At the risk of piling on the Washington Capitals the day after their latest painful playoff exit, their “two-year window” has now closed, and this tortured team is facing the very real possibility of decline.
-- T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Karl Alzner, and Kevin Shattenkirk are all pending unrestricted free agents, and with pending RFAs like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky due for raises, it will be impossible to keep everyone.
-- There isn’t much down on the farm. Jakub Vrana (F) could be a player one day, and maybe Madison Bowey (D) too. But it’s hard to build up a deep prospect pool when you’re finishing high in the standings and trading away picks to go for it. The Caps’ first selection in the 2017 draft won’t come until the fourth round.
-- Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom will both be in their 30s next season. Ovechkin turns 32 in September, Backstrom 30 in November. Those two have been unbelievable players for a long time, and they’ll still be pretty good for a while. That being said, their best days are behind them. Hockey players peak in their 20s, and that’s just reality. Yes, the greats can still contribute into their 30s. The Anaheim Ducks (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler) are proof of that. But they need a lot of help from the youngsters, and the Ducks (Jakob Silfverberg, Rickard Rakell, Shea Theodore) are also proof of that.
Bottom line: This should’ve been the year for the Caps. They got through the first round, then had Game 7 at home against the Kris Letang-less Pittsburgh Penguins. And with the beatable Ottawa Senators waiting in the Eastern Conference Final, they couldn’t even score a goal.
“In big moments, your big players have got to play big and, regrettably, I don’t think we did that,” Oshie told reporters.
Teams are always rising and falling in the NHL.
The Caps had their chance.
They couldn’t get it done, and now they’ll have to live with the consequences.