Three big questions facing the Capitals this offseason originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
The Capitals are faced with a summer that could bring more change than the organization has had in a long time.
As for whether or not that will happen remains to be seen, but there are a bevy of questions currently facing the organization.
Here are three key questions to consider as the calendar nears a flip to June:
The Capitals’ 2021-22 season was loaded with injuries, and the offseason will be no different as major injury questions are facing the team in the offseason.
Notably, Nicklas Backstrom has a troubled left hip and it’s unclear what his future holds. He said at the team’s breakdown day that there were decisions to be made, and general manager Brian MacLellan added that it’s not possible to play another injury-filled season like the one he just played. Backstrom carries a cap hit of $9.2 million, and knowing whether or not he’ll have to miss some or all of the 2022-23 season will have a big impact on the team’s offseason plans.
Then there’s Tom Wilson, who will be out six-to-eight months as he recovers from a torn left ACL. That timeline tentatively puts him on track for a return sometime from Thanksgiving to late January. But losing one of their most impactful forwards for what could be more than half of the season will be a major blow to a Capitals team that needs help at five-on-five.
Finally, there’s Carl Hagelin, who is attempting to return to the ice after a serious eye injury that nearly cost him his eye. He carries one more year left on his deal with $2.75 million, and if he’s able to get medically cleared, the Capitals will have to account for Hagelin being available.
With those three’s statuses either unknown or unavailable for months, MacLellan and the organization will have a mighty interesting offseason of maneuvering.
What to do at goalie?
The Capitals appear ready to add a veteran goalie and keep one of their young netminders, Ilya Samsonov or Vitek Vanecek, as the two goalies entering next season.
The question for both the former and latter remains, who?
Both Vanecek and Samsonov are restricted free agents — Vanecek posted a save percentage of .908% while Samsonov posted a .896 during the regular season — so the team has a bit more leverage than they’d otherwise have. Still, the question of which one to keep, if that is indeed the plan, isn’t an easy one to answer.
Either way, it appears the Capitals are eager to add a veteran goalie if they can find one where the price, and perhaps the price to acquire, is a fit.
Jonathan Quick and Semyon Varlamov will be free agents in 2023, both carry modest cap hits and both are on teams with expensive goalie rooms, which has led to trade speculation for both. The Capitals would seem like a potential trade partner if that’s indeed the case.
There are options, though, and the Capitals and MacLellan will undoubtedly explore all of them this summer.
How can the Caps get younger?
MacLellan knows the Capitals need to get younger, and that’s a task far easier said than done.
There are a handful of internal ways the team can inject some youth into the lineup, because adding good young players from outside the organization isn’t easy or cheap.
Washington’s playoff loss to Florida in round one, though, a series where the Capitals’ goaltending was good enough to win and their special teams were downright dominant, underscored the need for improvement at five-on-five.
Once the team figures out its goaltending situation, as MacLellan said, then it can turn its attention to improving the rest of the lineup. They’ll get a better idea of how, and where, once injury news about Backstrom and Hagelin becomes clear.
The team has indeed focused on adding veterans to the lineup over the last few seasons, but now, it appears the Capitals could emphasize bringing in younger (and cheaper) forwards and defensemen to the lineup.