Capitals Preseason Mailbag: Ovechkin, Kuemper & More

Welcome to the Washington Capitals Mailbag here at The Hockey Writers. This column will allow our writers to field questions about the franchise as the season unfolds. If you would like to be featured in the next edition of the series, drop your queries in the comments section under this article.

Washington Capitals Mailbag

In the inaugural issue of the mailbag, we answer your questions about Alex Ovechkin, Darcy Kuemper, and the Capitals’ new-look top-six. There’s a lot to discuss.

What Are Your Expectations for Dylan Strome and Connor Brown?

Let’s start with Dylan Strome, who joined the Capitals on a one-year, $3.5 million contract on the second day of free agency. The 25-year-old produced 48 points (22 goals, 26 assists) in 69 appearances for the Chicago Blackhawks last term, an impressive tally for a lottery pick-coveting franchise.

Dylan Strome Chicago Blackhawks
Dylan Strome, formerly of the Chicago Blackhawks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Strome is a fantastic fit for the Capitals on Peter Laviolette’s second forward line. The 6-foot-3 centreman has the physicality and puck-moving ability to make an impact at both ends of the ice and will solidify Washington’s attack in the absence of Nicklas Backstrom.

Also of note: his contract is exceptional value. Strome has produced offence at a consistent rate since debuting for the Arizona Coyotes in 2016-17, amassing 170 points (67 goals, 103 assists) in 273 regular-season appearances.

Connor Brown is an interesting acquisition for the Capitals, who spent a second-round pick in the 2024 NHL Entry Draft to lure him from the Ottawa Senators. He recorded 39 points (10 goals, 29 assists) in 64 contests last season, wearing an ‘A’ in his final season at the Canadian Tire Centre.

Connor Brown Ottawa Senators
Connor Brown, formerly of the Ottawa Senators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

He is also expected to slide into Laviolette’s top-six, filling Tom Wilson’s shoes as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. Stylistically, the 28-year-old is a solid match for the Caps.

Brown is not the flashiest player around but has the experience and mindset to make the most of the opportunities that land on his stick. He will become an unrestricted free agent next summer, but his $3.6 million cap hit is handy in the meantime.

Related: Capitals’ Cap Management Looks Solid Before 2022-23 Season

All told, general manager Brian MacLellan deserves credit for sourcing reliable replacements and handling the NHL’s flat cap with Wilson and Backstrom on long-term injury reserve. Brown and Strome should be fine in D.C.

How Much Closer Will Alex Ovechkin Get to Wayne Gretzky as the NHL’s Goal-Scoring Leader This Season?

Ovechkin is only 115 goals away from vaulting Wayne Gretzky at the top of the NHL’s all-time goals chart. The 36-year-old’s contract has four years left to run, placing him on a collision course with hockey history. Ahead of the new season, this is how the league’s scoring race looks:

  1. Wayne Gretzky, 894
  2. Gordie Howe, 801
  3. Alex Ovechkin, 780
  4. Jaromír Jágr, 766
  5. Brett Hull, 744

Sidney Crosby (517) is the next active player on the list, slotting in as the NHL’s 39th most prolific scorer. In other words, Ovechkin’s record is already absurd and could propel him into a league of his own.

Washington’s captain ended last season with 90 points (50 goals, 40 assists) in 77 games. Before that, he potted 42 points (24 goals, 18 assists) in 45 outings and 67 points (48 goals, 19 assists) in 68 appearances.

Ovechkin, the author of nine 50-goal seasons, endured the worst spell of his career a decade ago. He only scored 70 times in 157 appearances across the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, an average of 0.45 goals per game. If the Moscow-born forward recreates the worst span of his career and stays injury-free this season, he will finish 2022-23 with 37 goals to his name and only 78 behind Gretzky.

With that said, it would not be unreasonable to expect the three-time Hart Trophy winner to outperform his worst years and draw even closer to the scoring summit. Still, anything is possible.

What Are Your Expectations of the New Tandem of Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren… Will They Be an Elite Duo This Year or Do the Question Marks From Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek Continue?

There are a couple of points to unpack here, starting with MacLellan’s decision to dump Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek. Washington’s netminding was a constant source of frustration last season: neither of the team’s goalies could be trusted to string a run of impressive performances together. They allowed too many soft goals at too many bad moments. Eventually, the franchise had to move on.

But that is not to say that the Capitals are free of question marks in the crease. Far from it.

Darcy Kuemper is a sensible bet. He backstopped the Colorado Avalanche to the Stanley Cup with one fully-functioning eye last season, penning an impressive regular-season record along the way. His five-year, $5.25 million average annual value (AAV) contract could become problematic down the line, but it is fine for now.

Charlie Lindgren is a risk, though. He is unproven as a backup at the highest level and only made five appearances for the St. Louis Blues last season. However, he was excellent in his minimal time on ice, earning five wins and a steamy .958 save percentage (SV%). The 28-year-old also excelled in the American Hockey League (AHL), upholding a .958 SV% and 2.21 goals-against average (GAA) through 34 appearances for the Springfield Thunderbirds.

Charlie Lindgren St. Louis Blues
Charlie Lindgren, formerly of the St. Louis Blues (Photo by Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images)

But the American’s track record is spotty. He has never played more than 14 games in a single NHL season and posted a .893 SV% in the AHL as recently as 2019-20.

MacLellan has rolled the dice on Lindgren. If he works out as a No. 2, the Capitals’ front office will look like geniuses. If he fails, it could spark the end of an era.

To sum it up: Washington’s netminding situation has improved this summer, with MacLellan solving the Vanecek-Samsonov puzzle. But the franchise still has some way to go to prove they have resolved every question mark hanging over the crease. As such, it remains a complicated picture going into 2022-23.

Capitals Prepare for the Start of Training Camp

There is not long to wait for the start of preseason, with Washington hosting the Buffalo Sabres in a matinee game on Sept. 25. The Capitals will then travel to Pennsylvania to face off against the Philadelphia Flyers four days later, with games against the Detroit Red Wings (x2) and Columbus Blue Jackets (x2) to follow.

In the meantime, make sure you keep up with the latest preseason analysis at The Hockey Writers for all your Capitals and hockey needs. Any questions for the next mailbag? Drop them in the comments.

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