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Nick Wass/Associated Press
Washington’s roster that opens next season will look surprisingly similar to the one that ended this campaign. A major overhaul may be on the horizon in the next five years, but for now the franchise will be looking to win another championship with the current group.
The uncertainty stems from whether the Capitals front office will swing for the fences with a move like trying to land Fleury in free agency or perhaps a blockbuster trade in a bid to turn the tide in their favor in the highly competitive East.
General manager Brian MacLellan may have given a hint ahead of the March trade deadline when he said the Caps didn’t want to move their top prospects because they would be needed in the near future.
“I would be less inclined to trade leads because they’re going to be playing here sooner rather than later,” MacLellan told reporters. “I don’t know if we are going to be as aggressive as we have been in the past.”
If that mindset remains, the Capitals could tap prospects like Hendrix Lapierre and Vincent Iorio to fill the gaps on the roster rather than try to make a big move.
Going that route would also give the team more flexibility ahead of next year’s deadline if he feels another Stanley Cup run might be on the cards.
All told, the Caps aren’t planning to steal the show this summer, but their veteran talent should keep them squarely in the mix in 2022-23.