Capitals forward Anthony Mantha was on the ice at MedStar Capitals Iceplex on Wednesday morning before the team’s optional skate, another step in the road to recovery after shoulder surgery.
But as of now, coach Peter Laviolette said there is no timeline for when he’ll be able to return to the team.
“There is no timeline, no details,” he said after an optional skate Wednesday. “I think he is at the very beginning of the way back as far as the ice goes.”
Mantha has played in just 10 games this season and has two goals and four assists. Last year, he was acquired from the Detroit Red Wings in a massive deadline day deal that included Jakub Vrana and Richard Panik but has played in just 24 games since he was acquired.
“Obviously he has got a long road here,” Laviolette said. “He’s traveling in a different group right now. He’s with the rehab guys and not at the games, not at the practices, often times not in the meetings and so right now his focus is just on getting healthy and putting himself in a position where he can get back to ice, and then hopefully eventually get back to practice.”
The Capitals have been without the services of much of their full top six this season, as of their 48 games played thus far, center Nicklas Backstrom has played in just 15 and right wing T.J. Oshie has played in just 18. They’ve gotten good contributions, at times, from depth players in the lineup but are in the midst of a 5-8-2 skid since 2022 began.
When asked if he thought Mantha could be ready before the postseason begins in May, Laviolette said he wasn’t sure.
“I’m guessing,” he said. “Whatever I tell you, I’m guessing right now. I don’t know the answer to that. Certainly there is hope, but I don’t have a definitive answer on that. He is still on long-term IR and I don’t know how that gets listed, month to month, or however long-term IR is listed.”
Mantha currently carries a cap hit of $5.7 million, meaning the Capitals would have to make a few moves to become salary cap compliant if he’s ready to return before the regular season ends. The Capitals’ last game is on April 29, and once that day passes, there is no salary cap during the playoffs — meaning they would be able to add him to the active roster freely and without worry of cap implications come May.
The Capitals have 34 regular season games left and, with the trade deadline on March 21, they’ll have to know whether or not he’ll be available at the end of the season by then. If he will not be, they’ll have some cap space to work with at the deadline.
Center Lars Eller said he underwent the same shoulder procedure as Mantha did, twice, earlier in his career, so he understands what he’s going through.
“It’s a lot of months of first doing nothing and then slowly getting back to moving,” Eller said. “I’ve been through that exact same process as him twice, so it stings even more when you see the guys on the ice every day of that period. Happy for him he at least got to touch some ice now and he’s closer to getting back, I’m happy for him that his rehab’s going well.”
Whenever Mantha returns, the Capitals will likely be immediately inserted into the top six and will be a welcome addition at that.
“Yeah I talked a little bit about those milestones, when you can do what and where he’s at in his progressions,” Eller said. “It seems like he’s doing really well from the timeline that I remember.”