Though their play has slipped a little as of late, the 2021-22 season for the Washington Capitals to this point has been a successful one. Through 37 games, they own a 20-8-9 record and sit eighth in league standings.
The great start can be contributed in a big way to the play of Alex Ovechkin, who has been incredible with 24 goals and 52 points through 37 games. Despite the positives, however, there have been some negatives with this team as well, with the main focus being on goaltending. There are others who have struggled to pull their weight as well, a few of whom are set to become free agents this offseason. Here are 3 who likely won’t be wearing a Capitals jersey next season.
As mentioned, the Capitals goaltending has not been good enough this season, nor was it last. The inexperienced and inconsistent duo of Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov has caused plenty of headaches in both 2020-21 and 2021-22, and casts some serious doubt on whether or not they are a true contender this year.
As it turns out, both are set to become restricted free agents this offseason. While Vanecek owns slightly better statistical numbers with a 2.62 goals-against average (GAA) along with a .907 save percentage (SV%), Samsonov has a far better record of 13-3-3. The two have played nearly the same amount of games, as head coach Peter Laviolette doesn’t seem to be overly confident in either.
While it remains possible the Capitals choose to re-sign both and try this duo once again in 2022-23, it seems very unlikely right now given how they’ve done to this point. The reason I believe they would end up holding onto Samsonov over Vanecek is not only that he is younger, but the fact they used a first-round draft selection on him back in 2015. His NHL career to this point has been unremarkable, but he still has a ton of potential, making it much more likely management chooses to have him as the goaltender to return.
Since coming into the league back in 2012-13, Justin Schultz has been regarded as a highly skilled defenceman with the ability to put up plenty of points. Unfortunately, he has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career, and has also been quite inconsistent at points. That has certainly been the case in 2021-22, as he has just two goals and six points through 32 games.
Schultz, 31, signed a two-year, $8 million deal with the Capitals during the 2020 offseason. Through the first season, it appeared to be a pretty good signing, as he put up 27 points in 46 games. Unfortunately, things have fallen off in a big way for him in 2021-22, and makes it extremely unlikely he is back in a Caps uniform next season. Whoever does end up signing him will get him on a deal much cheaper than his current one, which comes in at $4 million per year.
When the Capitals claimed Dennis Cholowski off waivers this October, fans hoped that he would finally begin to prove why he was selected 20th overall back in 2016. Unfortunately, the 23-year-old has continued to be a depth defenceman at best this season, and has appeared in just five games as a result.
Even worse for Cholowski is that when he has been able to draw into the lineup, he has been used very sparingly, averaging less than 14 minutes in ice time. The clock is beginning to tick on him, and while he may get another shot from a team who hopes they can get him to live up to his draft day potential, it won’t be the Capitals.
Key Players Locked Up
While the Capitals main core is getting up there in age, they are showing no signs of slowing down to this point which is why they remain one of the strongest teams in the league. The even better news is that they are all locked up beyond this season, meaning they should continue to have success in 2022-23. There is still always room for improvement however, and general manager Brian MacLellan would be best to move on from the three mentioned above and find better replacements for them.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.