The Washington Capitals signing Filip Forsberg is improbable, somewhat outlandish, but could be a valid consideration. It’s not as far-fetched of a notion as it may seem, just because it hasn’t really been discussed. The forward has a history with both the franchise and the head coach, and with Nicklas Backstrom still undecided about his future, the potential match should at least be evaluated.
What it really comes down to is money, as well as Peter Laviolette’s future with the team. If Washington is to make a splash in free agency, it needs to be at the forward position, and with Tom Wilson’s injury making him unavailable until about December, they need an impact player, not a role player.
Should the Capitals Pursue Forsberg?
There are two main factors to Forsberg possibly joining the Capitals in free agency this summer. First, Backstrom controls the cap situation for the team. Second, management’s confidence in Laviolette moving forward.
Related: Filip Forsberg Trade Revisited
Washington drafted Forsberg 11th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft. Less than a year later, he was traded to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Martin Erat and Michael Latta. Those two skaters played a combined 175 games for the Capitals. It wasn’t necessarily a bad trade because, at the time, Erat was a solid player and Washington was hoping he would contribute in the postseason. He registered zero points in four playoff games for the Capitals.
Of course, hindsight makes it look like a bad trade considering what Forsberg eventually became in Nashville.
Connection to Laviolette
Laviolette coached the Predators from 2014-2020. He won a total of 248 games for the franchise and posted a .525 winning percentage. He also reached the postseason five of six seasons, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017.
Forsberg, 27, played his first full season for Nashville in 2014-15. The forward also appeared in 18 NHL games between the prior two seasons. He has registered 469 points in 556 total games played, mostly coming with Laviolette at the helm.
He was also a playoff catalyst for the franchise, especially during their run to the Final. Forsberg became a name in the NHL under Laviolette, however, it must be noted that the forward is coming off his best season, setting career marks in points (84), goals (42), and assists (42), without Laviolette as his coach.
Since he did post career-highs during a contract year, he’s bound to receive a hefty raise this summer. One of the only ways Washington can afford him rests on Backstrom’s decision about his future.
The Backstrom Conundrum
Washington’s longtime center just underwent surgery on his left hip again, and there is no timetable for his return yet. One issue the Capitals suffer from is age — Backstrom is 34 years old.
Almost all Washington supporters don’t want to fathom the idea of Backstrom leaving the team, considering what he has done for the franchise. He is undeniably one of the best to ever skate in a Capitals sweater. However, if he can’t play, or doesn’t feel like he’s comfortable, then he and the front office have very difficult decisions to make. It can be assumed that retirement is more of a reality than a trade or being waived.
Backstrom holds the second-highest annual salary on the team at $9.2 million, and his contract runs through 2024-25. Forsberg made $6 million in 2021-22. Forsberg will most likely earn around what Backstrom is earning right now with a new contract.
When the price is comparable, the statistics must be measured against each other. Backstrom has been more productive every season than his younger counterpart since the latter entered the league. The only real argument in Forsberg’s favor is that Backstrom has had better offensive weapons to share the puck with.
One thing to note is that, though he’s older and becoming more injury-prone, Backstrom has actually played 25 more games than Forsberg the last eight seasons. Also during that span, he has averaged .92 points per game, while Forsberg is at .86. Availability must be part of the evaluation as well.
To Forsberg or not to Forsberg
Probably not, but he’s worth deep consideration. Backstrom’s future is in the air, but has still out-produced Forsberg. Yet, this is also about the franchise moving forward. Forsberg has the potential to be better with better weapons surrounding him. At 27, he could be part of the offensive core for Washington, with possibly Wilson and Anthony Mantha, beyond the Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin era.
The other uncertainty is Laviolette’s future. If Forsberg is signed because of his connection with his old coach, and the Capitals under-perform again, especially in the postseason, then said connection may end up being a moot point. Laviolette’s contract expires after this upcoming season and there’s no guarantee he will be back.
General manager Brian MacLellan should give Forsberg a deep thought, but it would be wise he doesn’t jump on signing the forward, especially if a bidding war emerges. A lot needs to happen anyway for him to return to the team that drafted him, and the coach that led him to a Stanley Cup Final.