Capitals Enter Final Season as Stanley Cup Contenders

It’s now or never for the Washington Capitals. They are running out of time to win a second Stanley Cup in the Alex Ovechkin era, with the season ahead providing the franchise with its last shot at silverware for a while.

The Capitals reconvene after a relatively quiet summer. Aside from general manager (GM) Brian MacLellan’s major reshuffle between the pipes, Washington returns with the same core as last season – albeit with injury considerations. Nicklas Backstrom is out for the foreseeable future. He underwent hip resurfacing surgery in the summer and is at the very start of an arduous recovery process. There’s no guarantee he will play this season.

Nicklas Backstrom Washington Capitals
Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Carl Hagelin could also miss the season, albeit not with the eye wound that kept him out in 2021-22. The fourth-line winger is battling through a lower-body injury which will keep him off the ice “indefinitely”.

“He has a lower-body injury that needs to be addressed and we’re working through the final parts of it right now,” MacLellan said at the start of training camp. “It’s an issue that lingered and that he’s played with. It’s gotten worse as time’s gone on and it’s at a bad point right now.”

Tom Wilson also starts the season on the injury list. But, unlike Backstrom and Hagelin, his return isn’t too far away. He should be back before the turn of the year to partner with 37-year-old Ovechkin in the offensive zone. With those factors in mind, the Capitals enter 2022-23 with plenty to prove. They’re good, but are they really good? We’ll soon find out.

Washington Capitals Finalize 2022-23 Roster

The Capitals named their squad for Wednesday’s [Oct. 12] season-opener versus the Boston Bruins. It included two new netminders, seven defencemen, and 14 forwards:

  • Netminders: Darcy Kuemper, Charlie Lindgren
  • Defencemen: John Carlson, Martin Fehérváry, Erik Gustafsson, Matt Irwin, Nick Jensen, Dmitry Orlov, Trevor van Riemsdyk
  • Forwards: Connor Brown, Nic Dowd, Lars Eller, Garnet Hathaway, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Anthony Mantha, Connor McMichael, T.J. Oshie, Alex Ovechkin, Aliaksei Protas, Conor Sheary, Joe Snively, Dylan Strome

Compared to their roster from last season, the Capitals haven’t exactly changed a whole lot. They have, however, added key pieces in important areas. Darcy Kuemper’s arrival could turn out to be a significant moment in the history of the franchise, as they came unglued last season due to flaky performances from Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov. They responded by signing the netminder who just lifted the Stanley Cup.

Darcy Kuemper Colorado Avalanche 2022 Stanley Cup
Darcy Kuemper, celebrating winning the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

For that, MacLellan receives a perfect score. But it isn’t unreasonable to be concerned about the signing of Lindgren as a full-time backup. The 28-year-old has only made 29 appearances in the NHL, enduring a topsy-turvy career to date. Despite impressing in the preseason, he must prove himself in the first weeks of the regular season.

Related: Capitals’ Kuemper & Lindgren Must Make Immediate Impact

Up front, MacLellan added Brown and Strome. They arrive in Washington with team-friendly contracts and reputations for being solid middle-six producers. Washington’s new duo should do the trick as injury cover.

Erik Gustafsson is the only new face on the blue line. His arrival is good news for Trevor van Riemsdyk, who will shuffle back to his natural position on the right side of the defence.

Capitals Lose Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Brett Leason on Waivers

While there were no major surprises when the Capitals announced their final roster on Monday [Oct. 10], MacLellan lost two depth forwards while making his final training camp cuts. Axel Jonsson-Fjallby was claimed off waivers by the Winnipeg Jets, while the Anaheim Ducks nabbed Brett Leason.

Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Washington Capitals
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby during his time with the Washington Capitals (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s the second time that the Capitals have lost Jonsson-Fjallby – the Buffalo Sabres claimed him at this time last year, only to waive him back to Washington a few days later. He made his NHL debut last season, notching four points (two goals, two assists) in 23 appearances. The 24-year-old projects as a bottom-six forward and will be useful for the Jets.

Leason’s departure will hurt the Capitals, though. The 23-year-old also debuted last season, scoring six points (three goals, three assists) in 36 appearances. At 6-foot-5, the former second-round pick still has plenty of untapped potential. Washington’s loss is the Ducks’ gain.

Brett Leason, Washington Capitals
Brett Leason, Washington Capitals (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While the Capitals’ forward depth has taken a hit after the waiver claims, players who remain stand to benefit. Aliaksei Protas is a prominent example: he played in all six of Washington’s preseason games and impressed the coaching staff with his speed, improved skating technique, and versatility. Snively is also on the right path, as he recorded 7 points (4 goals, 3 assists) in 12 games last season. The Northern Virginia-born forward also earned himself a two-year, $1.6 million contract.

“I think he’s smart,” Laviolette said of Snively. “I think he uses his speed to defend… playing offense is the best defence and maybe he can contribute to that.”

McMichael remains in the mix but finds himself in a roster battle with Snively and Protas after a mediocre training camp. Even so, he has a high ceiling and remains a breakout candidate for the season ahead.

Final Assessment of the Washington Capitals 2022-23 Offseason

MacLellan made the moves he needed to make in the offseason. He didn’t do more, he didn’t do less. Washington coveted a netminder (or netminders, as it turned out) and injury cover in the top six for Backstrom and Wilson. Their GM delivered.

Now, it’s time for the players to do their business on the ice. Everyone knows what to expect from the likes of Ovechkin, Carlson, and Kuznetsov at this point. They return with one task: to do what they have always done: score goals.

In the bottom half of the roster, the Capitals need a few players to take the next step in their development. McMichael is the obvious candidate. If he develops into the player he is forecasted to be, it will help them extend their window of contention even as age curves bite the core.

Ultimately, though, the Capitals’ season will boil down to the quality of netminding their receive. They need Kuemper to stay healthy and Lindgren to deliver in his first season as an undisputed backup. Period. It’s time for one final push in the nation’s capital. Will they deliver?

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