It isn't a secret that Washington Capitals general manager (and now president) Brian MacLellan is determined to make a significant move as the franchise continues to actively monitor the trade market. It was a rare season without a postseason berth in the nation's capital in 2022-23, and the team is desperate to get back to the dance while Alex Ovechkin still has some gas left in the tank.
At this point, it would be surprising if the Caps don't make a trade before training camp starts. MacLellan reaffirmed the team's eager approach to the market during the 2023 NHL Draft in an interview with Mike Vogel of Capitals.com.
“I'd still like to make a trade,” MacLellan said. “We were aggressive at the draft with our offers, but nothing ever materialized.”
Although nothing has happened as the dog days of summer wind down, Washington has a few key trade chips, including the names that have been brought up over and over again: Evgeny Kuznetsov and Anthony Mantha. It seems inevitable that one of the two will be dealt either before training camp or sometime during the season. It has been difficult for MacLellan to find a trade partner considering both Kuznetsov and Mantha's high AAV, but the two are still the best trade chips the team has.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, C
Evgeny Kuznetsov confirmed that he requested a trade out of the nation's capital last season. It's a disappointing revelation for a player who has been a heart and soul leader of the Capitals for nearly a decade. Kuzy was a key piece of the 2018 Stanley Cup run, but it looks like his days in Washington are numbered.
Kuznetsov has dealt with off-ice issues in recent years, and he dealt with on-ice issues last year as well after a middling 55 points in 81 games. There's a chance that the Russian could return to his usual point-per-game self, but it's tricky as he's now 31-years-old and not getting any younger. What's also tricky is the fact that he is owed a whopping $7.8 million for the next two seasons, a contract that is not at all easy to trade considering his production last season.
If a trade is the only solution, the ideal situation is for Kuznetsov to get off to a strong start to the season, upping his trade value ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline.
“Kuznetsov could hasten his exit with a strong start if he still desires a departure from the District,” wrote Vogel earlier in the offseason.
Anthony Mantha, LW/RW
Anthony Mantha is in a very similar spot to Kuznetsov, although there is no confirmation that he ever requested a trade out of Washington. The 28-year-old put up back-to-back 48-point campaigns with the Detroit Red Wings from 2017-19, but he's been unable to capture anything close to that offensive spark in the nation's capital.
Mantha has actually been quite bad in his last two seasons with the Caps, scoring a decent 23 points in 37 games in an injury-riddled 2021-22 campaign, and following it up with just 27 points in 67 games last year. Obviously not ideal at all for a player the team expected to be a top-six forward when they sold the farm for him — Mantha cost Washington a first and second round draft pick, as well as Jakub Vrana and Richard Panik.
The Mantha experiment in Washington has not worked at all, but his trade value is so low it's not at all surprising that MacLellan has had a tough time finding a suitor for him. Best case scenario is probably the same as Kuznetsov for a player who's making way too much money at $5.7 million. He has one year left in his contract, so it might be best to hope he can have a good start to the season instead of trading him for peanuts ahead of training camp.
Rasmus Sandin, D
Rasmus Sandin is a dark horse, after coming over from the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. He was excellent for the Capitals down the stretch, scoring 15 points in 19 games from the back end and assuming PP1 duties while John Carlson was out with injury. The 23-year-old Sandin saw his value skyrocket after proving his mettle at the end of 2022-23, and with Carlson already manning the PP, he could be pried out of Washington for the right price.
Expect Sandin to be present at training camp, but if the beginning of the season isn't going to plan, it wouldn't be surprising if the Swede was dealt for draft capital as an aging Capitals squad looks to the future.