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Washington Capitals face big 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.
Image: Getty Images

The Washington Capitals simply pissed away their first-round Eastern Conference sequence towards the Florida Panthers. The President’s Trophy winners have been on the ropes in three straight video games. And the Panthers received all three of these postseason contests in succession, two in additional time and one after trailing 3-0, to be the one staff from the east to advance with out a Game 7.

It’s the fourth straight first-round exit for the Caps, all coming for the reason that staff’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 12 months, 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 a whole upset (Carolina in 2019) or being outplayed in each manner, like what occurred the earlier two seasons. Washington had all of the instruments to take down one of the best staff 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 battle proven by the Capitals what the staff is able to with out Tom Wilson, who was harm early in Game 1 and didn’t play in the remainder of the sequence? Or is it a sign of a a lot greater 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, received’t be leaving the nation’s capital.

Alongside the Capitals’ roster discovering extra grey hair, recent younger pups that may turn out to be the subsequent technology’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. Where 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 most important of a number of perplexing selections by former normal supervisor George McPhee, that are manifesting now.

Current GM Brian MacLellan hasn’t carried out a lot to forestall Capital One Arena from turning into the NHL’s senior heart. 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 mean 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 sequence.

The Capitals have 15 gamers underneath skilled contracts which might be free brokers this summer season, with six being unrestricted. The just one the staff must resign is Justin Schultz. Yes, he’s 31, and solely a 12 months youthful than the growing older core. He didn’t present it in any respect this 12 months and will be a part of Washington’s prime D pairing with Carlson. As good because the reunion with Marcus Johansson was, the staff may get a youthful, cheaper and higher participant simply.

Of the 9 restricted free brokers, just a few needs to be again with Washington, the most important being llya Samsonov. He earned the No. 1 spot in internet going into subsequent season. Was he phenomenal within the playoffs? Absolutely not. Was the 25-year-old Russian the explanation the Capitals misplaced the sequence? Again, completely not. Blame the dearth of effort from the fellows in entrance of him, and Florida being an all-time resilient staff. The Capitals ought to carry again Vitek Vanacek in addition to Samsonov’s backup. Neither one is the everlasting answer in purpose in the event that they don’t enhance however protecting them collectively is one of the best short-term possibility.

The most related factor in regards to the Capitals is (and has been since 2004) Alex Ovechkin. The biggest purpose scorer within the historical past of hockey will chase down Gordie Howe for second all-time on the NHL’s all-time objectives checklist early subsequent season, then he begins the lengthy street to Wayne Gretzky. The Great 8 will likely 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 staff, and doesn’t outline his legacy.

It will be true that it’s a disservice to Ovechkin that the Capitals made one run previous the second spherical so far in his tenure with the staff, whereas concurrently right that Ovechkin doesn’t carry the trait of playoff disappointment with him. These exits would harm Ovechkin far more with out that 2018 Cup. He was spectacular in that postseason. It reveals he can do it.

The regarding pattern for Ovechkin and the core of Washington’s staff 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 one. Connor McMichael was the one ahead underneath the age of 27 to play for the Capitals within the sequence, solely acquired his spot because of Wilson’s harm, and was almost invisible. Maybe Hendrix Lapierre? He wants a world of improvement earlier than taking over that highlight.

Without that set famous person 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 crucial constant groups within the league for the reason that flip of the century and has been a great vacation spot without spending a dime brokers to signal and attempt to win a championship. That clear path isn’t so pristine anymore. And it places the Capitals in a troublesome spot with no clear security internet.

The reply isn’t to blow out the core of this staff. Ovechkin and Backstrom have clearly said they need to retire in DC earlier than going to the Hall of Fame. Getting rid of Wilson or Oshie can be errors simply as massive as buying and selling away Forsberg. The reply isn’t to rid the staff of Carlson or Kuznetsov, however for the precise value, particularly a confirmed in-their-prime famous person, MacLellan can be dumb to not pay attention. The solely subject is, what staff can be prepared to make that commerce? Good luck discovering that commerce associate. 

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