The dust of the NHL trade deadline has settled and the Capitals’ roster has a much different look than it did 10 days ago.
Out are Dmitry Orlov, Garnet Hathaway, Marcus Johansson, Erik Gustafsson and Lars Eller. In are Rasmus Sandin, Craig Smith, two second-round picks and two thirds. Nick Jensen and Nicolas Aube-Kubel signed extensions to stick around past this season. Defenseman prospect Vincent Iorio got the call from AHL Hershey to make his NHL debut.
Washington played like a potential playoff team at times, but it struggled to string wins together over the last two months as the injury bug continued to bite into the team’s inner circle of players. GM Brian MacLellan recognized the reality of where the Capitals stood and prioritized moves that improved their chances of competing in 2023-24 and beyond.
“We had to make some tough decisions, probably a little sooner than we would have liked to have made them, but we had to make them when we made them,” MacLellan said in a Zoom press conference with reporters Friday.
“We had some good guys, some good players that we didn't really want to part with, but we ended up parting with because I don't know that we were showing the consistency that we needed to show to become a team that was gonna go for it. So, I think we had to straddle a line of what's best for the future, what's best for our team in the future and try and still add players and stay competitive.”
Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson are signed through 2025-26. Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov are all under contract through 2024-25. Tom Wilson has one year left on his deal. Those six players are the only carryovers from the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup-winning roster and they make up the core of their team today.
The Capitals have a better chance of making a deep playoff run with those players now than they did 10 days ago. Sandin was the prized acquisition of the deadline. The 22-year-old defenseman was an impressive player on both ends of the ice for the Toronto Maple Leafs and he’ll have an even bigger role in D.C. where he’ll get the opportunity to flourish. MacLellan described him and the 23-year-old Martin Fehervary as players “we can build around.”
They also stocked their war chest of draft picks with four top-100 selections in the 2024 and 2025 NHL Drafts. Some of those picks may be years away, but they present the Capitals with additional assets they could use in trades to further fortify their roster in the coming seasons.
“We have some draft capital that we can use going forward,” MacLellan said. “We've acquired some picks, and I think next year's first-round pick is going to be a good pick. We should get a good player there. And then moving forward into the offseason and into the draft, we have a lot more flexibility to trade for players.”
They also got a jump on assembling their roster for 2023-24, signing Jensen to a three-year, $12.15 million deal and Aube-Kubel to a one-year pact for $1.225 million. Factor in the extensions they signed over the NHL All-Star Break for forwards Dylan Strome (five years, $25 million) and Sonny Milano (three years, $5.7 million) and the Capitals have already plugged many of the holes they expected to face this offseason.
Plenty of decisions still have to be made. The Capitals held onto pending free agents Trevor van Riemsdyk and Conor Sheary, two players they hope to extend as well. Fehervary will be a restricted free agent and MacLellan has “a lot” of interest in signing him to a long-term deal. They will evaluate young defensemen Alexeyev and Iorio down the stretch to see if either of them can establish themselves at the NHL level soon. The same goes for forward Aliaksei Protas and, should they get the call, first-round picks Connor McMichael and Hendrix Lapierre.
“We have an older core that we’re still going to move forward with,” MacLellan said. “We could make some changes in that, but our goal is to add some younger players. We did that with Sandin. Marty Fehervary is coming. We’ll see where Alexeyev is here down the stretch. We called up Iorio. We added Milano. We added Strome.
“I think we’re adding a lot of good pieces that we can continue to be competitive. And you complement them with Wilson. You complement with Kuzy, with Ovi, Oshie. I think it’s still a competitive team. I don’t look at it as we’re taking a huge step back. I think it might even be taking a step forward.”