After being eliminated by the Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Washington Capitals must turn the attention to a crucial offseason.
In the coming months before a new season begins, internal and external variables will play a large role in determining the future direction of the franchise. After three consecutive seasons with first-round exits, and an expansion draft and contract decisions hanging in the balance, there's a lot to monitor in Washington.
Here's a look at five major storylines to keep an eye on as the Capitals prepare for an important offseason.
1. Kraken Are Coming
Figuring out how to keep a roster together becomes even more challenging when an expansion draft emerges. That's exactly what Washington -- and every other team -- will deal with this offseason as the Seattle Kraken prepare to enter the league.
Besides Nicklas Backstrom, who the Capitals protect and who the Kraken may want is rather unknown. T.J. Oshie is a Seattle native and a player that seems like a possible candidate, but it's not a sure bet. Maybe the newest franchise sees someone else that is a better fit.
It's an unavoidable transaction, but still a wild card for Washington.
2. Championship Window?
Just a few seasons ago the Capitals were lifting up the Stanley Cup Trophy, and with the core returning, it felt like maybe it wouldn't be the last time. Fast forward and the core is still there but the results aren't.
Now, the team is tasked with determining how much longer it can -- or it wants to -- keep the championship window open. The veterans may still be there, but other pieces are needed. Can a player like Daniel Sprong emerge to take on a bigger role on a contender or does Washington need to re-evaluate the roster construction from top to bottom?
A youth movement has to come eventually, but just how soon?
No one embodies the Washington Capitals more than Alex Ovechkin. He's been the most important player to the franchise and it only seems right that he finishes off his career rocking the red. However, a new contract will be necessary to get that done.
Ovechkin enters the offseason as an unrestricted free agent, and while both sides are confident that a deal will get done, it still needs to get done. Salary cap restraints and more will go into matching on a price, as well.
Most likely, Ovi will be back in Washington come next season. Yet, nothing is set in stone until the ink touches the paper.
4. What To Do With Kuzy?
Evgeny Kuznetsov has long been a familiar face in the Washington lineup, but a breaking point may have finally been reached. Inconsistent play on the ice and problems off it led to a poor 2021 season for Kuznetsov. The Capitals must now consider whether the risk of sticking with him is worth the reward.
The top-line center is owed $7.8 million over the next four years, but more production is needed to truly make that deal reasonable for the Capitals.
Yet even if Washington ultimately decides that moving on is the right move, it is not that easy. Based on the way Kuznetsov's stock has dropped as of late, finding a partner is easier said than done.
5. Free Agency Additions
For Washington, figuring out players in-house and learning who could head to Seattle is important, but free agency carries weight as well. What the Capitals will do, though, is hard to predict. There isn't a glaring hole on the roster and spending a lot of money probably isn't ideal either.
It wouldn't be surprising if Washington potentially laid low in free agency and saw how things shook out. Still, as NBC Sports Washington's Alexa Shaw notes, the last offseason is an example of how unpredictable the market can become.
“But remember, many thought the Caps would be quiet in free agency last year, then they brought in Zdeno Chara and Henrik Lundqvist," Shaw said. "Expect the unexpected.”