The Caps Exit Early Again. Something Needs to Change.

Posted May 23, 2021

(Caps Outsider)

With the Capitals losing in the first round of the playoffs, again, it’s obvious that something is wrong that can’t be fixed by tinkering with the roster or coaching staff in the offseason. If it weren’t for the team winning the Stanley Cup in 2018, when it finally got the lucky bounces it desperately needed just to beat Columbus, it would be harder to admit that this squad is no longer capable of postseason success, as if its 5-12 record in the past three seasons doesn’t already prove that.

Forget the Stanley Cup Finals. Looking forward, does anyone see a scenario in which Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson, Anthony Mantha, Lars Eller, Carl Hagelin, Dmitry Orlov, Justin Schultz, Brendan Dillon and Nick Jensen – the team’s highest-paid players – make it into the second or third round? Changes need to happen, beyond what we already know.

Here’s what we know: One player, likely Oshie or Kuznetsov, will be taken in Seattle’s expansion draft, opening up millions in cap space. But some of that money will go to Ovechkin, the team’s only major free agent this offseason, though I wouldn’t blame Ovi if the latest playoff loss makes him imagine himself in a different jersey. While the Caps will give Ovechkin whatever it takes – I’m guessing four years for $46 million – that won’t make the team better, it’ll just keep things the same assuming he still averages 5 goals every 8 games in his mid-to-late 30s as he guns for Wayne Gretzky’s NHL goal-scoring record. Then the Caps will be able to afford another free agent in the $5 million range, which will translate into, perhaps, a guy who gets a 20-goal season.

As for reinforcements, the Caps have a few players in the system who will likely be regular rostered players in the next couple seasons, including Connor McMichael, Hendrix Lapierre, and Alex Alexeyev. Are those the players that push this roster past the first round? Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet money on it, especially when the bulk of the minutes are still taken by the current players.

Is the problem coaching? Peter Laviolette has taken teams worse than the Caps to the Stanley Cup Finals. Though it’s doubtful they’ll replace him after his first season with the Caps, it’s always the easiest position to blame and change, though making a change there has no guarantees, either.

It’ll be interesting to see what General Manager Brian MacLellan does in the offseason as the known changes and depth signings alone won’t be enough to smash that First Round glass ceiling. Even then, whether those adjustments actually work will will remain to be seen, but the status quo will continue to produce decent regular season results and early playoff exits.