Capitals Set to Rebound From Disappointing 2022-2023 Season

Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Nick Jensen celebrate after a goal. Adrian Kraus/AP

In the 2022-2023 NHL season, the Washington Capitals found themselves missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in nine seasons. Poor coaching choices, injuries, and a lack of discipline on the ice left the team with a 35-37-10 record, finishing the season 6th in the NHL Metropolitan Division. As the 2023-2024 season quickly approaches, the Capitals are looking to rebound from their less-than-ideal performance and become a real playoff contender once again.

Coaching Staff

The Washington Capitals are among many NHL teams to see big coaching changes this off-season. Former head coach Peter Laviolette was replaced by Spencer Carbery. Carbery spent two seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs as an assistant; and, most recently, coached the Calder Cup-winning Hershey Bears, Washington’s AHL affiliate. As the Capitals’ star players continue to age, bringing up fresh, young talent from the Bears will be a great asset to the team– something Peter Laviolette did not take advantage of. As Hershey’s former coach, Spencer Carbery, is aware of the depth of their roster and is expected to make use of it on the Capitals this season.

Captain Alexander Ovechkin is contented with Spencer Carbery’s head coach status, as well. Ovechkin recently told the Russian newspaper, Sport-Express, “We already knew him; we have a great relationship,” and that he does not “think we should expect any problems.” Assistant coaches Blayne Forsythe and and Kevin McCarthy have also parted ways with the Capitals, further indicating the organization’s desire for change and, ultimately, playoff success.

Getting Healthy

In addition to coaching troubles, Washington also suffered injury after injury in the 2022-2023 regular season, with ten regulars, each missing at least ten games. Nicklas Backstrom, center and right-hand-man to Alex Ovechkin, missed the first 42 games of the season after undergoing hip-resurfacing surgery. Star forward Tom Wilson also missed the first 42 games with a torn ACL and seven more after taking a puck to the ankle. Defenseman John Carlson missed 36 games with a fractured skull, and forward Connor Brown (now of the Edmonton Oilers) suffered an early-season ACL injury. Various other Capitals were in and out of the lineup, and a constantly-changing roster meant inconsistent play and a lack of on-ice chemistry and dynamics between members of each line. All of the above players, fortunately, made great recoveries this offseason, and the Capitals are set to start the season with a roster full of healthy star players. This should bode well for the team, as a strong veteran presence (and especially one that has a Stanley Cup under their belts) is crucial for both regular season and playoff success.

Roster Moves

The Washington Capitals have also made some promising roster moves recently. Former Carolina Hurricane Max Pacioretty was signed to a one-year $2 million contract by Washington on the first day of free agency. Pacioretty, unfortunately, was placed on Injury Reserve by the team as a result of an Achilles tendon tear. However, Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan stated that, despite his injury, it “could probably work out” for the team. As a healthy player, Max Pacioretty was impressive– finishing six seasons with 30 or more goals. He is, in his own words, focused on doing “whatever it takes to come back and be healthy and ready as quickly and come back as strong as possible.”

Washington also traded third and seventh-round picks in the 2024 draft with the Montreal Canadiens for defenseman Joel Edmundson— a key player in the Canadiens’ 2021 playoff run. As a healthy player, Joel Edmundson is beneficial to his team, averaging 19 minutes of ice time and totaling 13 points in 61 games last season. Additionally, at age 30, Edmundson adds a veteran presence to the left side of the Capitals’ defense. Fellow left-side defensemen Rasmus Sandin, Alex Alexeyev, and Martin Fehervary are each 23 years old.

The Washington Capitals also made big moves in the 2023 NHL draft, most notably acquiring forward Ryan Leonard eighth overall. Leonard, 18, is a power forward bound for Boston College. He scored the gold medal-winning goal for the United States at the under-18 world championships. Last season, Ryan Leonard scored 51 goals in 57 games with the national development team, and his play style has drawn comparisons to the Panthers’ Matthew Tkachuk. Leonard will not play with the team in the upcoming season, as his initial plan is to play two years of college hockey. But, with some development and growth, Ryan Leonard is looking to be a promising pick for the Capitals’ future. The Capitals also drafted LW Andrew Cristall, C Patrick Thomas, D Cameron Allen, LW Brett Hyland, and G Antoine Keller.

A Bright Outlook

Overall, things are looking good for the Washington Capitals going into the 2023-2024 regular season. An overhauled coaching staff, a healthy team, and brand-new faces will all bring a fresh dynamic to the team that is, hopefully, incredibly beneficial to both their regular season play and playoff chances. Captain Alex Ovechkin is entering the season just 73 goals shy of Wayne Gretzky’s career record, and at 38, his time for another Stanley Cup is decreasing. Could this be the year the Washington Capitals take it again? Only time will tell.

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