Four years, four first-round exits. The Washington Capitals have failed to qualify for the playoffs since winning the Stanley Cup in 2018. But just days after a six-game loss to the Florida Panthers, captain Alex Ovechkin sounded like someone who wanted to knock the team back. So is coach Peter Laviolette, who insists Washington’s aging core can still succeed.
However, the people responsible for making the decision don’t seem so convinced.
“We’ve lost in the first round the past four years,” general manager Brian McClellan said. “We’re going to explore changes. I don’t think there’s anything to fix.”
McClellan said the Capitals will “look at everything” after another disappointing postseason. From the outside, Washington appears to have hit a wall. While the Panthers may be the favorites, the perception was further highlighted by the fact that the Capitals finally ended the series with a lead in three straight games.
On McClellan’s to-do list: comb through the team’s goalie situation, figure out the health of key players, investigate the trade market and identify free agents the team wants to pursue. According to Cap Friendly, Washington is projected to have nearly $9 million in cap space this offseason — a sizable opportunity to work together despite goalkeepers Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek being restricted free agents.
But broadly speaking, McClellan will have to determine how far he wants to shake Washington to its core.
“We did a lot of positive things to get ourselves to beat the No. 1 team in the East, maybe the No. 1 team in the league, but we didn’t finish it,” McClellan said. “We didn’t finish. Games 4, 5, 6, we probably should have won all of them. Given the experience we have, we are an experienced team… we didn’t shut them out.
“So it’s disappointing in that regard.”
Only nine players remain on Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup roster: Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom, Yevgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, TJ Osh, John Carlson , Dmitry Orlov, Ras Eller and Michal Kempny. Aside from reserve guard Kempney, the rest remain important contributors for Washington, most of whom have had strong seasons. Ovechkin, for example, just finished a 50-goal season, while Carlsen and Wilson scored career highs.
However, questions remain about how much Washington can rely on them in the future. Especially Wilson and Backstrom, who have serious injury problems. Wilson, who missed the team’s final five games after being injured in Game 1 against Florida, revealed Sunday that his knee injury is “pretty serious” and may require surgery.
Backstrom, on the other hand, is still dealing with the annoying left hip injury that caused him to miss the first two months of the season. The 34-year-old had hip surgery in 2015, and although he chose not to undergo another surgery last season, McClellan said he doesn’t think Backstrom’s status quo is sustainable. “It’s hard for him to play,” McClellan said.
Backstrom told reporters he would consider “all options” but wasn’t sure if he would need another surgery. The Swede has two goals and two assists in the playoffs, but in the regular season he has only six goals in 47 games — both career lows.
“The best thing I want to do is play hockey, that’s my life,” Backstrom said. “Obviously I want to come back. I want to get back to normal and not worry about this. We’ll see what happens. Nothing is finalized.”
When asked if Baxstrom’s injury would force the center to retire, McClellan simply reiterated that Baxstrom is evaluating his options. The executive was also noncommittal about Backstrom’s start to the season, but was more optimistic about Wilson.
By relying on many players in their 30s, McClellan admits that older players are more prone to injury. The Capitals have had a rough season with veterans like Oshie (35) and Backstrom in and out of the lineup. As a result, Washington relies on prospects to fill when necessary, but those young players see roles that are minimized or fail to crack the lineup in the playoffs.
Health concerns are the reason McClellan said Washington needs a “youth shot” next season. He mentioned that he would like to see the role of center Conor McMichael expanded, adding that there are other prospects in the Capitals, such as José Neverley, Brett Leeson and Alyakse Protas, who can guarantee more Lots of NHL opportunities.
Still, against Florida State, Washington has nearly the full roster — except for Wilson. The Capitals just ran out of gas and failed to finish the game. McClellan blamed the decline on mistakes by “our key men,” which he said made a playoff exit all the more frustrating.
Meanwhile, the Panthers continue to face the Tampa Bay Chargers. By knocking out Washington on Friday, Florida State got a few days off going into the second round.
capital? They were just one of three teams that failed to force a Game 7 in these playoffs, joining the St. Louis Blues (swept by Minnesota Wild in six games) and the Nashville Predators (swept by Colorado Avalance) four).
Last weekend, there were five Game 7s. The capital was left to watch at home.
“We want this core to stay together forever,” Ohi said. “I hope we do it for a few more years. It’s hard not to get to the second round with these guys and still work every day.”