Capitals’ 2022 Offseason Free Agent Targets: Colorado Avalanche

The impact of Nicklas Backstrom’s hip surgery shouldn’t be overstated. With the Swede facing “a lengthy recovery process,” Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan has a hole to plug at the heart of his roster heading into 2022-23.

“The hip’s not going to be 100 percent,” Backstrom said following Washington’s postseason elimination. “That’s something we know. Some days are less good: that’s just life.”

At the time, he hinted that surgery was a possibility, with MacLellan keeping his cards close to his chest regarding the centreman’s future.

“I think he’s going to explore all options here,” the 63-year-old explained. “He wants it to be better. He wants to be more physically comfortable when he plays, so he’s going to explore it.”

Related: 5 Takeaways From Capitals’ Post-Season Media Availability

Backstrom’s estimated time of return is unclear. Professional athletes that undergo hip resurfacing usually endure months of physical rehabilitation and can spend years trying to rediscover their form, which included former world number one tennis player Andy Murray.

In other words, it’s difficult to predict when Backstrom will return to the lineup and if he’ll still be a $9.2 million player when he does. It’s a horrible situation for the 34-year-old and the organization he’s spent his entire NHL career with to be in.

Nicklas Backstrom Washington Capitals
Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As a result, MacLellan will face a headscratcher this offseason. Following the Capitals’ first-round exit, he must improve his roster with two key players – Tom Wilson and Backstrom – on long-term injury reserve. It’s a difficult needle to thread but he has room to manoeuvre, especially if he can capture an unrestricted free agent (UFA) or two from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.

With that, here are three outgoing Avs that should be on the Capitals’ radar this summer, as it’s shaping up to be a busy free agent frenzy period in Washington and Denver.

Darcy Kuemper, Goaltender, UFA

If not for Darcy Kuemper’s efforts in the Stanley Cup Final, would we be talking about a championship-claiming Colorado roster or a three-peating Tampa Bay Lightning? He was electric in the Avalanche’s winning effort against Jon Cooper’s side, recovering from a serious eye injury to backstop his teammates to the Cup.

Kuemper finished the playoffs with an impressive 10-4-0 record, upholding a 2.57 goals-against average and .902 save percentage. Although his postseason numbers didn’t exactly jump off the page, the gruesome injury he sustained in Round 1 against the Nashville Predators is a legitimate excuse for that. After taking a stick blade to the eye, the 6-foot-5 goaltender spent the rest of the postseason retraining his vision with an optometrist. Ouch.

With the Capitals on the lookout for an upgrade in net, Kuemper is an interesting option. He earned $4.5 million per season on his last contract and is set to earn a raise this summer. As a result, the 32-year-old will be one to watch when free agency opens on July 13.

Nazem Kadri, Centre, UFA

Nazem Kadri’s offensive production speaks for itself, as he registered 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in 16 postseason appearances, recovering from a thumb injury to lead the Avalanche to the Cup.

The 31-year-old was an integral part of coach Jared Bednar’s roster in 2021-22, putting up 87 points (28 goals, 59 assists) in 71 regular-season appearances. Kadri’s form earned him a call-up to the NHL All-Star Weekend and his place at the top of this summer’s UFA board.

Nazem Kadri Colorado Avalanche
Nazem Kadri, Colorado Avalanche (Getty Images)

The former Toronto Maple Leaf is set to earn a significant salary bump on his next contract, moving on from the six-year deal that saw him receive $4.5 million per season. Considering Backstrom’s injury status, Washington is a potential landing spot for him, per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Speaking on a recent episode of Donnie and Dhali – The Team, he said: “The team I’ve kind of wondered about, I think a lot of people are wondering about now, [is] Washington [because they] lost Backstrom. Nobody seems to know what the timeline here is. What are they going to do? I’ve heard Kadri’s name connected to the Capitals… I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the kind of guy that’s on their radar.”

Valeri Nichushkin, Right Winger, UFA

It’s no secret that the Capitals are drawn to players with a physical edge: Wilson, who will miss the start of next season through injury, is a classic example of this. So, it makes sense that Valeri Nichushkin would be a fascinating fit in D.C.

The 27-year-old was a star performer for the Avalanche in the playoffs, contributing 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in 20 appearances on route to the Cup. Although the 6-foot-4 winger didn’t offer the same level of production in the regular-season, he’ll attract plenty of suitors this summer.

Valeri Nichushkin Colorado Avalanche
Valeri Nichushkin, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Born in Chelyabinsk, Russia, Nichushkin earned $2.5 million per season on his last contract but is expected to earn a bigger slice of the pie in free agency. As such, he should be on Washington’s shortlist.

Brian MacLellan Is Under Pressure This Offseason

In the aftermath of another premature playoff exit, MacLellan finds himself under the microscope this offseason. His first task is to choose wisely at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, with Washington in desperate need of prospects capable of fueling the post-Alex Ovechkin era. Secondly, he must navigate free agency without misallocating his salary cap allowance.

For the Capitals to be competitive in the Metropolitan Division next season, they must add quality to their roster in every department. They could do worse than picking up a couple of departing Avs.

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