Think an Evgeny Kuznetsov trade is inevitable? Think again. That was the message from Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan on Saturday following the NHL Draft.
When asked if he has had any discussions with Kuznetsov regarding a trade, MacLellan told the media, “No. The same discussions we’ve always had."
At the team's end-of-season media availability, MacLellan said of a possible Kuznetsov trade, "I think we're always open to trading people if it makes sense for what's going on. If it's going to make our team better, I think we're open to it. I don't think anybody's off the table. We're not going to trade Ovi or Backy and those type of people, but I think you have to be open on anything. We would talk to anybody about any player."
Many took MacLellan's non-denial of shopping Kuznetsov to mean that Kuznetsov was absolutely on the team's trade block. MacLellan denied that was the case Saturday and clarified his past comments.
"[Kuznetsov]’s a good player," MacLellan said. "We like the player. I don’t know. We’ve never said we’re trading Kuznetsov. I said we were open to discussions on most of our players on the trade market and if it comes up, it comes up and if it doesn’t make sense, same as always."
It was another frustrating season from Kuznetsov in which he tested positive for COVID-19 twice, was found to be breaking the NHL's health and safety protocols and was benched by the team for being late to a team function. Frank Seravalli reported earlier in the week that, "the Caps are tired of Kuznetsov's antics."
That's why rumors of a Kuznetsov trade grew legs after MacLellan's initial comments and those rumors will persist until the team is able to shed cap room.
As it stands, the Caps will not have enough cap space just to re-sign pending free agents Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Samsonov. The team must, therefore, shed cap room and, until it does, people will continue to speculate whether Kuznetsov and his $7.8 million cap hit is the solution. And he might just be, but that will be determined if the right deal comes along and not because he is being actively shopped.
"It’s never been we’re moving Kuznetsov," MacLellan said. "It’s been portrayed in a few places, but that’s not exactly the case.”