ARLINGTON, Va. – Another year, another confusing season for Andre Burakovsky. Burakovsky yet again showed glimpses of his immense talent throughout the 2018-19 season, but it came with inconsistent play and lengthy dry spells that ultimately left him with production totals far less than you would expect for a player of his skill. It also left little clarity for what the Capitals will ultimately do with their skilled forward in the offseason.
As a restricted free agent, the Caps can retain Burakovsky’s signing rights by offering him a qualifying offer. Burakovsky is still a young player at 24 and was a first-round draft pick of the Caps in 2013. You typically see those type of players qualified by their respective teams once they reach restricted free agency with little thought. Burkakovsky’s case is tricky, however, given the team’s salary cap constraints.
Since Burakovsky’s salary last season was $3.25 million, that is how much it would take for the Caps to qualify him. That’s a lot of money for a team that does not have much cap room to work with and for a player that only scored 12 goals last season.
"We'll talk it through,” general manager Brian MacLellan said at Friday’s locker cleanout when asked if he would qualify Burakovsky. “I'm going to meet with the coaches here over the next week. I mean a frustrating year for him. At the end he kind of found it. We're going to have to talk about how we want to allocate that money and what role he would play on our team going forward."
Burakovsky has always played like a player on the verge of a breakout. Injuries have struck him at times in his career and his production has always been inconsistent. Just when you are ready to write him off, however, he seems to deliver. That was no more apparent than when he scored twice in Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final in 2018. He scored a Game 7 goal once again in 2019 against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Burakovsky has shown glimpses of the talent that made him a first-round selection, but inconsistent play has led to some surprisingly consistent statistics. Burakovsky has scored 12 goals in each of the last three seasons. In fact, his 12 goals and 13 assists this past season matches his exact total from 2017-18, the only difference being he played in 20 fewer games in 2017-18.
If you are looking for the silver lining, however, it is that Burakovsky really seemed to embrace the other aspects of the game that do not show up on the scoresheet this season, more so than in years past. Winning board battles, playing without the puck, playing a two-way game, etc. He has been open in the past about confidence being an issue for him and that his confidence was tied solely to his production. This year, more than ever, he seemed to learn that a player can still be productive and important even when he is not producing.
“My fifth year obviously want to be more consistent and I think I learned a lot,” Burakovsky said. “I worked a lot with my mental coach and I think I am on the right path for sure. I think overall my game has been pretty good and taking steps without the puck than maybe I didn’t do last year and I think I played way better without the pucks and I am pretty happy with my season even if the points hasn’t been as much as I wanted to.”
“I think I have been way better all-around this year than in the past,” he added, “And goals and points maybe hasn’t been there really like I wanted and hoping for, but I think I have taken the steps in the right direction.”
Those aspects of the game are hard to quantify, however, and do not make MacLellan’s any easier.
Based on his talent, Burakovsky should be a 20-goal scorer, but when a player scores 12 goals in three straight seasons, it is fair to ask if that is the type of production we should expect from him going forward. Giving a 12-goal player a $3.25 million cap hit is a very steep price.
But the decision on what to do with Burakovsky may not be as black and white as whether the team should qualify him or not. MacLellan showed that last year with Devante Smith-Pelly.
Smith-Pelly was coming off a strong post-season performance in which he scored seven goals in 24 games, but MacLellan elected not to qualify him, then negotiated a one-year contract of $1 million.
MacLellan could look to do something similar this year with Burakovsky who may be open to such an option if it is the only way for him to remain with the Caps.
“I love Washington,” Burakovsky said. “I love my teammates. I love everyone around, everything. The organization. My goal is to stay and hopefully I will be able to.”
If Burakovsky is not open to that option, however, it would not be a surprise to see his rights traded to another team.
Burakovsky once again showed flashes of his potential throughout the season and there is reason to be optimistic about his future, but the Caps just may not have the cap space to pay for his potential anymore unless they can find a way to lower his price tag.
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