Believe it or not, but summer is winding down and it is time to think about the 2021-22 hockey season. Andrew Gillis and JJ Regan will discuss the biggest questions surrounding the Caps heading into the new season.
Today’s topic: Did the Caps have a successful offseason?
Andrew: This offseason was a slight (emphasis on slight) success for the Capitals, but only if you classify it with the understanding general manager Brian MacLellan was working with a stacked deck from the start.
Through an expansion draft and salary cap crunch, Washington lost just Brenden Dillon (and his $3.9 million salary) and gained a second-round NHL draft pick. Alex Ovechkin’s contract extension came in at a slightly lower figure than most expected. Ilya Samsonov inked a one-year bridge deal. Those things were certainly positives on their own, but other than that, not much was done.
The Capitals have now failed to advance past the first round in the last three playoff runs after their Stanley Cup victory in 2018, so if you thought the team needed a bit of a shakeup, I won’t fault you. The problem is that it’s hard to see where that would’ve come from.
The team didn’t trade Evgeny Kuznetsov for pennies on the dollar and, aside from moving out a key (salary) piece of the roster like T.J. Oshie, John Carlson or Dmitry Orlov, there wasn’t much else they could do with such a tight salary cap situation. For any player they wanted to bring in, someone else had to move out.
I think the most prudent move for the Capitals this offseason was to stand pat and run the entire thing back once again. If more difficult decisions need to be made during or after the 2021-22 season, then so be it. But right now, in order to keep the team as put together as possible, they did what they had to do.
It might not be a major win, but I think what they accomplished was a victory nonetheless.
JJ: This is all a matter of perspective.
You can’t look at this roster and claim the Caps got better. The offense and goaltending are both the same. Defensively, Washington is replacing Brenden Dillon and Zdeno Chara with Michal Kempny and, most likely, Martin Fehervary.
For a team that hopes to compete for a Stanley Cup and has lost in the first round of the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, seeing no improvement in the offseason and seeing to key members of the defense get replaced by a player who did not play at all last season and a prospect is definitely a concern.
Having said that, Brian MacLellan’s hands were tied. The team had to shed salary so there was literally no room for additions. Considering the hand he was dealt this offseason, MacLellan did some nice work. He managed to squeeze two draft picks out of Winnipeg for Dillon despite everyone knowing the team had to shed salary, he re-signed Alex Ovechkin for a (slightly) smaller cap hit rather than a raise, he kept the core intact and he managed to reacquire Vitek Vanecek from Seattle.
The Caps did not get better in the offseason, but I don’t think you could have asked for much better from a GM considering the circumstances.