Career Verhaeghe, not Jonathan Huberdeau or Aleksander Barkov, was the player the Washington Capitals couldn’t stop in their first-round playoff series.
When he scored two minutes into overtime of Game 6 on Friday night, advancing the Florida Panthers to the second round for the first time in 26 years, he also eliminated the Washington Capitals for the fourth time in five years.
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It’s a disappointing finale for Washington, not just because it’s a squad that’s a year older and closer to the end of its run than it was at the start, but also because it was a series in which it had numerous chances to win. The Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers did not run the Capitals out of the building, and it was far from the one-sided mismatch many predicted at the start.
They mostly held the Panthers at bay and had leads (including one of three goals!) in each of the series’ final three games (all losses).That, combined with the fact they have not advanced in the playoffs since winning the Stanley Cup in 2018, is going to lead to a lot of questions this offseason about what this team is and where it can still go.
The Capitals are certainly not where they were in 2016, 2017, and 2018, when they were consistently winning the Presidents’ Trophy or the Stanley Cup. They’re still good, though.
Even though they were the Eastern Conference’s eighth playoff club, they still ended with 100 points in a tough division. They also did it despite the fact that Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and Anthony Mantha (about half of their top-six forwards) all missed half of the season due to injuries. This does not include the five postseason games they played without Tom Wilson.
They also got average goaltending from Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov, who were 16th in 5-on-5 save % and 23rd overall. They were one of only three teams in the NHL to finish below 18th in all-situations save percentage (Los Angeles was 19th, Toronto was 22nd, and the Capitals were 23rd), with no playoff club finishing lower. So just getting there with that level of goal-setting is a significant achievement.
Unfortunately, things did not improve much in the playoffs.
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Although there are numerous problems, the results are nonetheless quite nice. And it’s easy to get into the trap of believing that greater health and goaltending will lead to better performance.
They need to locate a goalkeeper
The Capitals have been using the Samsonov-Vanecek tandem for two years, with the combination finishing 19th and 23rd in all-situations save percentages, respectively, and failing to make the playoffs.
That is an issue
the issue is that none of their goaltenders are under contract for next season (they are both restricted free agents). Is there anything that makes you think they should invest a lot of money in any of them? Or that a contract with a “prove it” clause will produce a different result?
If the Capitals are still serious about competing, they must improve their position. Darcy Kuemper and Jack Campbell are pending UFAs, according to a brief scan at the free agent alternatives. If Kuemper goes on the open market, he’ll be expensive and have plenty of suitors. Marc-Andre Fleury is also expected to be available, but he does not appear to be playing in Washington.
In the end, the Capitals had some of the poorest goaltending of any playoff team in the NHL this season, which may be difficult to overcome no matter what else occurs with the rest of your squad. Is it Washington’s most serious issue? That is a point of contention. However, it may be the quickest solution.
Will everyone return?
Aside from goaltender, the Capitals have a few pending UFAs on defense (Justin Schultz, Michal Kempny, and Matt Irwin) and are still in need of some help.Because they have several major contracts on their books, they don’t have much salary cap room to work with.
Alex Ovechkin isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Nicklas Backstrom will not leave the team unless he decides to retire.
Evgeny Kuznetsov spent the majority of the 2021 offseason rumor mill, so it’s worth considering whether the Capitals would pursue that option again.
However, he had a fantastic comeback season and was their top center this season. It now seems pointless to trade him.
Anthony Mantha has a big contract and hasn’t quite lived up to expectations in Washington, but that’s partly due to a lack of availability. I still think he can be a pretty excellent player here when he’s healthy, and one who will eventually be worth his cap number (and the money they paid for him).
What are two names that should be considered? Lars Eller and Oshie Oshie has been a wonderful Capital, but I’m not sure he’ll age as well as players like Ovechkin, Backstrom, or Kuznetsov, and with a cap number of $5.75 million for another three years, that’s one you might try to avoid.
Eller is fascinating since his cap figure is reasonable, he can still perform well in his current role, and the Capitals could use an extra $3 million. There’s also the problem that Connor McMichael need more playing time yet only spends $863,000 over the next two seasons. You lose four years in a row you have to expect some changes, especially when you still have holes to fill.
For the past decade and a half, the Capitals have been one of the NHL’s finest teams, finishing around the top of the standings. When you’ve been on top for so long and have a core of players in their 30s, it’s natural that you’ll experience a fall. That deterioration has unmistakably begun. However, this is not a cliff dive, and it is evident that this team can still be a playoff team, albeit a good one. But it is not yet a cliff dive and it is clear this team can still be a playoff team, and a pretty good one. A full-blown rebuild will need to happen in time, but that time is not here yet. But some changes still need to be made if they are going to be more than a team that simply gets to the playoffs without being able to do anything once they get there.
We were the ones that uncovered this information. The reader should be aware that we obtained this information from journalists and other online sources, as well as our correspondents and other jeanue sources.
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