It's Christmas Day! It's a day when all those who celebrate gather 'round the Christmas tree and open presents to see if Santa got them everything on their list. Hopefully, the Capitals were good boys this year because there are a lot of items on their list to Santa that they need for the upcoming season.
Here's what the Caps will be looking for underneath their Christmas tree.
New contracts for Alex Ovechkin, Jakub Vrana, Jonas Siegenthaler and Ilya Samsonov
Incredibly, we have reached the final year of Ovechkin's massive 13-year deal. General manager Brian MacLellan said on Wednesday that talks remain on hold until the start of camp, but this is a deal the team needs to get done quickly. The issue is not that Ovechkin could leave and sign with another team -- there is no indication to think Ovechkin would ever consider playing for anyone else in the NHL -- but the longer this goes on, the more it becomes a talking point. I don't think there will be much negotiation needed, so let's just get it done and out of the way and focus on playing hockey.
In addition to Ovechkin, there are other players in need of new deals. Vrana, Siegenathler and Samsonov all look like locks to return, plus all three are restricted free agents. All three are also important pieces for the next generation of the team so getting new deals done should be a high priority for MacLellan.
Samsonov plays like a No. 1, franchise goalie
Even before the injury of Henrik Lundqvist, the success of Washington this season was going to depend on Samsonov playing like a No. 1. What kind of a rebound could you reasonably expect from a 38-year-old goalie coming off the worst season of his career? What Lundqvist provided the Caps was a safety net in case of struggles by Samsonov. That safety net is now gone and the team is going to have to rely solely on Samsonov in net carrying them as far as they want to go.
A good backup goalie
MacLellan certainly sounds confident in prospect goalie Vitek Vanecek, but I don't buy it. I just don't see how a team with Stanley Cup aspirations enters the season with a goalie tandem that has a combined 26 games of NHL experience, all from Samsonov. I know some people are excited about Vanecek, but I see him as an NHL backup at best, not someone who can be relied upon to split time with Samsonov as a goalie tandem. I think if there's a cheap veteran out there who is interested, MacLellan will take him. Maybe Santa will be able to find one in a rapidly shrinking goalie class.
Ovechkin finishes the season 5th all-time in goals
Ovechkin currently has 706 career goals. If he scores at a 50-goal pace in 2021, he will finish the season with about 34 goals and 740 for his career. Marcel Dionne ranks 5th all-time with 731 goals and Brett Hull sits 4th with 741.
I had to think long and hard whether to put 4th or 5th on the wish list, but I decided Dionne was a better target for a 35-year-old player rather than wishing for Ovechkin to score at over a 50-goal pace which he would need to pass Hull.
Evgeny Kuznetsov leads the team in points
We know he has it in him. One of the reasons the Caps hired Peter Laviolette as head coach was because he was someone who is known for holding players accountable and motivating his team. There is no player on the roster more in need of that than Kuznetsov who continues to tease us with his skill but only on an inconsistent basis. Kuznetsov absolutely could challenge the league as the top point-getter every season if he plays at the top of his game consistently. If he can't do it now at 28 when he is in his prime, then I don't think we will ever see it.
10+ goals for Conor Sheary
Why does Sheary get a specific shoutout? Because I have him penciled in as the third-line right wing spot left open by Ilya Kovalchuk.
Washington did not get a single goal in the playoffs from its bottom-six. Not one. The team desperately needs depth scoring and that is why Sheary was signed. I asked for 10 because that is about on pace for 15 goals in a normal 82-game season. If Santa wants to bring him more than 10 goals, however, be my guest.
A Stanley Cup championship in 2021
Is this one too obvious?
Merry Christmas, everyone!