Better Luck Next Year: It all fell apart for the Washington Capitals
I did not expect this to happen so soon. At least not this season.
Welcome to Better Luck Next Season. As each NHL team gets eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoff contention, and then the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we will take a look at what went wrong, what went right, and what sits ahead for them. The Washington Capitals were the ninth time to be eliminated from playoff contention after a year of injuries and disappointing performances.
The Washington Capitals have been one of the top franchises in the NHL for the better part of the past two decades, piling up wins, division titles, Presidents’ Trophies and a Stanley Cup since the start of the 2007-08 season.
They have been a constant contender, and even though their postseason success dried up following their 2018 championship they have still remained a playoff team right up through this past season.
While the 2021-22 team continued the recent run of first-round exits, losing in six games to the No. 1 seed Florida Panthers, they were still a 100-point team despite getting sub-par goaltending and dealing with some significant injuries to Nicklas Backstrom, Anthony Mantha, and T.J. Oshie. That is a strong team.
So when the Capitals went out this offseason and revamped their goaltending with the addition of Darcy Kuemper, the top free agent goalie on the market, it seemed like a significant move to help them maintain a playoff spot.
Better goaltending, a couple of nice under-the-radar depth additions (Dylan Strome, Sonny Milano), and some better health luck for a 100-point team? Sure, why not?!
At some point teams like this slow down. I just did not expect it to happen this season. At least not this much.
Well, it did not go as planned. Especially after the start of the new calendar year when the Capitals’ season really started to go into the tank. They ended up being strategic sellers at the deadline, were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention with nearly two weeks remaining in the regular season, and are on track for their worst regular season record since the 2006-07 season when Glen Hanlon was still the head coach.
A lot of things went wrong to put them in this position.
What went wrong for the Capitals
It has not really been any one thing for the Capitals, but a giant collection of problems that have just added up into a season-crushing mess.
Was Darcy Kuemper as good as they hoped? Probably not.
Did they have injuries? You bet they did!
Are they one of the oldest teams in the league and probably due for a natural regression even before you get into the other issues? Absolutely they are. Father time slows down for nobody.
All of that stuff added up together leads to this sort of lost season.
Let’s start with the injuries.
Backstrom, Oshie, Tom Wilson, Mantha, John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov (before he was traded) all missed SIGNIFICANT time this season, and those are not easy pieces to replace. In some cases, it might not have been a huge surprise. Backstrom and Oshie have had injury problems in recent years and as they get deeper into their 30s they are going to start slowing down and breaking down. It happens.
Wilson’s injury was especially devastating because no matter what you think of him as a player, he IS a spark plug for the team and one of their best all-around forwards. He scores, he defends, he brings energy and there is not really another player like him in the NHL. There are imitators, but nobody that can bring his style of play and combine it with actual production. Losing him hurt a lot.
The same is true for Carlson who is still — when healthy — a legitimate top-pairing defenseman.
Those two guys, along with Backstrom, each missed AT LEAST half of the season.
That is going to add up.
But it wasn’t just injuries that hurt them. We also have to talk about some players that just simply did not play up to expectation.
Let’s talk about Evgeny Kuznetsov and Anthony Mantha.
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