As the 2022-23 season approaches – and with training camp kicking off this weekend – we take a look at what the Hats will look like en route to this new campaign, meet some new faces, and talk about the questions facing this team.
Now that we’ve covered every part of the squad, today we’re looking at some general thoughts, notes, questions and predictions for the upcoming season.
Lavolette steering wheel
Going into a contract year as a head coach is a risky position to be in; More so when your team fails to get out of the first round in the first two play-offs under your watch. So yes, Peter Laviollette may be on thin ice if things don’t go well right away, although he could have some leeway given the long-term absences of Niklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson to start the season.
But his general manager has done a good job giving him a good roster to work with this season, and (for the first time) he should have a steady presence at the network as well. What he does with that will determine whether he stays in the capital for the long term, or whether he’s looking for a new party by spring.
It’s the old elephant wrinkled in the room: The Washington Capitals aren’t a young team. 16 of their expected regular players, including the primary network manager, are over the age of 30 – which will easily make them one of the oldest teams in the NHL when the season begins.
(Interestingly, penguins are expected to be The The oldest, with a core more injury-prone than the stars, yet they seem to be getting all the love for the upcoming season without any of the “but they’re old!” Catch the pearls…but I digress.)
It should be noted, and we noted earlier this week, that just because you’re an older team doesn’t mean you can’t have success. What that does mean, though, is that a) Laviolette will likely need to monitor ice time for some of these older guys – aka the team’s most talented players – to keep them fresh over the course of the season long and (hopefully) into the playoffs, and b) injuries are more likely to occur, again for these key players.
The good news, which we found out last year when the injury went wrong, is that the team has the talent of the future to fill should those injuries occur, and perhaps many of these kids are ready to take the leap forever. But the top players are still the older ones, and they’re already going to miss out on one for a good part of the season (at least) with Nicklas Backstrom out indefinitely. Losing Jon Carlson, TJ O’Shea, or God forbid Alex Ovechkin for so long will weigh on post-season hopes.
Backstrom is clearly the biggest, and we’ll talk more about that in a second, but it’s just one piece of a complex puzzle. Tom Wilson is the most notable absence heading into the season, coming out of off-season surgery to repair a torn ACL. Wilson is said to have been well ahead of schedule in his recovery, but that still puts him at the start of December – and that’s nearly two months into the season that could be key in positioning the team, without two of the top six players.
The third unknown is Karl Hagelin, and while he’s not a very young man (and likely to be replaced by any of the strikers now running around the capital), whatever his schedule for recovering from his eye injury will determine what – if any – moves must be made to get the team back into action. The maximum salary. Hopefully of course he can make a full recovery, just on a personal level, but from a financial perspective… Take your time, Carl.
Implications for the absence of the back and possible return
As noted above, this Backstrom problem is a tough one—and not just on an emotional level that makes some of us want to curl up in fetal position just to think about the future without him.
Backstrom’s chronic hip injury has reduced his effectiveness over the past few years, but surgery to “fix” it is not easy to come back from. So there’s a very real chance that we’ve seen him play his last game, which would be at the same time heartbreaking and unworthy of a great career. but if Do Count, there are a few things that make it more complicated.
First, there is the annoying business aspect, which is the salary cap issue. Some moves have been made in this season that has not only filled his role for the foreseeable future, but has depleted LTIR funds – more than $6 million – which will then need to be freed up for his comeback. On the other hand, if he somehow manages to come back this year, he may not be close to 100% – and he may not be for very long. So the team will have to take steps to clear space to get him back, only to find he can’t come back and now they have lost the pieces needed to replace him.
It’s a difficult situation. The best case scenario is that he sits outside for as long as he needs to, but is able to get back in time to get ready for post-season, and the team is able to make cover space moves that don’t compromise the overall makeup. To get him back – or hell, and better yet, they’re coordinating Nikita Kucherov’s position where he can come back after the regular season when there’s no cover and they can keep the team in tact while they at least let him back in the playoffs.
And there you have it! Bootcamp starts tomorrow, where we’ll start getting some answers to the questions hanging on the team… and we’ll likely have more questions pop up.
Because that’s just the fun part of the sport, right?