Comments / New

Reasons to be Nervous About the 2023-24 Caps

The NHL season is back, and that means the grind of an 82-game season, along with all of the stress and anxiety that comes with it. The Washington Capitals have plenty of new faces, including behind the bench, and that means plenty of unknowns for how the team and the season will fare.

So let’s just get all of them out in the open (and don’t worry, we’ll have some more optimism later today).

First-time Head Coach

The Capitals are no strangers to new coaches. Since the 2002-03 season, only Barry Trotz and Peter Laviolette have been established head coaches; the rest were first-timers in the NHL.

One of the reasons new head coach Carbery picked the Capitals is familiarity with the organization. He coached the Hershey Bears from 2018 to 2021, and even spent time with the ECHL team, the South Carolina Stingrays. It’s not about what you know but who you know – er, something like that. General Manager Brian MacLellan said that Carbery was at or near the top of his list of coaching candidates. That could be a good thing or it could be that after the Peter Laviolette tenure the Capitals just wanted someone they felt comfortable with rather than who would bring the best results.

Ideally, Carbery’s knowledge with the organization can help the development of the younger players on the team. On the announced 2023-24 roster, Connor McMichael, Beck Malenstyn, Aliaksei Protas, and Lucas Johanson all played under Carbery in Hershey…but that’s no guarantee that it will translate to the NHL level.

The Youngsters

Youth can be a wonderful thing, but it comes with growing pains. On the roster the Capitals currently have eight players under the age of 25: Alex Alexeyev, Martin Fehervary, Lucas Johanson, Beck Malenstyn, Aliaksei Protas, Rasmus Sandin, Matthew Phillips and Connor McMichael.

McMichael gets a spot on the big boy roster again this season. After getting almost a full season in the AHL to develop, can he take the next step forward? It looks like he will be on the second line as a winger, at least starting out, and if he’s on the wing he’ll be expected to score more goals. Last season McMichael had 16 goals, 23 assists for 39 points in 57 games with Hershey, and his nine NHL goals came in the 2021-22 season when the Capitals were injury plagued and were forced to call up McMichael. Is that enough for the 25th overall pick in the 2019 draft? Until he proves he’s a bona fide NHL player he’s still the prospect everyone is waiting to pan out.

On the back end, Fehervary has already basically cemented himself in the defensive core, averaging 20 minutes of ice time last season. The question is how will Sandin fare with the amount of ice time he will get here in Washington; his start with the Caps was good, but he fell off a bit as the season came to an end (although so did most of his teammates), ending the season with a plus-minus of -7 in 19 games.

Alexeyev was supposed to be the odd man out with the Joel Edmundson pick up and it looks like he still is, despite Edmundson starting the season on injured reserve. Alexeyev will still have to prove he can be a part of the D core. If Alexeyev doesn’t get much playing time this year, that could say a lot about what the organization thinks about him.

The Kuznetsov of it All

Despite a Russian language tell-all and attempts to shop the centerman, Evgeny Kuznetsov is still a Capital. It looks like he’s slotted as the second-line center and will get some second unit penalty killing time, according to Daily Faceoff.

Last season was ugly for Kuznetsov. His offensive production wasn’t bad, with 12 goals, 43 assists for 55 points, but he’s capable of much more – in fact, it was the first time he’s scored fewer than 19 goals since his second season in the NHL. The assists were also down from the 2021-22 season, when he had 54.

Can Carbery get Kuznetsov back to being a dynamic playmaker that we all know and love? And maybe more importantly, can he make the game fun for Kuznetsov? The last year under Peter Laviolette was rough for the team, but especially Kuznetsov. Maybe a change of scenery is what’s needed, but oddly enough, a center with a $7.8 million cap hit and declining production wasn’t generating interest.


Kuznetsov will get some penalty kill duties again this year after playing 100 minutes on the penalty kill last season. The team had an 81% PK last season, Kuznetsov was a part of that. It’s good to have skill players on the PK to put some pressure on the powerplay but if the team wants more offensive production from Kuznetsov maybe PK time isn’t what he needs. Overall, Kuznetsov’s play could determine if this team is fighting for a playoff spot.

Health and Age

This team is old. So old. According to Cap Friendly they are the second oldest team in the league, behind the Penguins (who went out and signed their own over-30 defenseman in Erik Karlsson to take the top spot).

The Capitals have a 35+ top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. While everything about Backstrom’s surgery sounds good coming from the team and from Backstrom, he is still coming off of hip resurfacing surgery – so his play over an 82-game season will be something to watch. Ovechkin is Ovechkin, but he probably doesn’t need to average 20 minutes a night of ice time over the season. Oshie, for all the fun he brings to the locker room and team, turns 37 in December and, if his past is any indication, will get injured at some point. Oshie played 58 games last year and has not played more than 60 games since the 2019-20 season.

The team has a nice influx of youth, but are they going to be able to supplement an aging core? The team is and should continue to rebuild/retool around Ovechkin and Backstrom as long as they are in Washington, but that gets harder and harder every year.

Plus that influx of youth may go away as soon as Max Pacioretty and Joel Edmundson, the team’s big additions this offseason, are ready to come off the LTIR/IR. Both are complete unknowns, and 34-year-old Pacioretty is coming off of his second Achilles’ surgery in the last two years.

Other concerns

The Defense

The defense is set for the time being. John Carlson is back and healthy after getting hit in the head with a puck last season, and thank goodness, because his injury showed how much scoring is lost when he goes out. If he misses any time, the team’s production and defensive pairs will get a big shake up – and with a mix of vets and young kids, he’ll need to shoulder the load for the blueline again this season.

The Power Play

Spencer Carbery was the big brain behind the Leafs vaunted power play but he has the John Carlson slingshot to deal with in Washington. Last season the Capitals power play was 21.22%, just slightly below league average of 21.33%. The poor power play took potential goals away from Ovechkin and his chase, but also made the team look like an uninspired mess. This needs to be better for Ovechkin and a potential playoff spot.

Anthony Mantha

Can he do … something? Anthony Mantha was another disgruntled Capital under Laviolette, and another Capital made available in the offseason with no takers. He has not hit the 20-goal mark since the 2018-19 season, when he had 24, and last season he had just 11 goals and 27 points in 67 games. He was moved around in the line up and even healthy scratched, trying to spark his production – and at the end of the day, he has yet to be worthy of his $5.7 million cap hit, especially starting on the fourth line. The outlook does not look great for his production. 


The tandem of Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren were decent last year, with Kuemper having a .909 save percentage while Lindgren posted a save percentage of .899. Not stellar numbers but there was a different level of confidence in net than the year or two prior, something the Capitals lacked with the Ilya Samsonov-Vitek Vanecek duo. Are they solid enough to withstand the early growing pains of a youth-infused team and a rookie head coach?

Talking Points