To say Washington Capitals fans are getting worried would be an understatement. Following their incredible run to their first Stanley Cup in 2018, the team has endured four straight first round exits. There is no lack of special teams scoring with guys like Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie returning, nor is there a hole on the defensive end with John Carlson and Dmitri Orlov ready to run it back. The main issues for the Capitals have been 5v5 scoring, as well as the inability to find a consistent goaltender. With the core healthy and management signing and acquiring some really solid pieces, they find themselves in the best position they’ve been in since their last Stanley Cup in 2018.
Letting Tandem Walk, Signing Kuemper Long Term
The Capitals decided to let restricted free agent goaltender Ilya Samsonov go to free agency after not tendering him a qualifying offer, and he decided to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs on a one-year deal. Vitek Vanecek was traded to the New Jersey Devils, where he has since signed a three-year extension. In making these moves, fans all around the league were confused, as this meant their starting goaltender was now Zach Fucale. However, as soon as free agency hit, the Capitals made one of the first big splashes around the NHL, signing Stanley Cup winning goaltender Darcy Kuemper to a five-year contract worth $5.25 million per season.
The Capitals clearly upgraded in net, as Kuemper is coming off of a Stanley Cup victory with the Colorado Avalanche. In 57 games played during the 2021-22 regular season, he posted a .921 save percentage (SV%) with a 2.54 goals against average (GAA), and finished with a 37-12-4 record. In Washington, Vanecek played in 42 games, had a 20-12-4 record and posted a 2.67 GAA and .908 SV%, while his counterpart Samsonov played 44 games and posted a 3.02 GAA with a .896 SV%. It’s also worth noting that Vanecek was pulled in three games he started, while Samsonov was pulled in five. Kuemper on the other hand, wasn’t pulled even once.
Signing Dylan Strome, Trading For Connor Brown
The Capitals went out and signed former Chicago Blackhawk Dylan Strome to a one year contract worth $3 million per season. They also made the move to acquire Connor Brown from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a second-round pick. Both forwards are expected to bring some scoring depth to the middle-six, while likely earning opportunities all around their lineup. Last season, Strome played in 69 games with the Blackhawks where he put up 22 goals and 26 assists for 48 points. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, he brings some much needed size to the Caps’ lineup, while having a natural scoring touch.
Brown played 64 games with the Senators last season, where he scored 10 goals and added 29 assists for 39 points. At 6-foot, 181 pounds, he is a speedy player who has often been praised for his fearlessness in corner battles and for blocking shots. He should fit in nicely with the middle-six as a second or third liner, while being a mainstay on the penalty kill.
Drafting Ivan Miroshnichenko
At 20th overall in the 2022 NHL Draft, the Capitals selected left winger Ivan Miroschnichenko who due to a really unfortunate health issue was unable to play at 100 percent through the entirety of his draft year. In the games he did play, he looked like the best player on the ice, as he was playing with grown men and dominating. In 31 games in the VHL with Omskie Krylia, he scored 10 goals and added six assists for 16 points.
This pickup was an absolute steal for the Capitals. Miroshnichenko has always been praised for his clean, but intense play. He wins every battle, has natural scoring ability, and some speed for a guy that stands at 6-foot-1, 194 pounds. Although he likely won’t be ready for the 2022-23 season, when he finally is ready to play in the big leagues, he will be a huge difference maker.
2017-18 Capitals vs 2022-23 Capitals
The reason the Capitals went so far in the 2017-18 season was because of the heart and drive they had throughout the entirety of their lineup. There wasn’t one player on that roster that wasn’t willing to put everything they had into every single second of every single shift. Guys like Devante Smith-Pelly, Chandler Stephenson and Alex Chiasson weren’t given big roles on the team but wanted to win and made every shift count, and contributed by playing their roles to the best of their abilities. They were the reason the Capitals went on to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Throughout the last few seasons, that’s what the Capitals have been missing. With the lack of veteran depth in the lineup, mixed with untrustworthy goaltending and a younger D core, the team has never been able to reach the same level they did just a few years ago. With the additions of Strome, Brown and Kuemper, they find themselves in a position to win, and on paper have one of the most dominant teams in the league. Time will tell if they have what it takes to make another run for a Stanley Cup, but this team should give Capitals fans goosebumps regardless. They look like a more well rounded squad and one that will be driven to win. As such, I fully expect a deep playoff run with this group of guys.
The Capitals were able to keep some complementary pieces around like Tom Wilson and Lars Eller, as well as give the young guns like Connor McMichael and Alexei Protas shots in the big leagues. Those pieces, as well as the additions of Henrik Borgstrom and Charlie Lindgren in free agency have made them a force to be reckoned with going into the new season. The depth they have lacked in the previous four seasons has now returned and they should have a team of guys who will want to win in the playoffs and put everything into every shift. It’s like 2018, but better!
I have been a writer for a little over a year now, and currently still play Junior Hockey in Western Canada. I’m a huge fan of the Capitals and Oilers, and I run my own hockey news page on Instagram titled “TheMugNHL”
Writing has become a hobby, as I plan to pursue business in university while still trying to play hockey as I go.