With a flat salary cap, some expiring contracts and the Seattle expansion draft, this is going to be a busy offseason for the Capitals. To get you ready, Capitals writers Andrew Gillis and JJ Regan are breaking down the biggest offseason questions with their thoughts.
Today's question: How will the Caps get younger?
Andrew: I’ve mentioned this a few times already, but I think the answers seemingly everyone wants aren’t going to come true. I don't think a major youth movement is about to overtake the Capitals.
General manager Brian MacLellan has said he believes this team can still compete at a level to win the Stanley Cup, and although he only specifically mentioned Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin aren’t on the table in trade talks, shipping out still talented veteran players simply for the sake of getting younger might be bad business.
The Capitals’ core is locked in, and, absent a handful of major trades, the team is probably going to look very similar next season. The lone exception appears to be the Evgeny Kuznetsov trade question, which still may not end up coming to pass.
Instead, I think the Capitals get younger on the edges, just as I said they’ll look to get cheaper. Assuming they hang onto both goaltenders with an Ilya Samsonov extension, they’ll have a pair of young and cheap goalies. Defensemen Martin Fehervary and Alexander Alexeyev appear ready to make the leap from the AHL, as does center Connor McMichael.
The Capitals will have a few exit ramps with NHL-ready players in the AHL, but I think we’re still looking at a very veteran team next year. Zdeno Chara will likely be gone, but don't expect this team to be the youngest in the league all of the sudden.
JJ: The caveat I will give to this question is that it does you no good to force prospects into the lineup who are not ready or who just flat out are not as good as the veterans they are replacing. The unfortunate truth is that the team just does not have many high-caliber prospects in the system for a sudden refresh of the roster.
With that in mind, at a minimum, the Caps have to get Martin Fehervary onto the roster and into an everyday role. We keep getting told he is ready to make that jump so let's see it. With all due respect to Zdeno Chara who is a Hall of Fame player, I don't see how the team could justify re-signing a 44-year-old player if it means keeping the 21-year-old Fehervary out. At this point, there's no other way to look at it other than an indictment of Fehervary. Either he's ready, or he's not.
I think it is also time Daniel Sprong sticks as a middle-six player rather than someone who goes in and out. Goal scoring is the hardest thing to do in hockey and Sprong does it. I understand he does not provide much defensively, I understand it is hard to justify third-line minutes for a player who won't play on the top power-play unit or on the penalty kill, but goals win games and he can provide those even in limited minutes. Give him defensive linemates, work on his defensive acumen, but he needs to play.
Beck Malenstyn was going to have a legitimate shot at a fourth-line role if an injury did not keep him out for the entire 2021 season. Do not forget about him.
Beyond that, I think it will be a matter of plugging players in on call-ups and seeing who sticks. Other players I see as possible call-ups next season are Connor McMichael, Brett Leason, Garrett Pilon, Alex Alexeyev, Bobby Nardella and maybe Axel Jonsson-Fjallby.