Washington Capitals face large questions after fourth-straight first-round exit

Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals went out early once again.

Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals went out early as soon as once more.
Picture: Getty Photos

The Washington Capitals simply pissed away their first-round Jap Convention collection towards the Florida Panthers. The President’s Trophy winners have been on the ropes in three straight video games. And the Panthers gained all three of these postseason contests in succession, two in additional time and one after trailing 3-0, to be the one group from the east to advance with no Recreation 7.

It’s the fourth straight first-round exit for the Caps, all coming because the group’s Stanley Cup triumph in 2018. It took Washington almost three years to win a regulation playoff sport throughout that stretch after getting swept by the Islanders in 2020 and successful one playoff sport final yr, in additional time, in a 4-1 drubbing from Boston.

This playoff exit for the Capitals is exclusive in a post-Stanley Cup universe. It wasn’t an entire upset (Carolina in 2019) or being outplayed in each approach, like what occurred the earlier two seasons. Washington had all of the instruments to take down the most effective group from the common season, and certain do extra harm, as neither the Rangers nor Penguins have seemed spectacular and are liable to second-round postseason exits.

Was the dearth of combat proven by the Capitals what the group is able to with out Tom Wilson, who was damage early in Recreation 1 and didn’t play in the remainder of the collection? Or is it a sign of a a lot larger drawback? I’m afraid it’s the latter. Washington isn’t getting any youthful. The core of gamers from the 2018 Stanley Cup run are locked into contracts subsequent season and, barring a blockbuster commerce, gained’t be leaving the nation’s capital.

Alongside the Capitals’ roster discovering extra grey hair, recent younger pups that may turn into the subsequent era’s stars haven’t been introduced in. Many promising prospects have been traded away for gamers who need to chase a Stanley Cup now, mismanaged or launched all collectively. The place would Washington be with Filip Forsberg? The veteran he was traded for, 40-year-old Martin Erat, 13 years Forsberg’s elder, hasn’t performed within the NHL since 2015. That’s the largest of a number of perplexing choices by former basic supervisor George McPhee, that are manifesting now.

Present GM Brian MacLellan hasn’t achieved a lot to stop Capital One Enviornment from turning into the NHL’s senior middle. The indispensable Washington six of Alex Ovechkin (extra of him in a second), Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Wilson and John Carlson has a median age of older than 32. That reaches almost 34 with out Wilson with almost six video games of proof as to what that appears like on this collection.

The Capitals have 15 gamers underneath skilled contracts which can be free brokers this summer time, with six being unrestricted. The one one the group must resign is Justin Schultz. Sure, he’s 31, and solely a yr youthful than the ageing core. He didn’t present it in any respect this yr and may be a part of Washington’s prime D pairing with Carlson. As good because the reunion with Marcus Johansson was, the group might get a youthful, cheaper and higher participant simply.

Of the 9 restricted free brokers, just a few must be again with Washington, the largest being llya Samsonov. He earned the No. 1 spot in internet going into subsequent season. Was he phenomenal within the playoffs? Completely not. Was the 25-year-old Russian the explanation the Capitals misplaced the collection? Once more, completely not. Blame the dearth of effort from the blokes in entrance of him, and Florida being an all-time resilient group. The Capitals ought to deliver again Vitek Vanacek in addition to Samsonov’s backup. Neither one is the everlasting answer in objective in the event that they don’t enhance however maintaining them collectively is the most effective short-term possibility.

Probably the most related factor in regards to the Capitals is (and has been since 2004) Alex Ovechkin. The best objective scorer within the historical past of hockey will chase down Gordie Howe for second all-time on the NHL’s all-time targets listing early subsequent season, then he begins the lengthy street to Wayne Gretzky. The Nice 8 shall be 37 the subsequent time he performs in an NHL sport. You see the grey beard. He nonetheless hasn’t misplaced a step. And this playoff exit doesn’t sit on his shoulders greater than anybody else on the group, and doesn’t outline his legacy.

It may be true that it’s a disservice to Ovechkin that the Capitals made one run previous the second spherical up to now in his tenure with the group, whereas concurrently appropriate that Ovechkin doesn’t carry the trait of playoff disappointment with him. These exits would damage Ovechkin far more with out that 2018 Cup. He was spectacular in that postseason. It exhibits he can do it.

The regarding pattern for Ovechkin and the core of Washington’s group that surrounds him is how the subsequent man up isn’t in place. Even worse, who’s the candidate to be the subsequent marketable star for the franchise? There isn’t a superb one. Connor McMichael was the one ahead underneath the age of 27 to play for the Capitals within the collection, solely bought his spot on account of Wilson’s damage, and was almost invisible. Possibly Hendrix Lapierre? He wants a world of improvement earlier than taking up that highlight.

With out that set celebrity or set of All-Star-caliber gamers within the group, the Capitals relevancy within the NHL will fade, if it hasn’t began to take action already. Washington has been one of the constant groups within the league because the flip of the century and has been a perfect vacation spot without cost brokers to signal and attempt to win a championship. That clear path isn’t so pristine anymore. And it places the Capitals in a tricky spot with no clear security internet.

The reply isn’t to blow out the core of this group. Ovechkin and Backstrom have clearly acknowledged they need to retire in DC earlier than going to the Corridor of Fame. Eliminating Wilson or Oshie could be errors simply as large as buying and selling away Forsberg. The reply isn’t to rid the group of Carlson or Kuznetsov, however for the best worth, specifically a confirmed in-their-prime celebrity, MacLellan could be dumb to not pay attention. The one challenge is, what group could be prepared to make that commerce? Good luck discovering that commerce accomplice. 

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