Capitals: Time to shop Evgeny Kuznetsov to the NHL?

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 13: Evgeny Kuznetsov #92 of the Washington Capitals of the Washington Capitals skates on the ice in the second period against the Carolina Hurricanes at Capital One Arena on January 13, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 13: Evgeny Kuznetsov #92 of the Washington Capitals of the Washington Capitals skates on the ice in the second period against the Carolina Hurricanes at Capital One Arena on January 13, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The Washington Capitals needed a second line center man desperately to fill in behind Nicklas Backstrom, after a revolving door for years they were able to draft the future candidate in Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Now it’s 2020, and Evgeny Kuznetsov has six years of time in being the Capitals second centerman mainstay. He has developed into a consistent 60-80 point producing setup man, capable of throwing in 20-30 goals a year. The Capitals great power play unit would not have developed into the success story it is today if not for his contributions.

No one will ever forget the run he went on in the 2017-2018 playoffs where he played an integral part in moving the Capitals into a position to take the Stanley Cup. He went on to lead all players in the playoff scoring with 32 points (12 G, 20 A), and rightly earned the contract he signed as an extension the previous summer.

In 2017, he signed an 8 year $62.4 million extension for an average cap hit $7.8 million. This is a small price to pay when you get one of the better up and coming centers in the league.

More from Editorials

What did Kuznetsov do to follow up the incredible playoffs ending in the championship? His direct stats didn’t diminish greatly as he dropped from 27 G and 56 A for 83 points in 2017-18 down to 21 G and 51 A for 72 points in 2018-19.  But when looking at his secondary stats like his S%, this dropped from 14.4% down to 10.9%. His FOW% was another bad drop off going from 44.2% to 38.7%.

The real telling sign of his drop off from his peak season is his relative CF%. This stat accounts for the teams possession numbers while he is on the ice versus when he is off the ice, the more positive the number the more the team holds possession while he is on the ice. His peak value for this statistic occurred in 2015-2016 where he registered 3.3% CF% rel, since then it has continually gone in the wrong direction as the Stanley Cup season was 0.5% and was then followed by a drop to -1.5%. To make matters worse in terms of possession while Kuznetsov is on ice this statistic has dropped even further to a career low of -6.9% CF% rel for this season.

When you are supposed to be a premier center the biggest supporter of this statement would be your ability in handling the puck and maintaining possession in favor of your team.  But if your team possesses the puck more when you are not on the ice, it becomes exponentially more difficult to be the type of presence that’s expected out of a highly compensated player.

After the drop off of last season, Kuznetsov admitted as much in a season ending interview that he held back for chunks of the season thinking he could just turn on his exceptional play like a switch.  Couple this statement with his extra curricular activities over the summer, he positioned himself in a place where he would need to improve his image for the team and fans.  The best way to do this was to put all the incidents behind him and have a bounce back season.  He is in fact having an improved season compared to last year as he is on pace to finish with 28 G and 45 A for 73 points.  This will place him short of his best season to date, but it’s the small moments in games that should let us know what to expect from Kuznetsov at this point.

Twice during last weeks games there were moments where if just the slightest extra effort was paid that Kuznetsov would have gotten the puck in a favorable position on the ice giving the Capitals a strong opportunity to apply pressure.  First time came in the Devils contest, where the puck seemed to be stuck in the Devils zone and even though the puck was within one quick movement a few different times Kuznetsov allowed the Devils to clear it and missed an opportunity.  The second instance occurred in the great comeback against the Islanders, where the Capitals were finding it hard to get the puck in deep against their D to create the best scoring chances.

At one point in the second period Wilson had the puck moving it up the boards and moved into the Islanders zone with Kuznetsov trailing on his left. Wilson drew the defenseman in and quickly dumped in the puck in a prime place for Kuznetsov to take and setup a good scoring chance, instead he delayed in getting there and the Islanders quickly moved the puck back up ice. It’s no surprise that when the Capitals turned to Samsonov at the start of the third period against the Islanders they also moved Eller up to the second line and moved Kuznetsov down a line.

It’s this lack of true effort in these small moments that will be the difference between going deep into the playoffs and bowing out in the first round.  So have we reached a point where giving Lars Eller and eventually Connor McMichael the role of second line center man is in the best interest of the Capitals moving forward?  If it is what will moving Evgeny Kuznetsov look like?

dark. Next. Caps who shined in 1st Half

His current contract carries a cap hit which most teams wouldn’t be able to handle due to their own cap constraints. Another obstacle is the modified no trade clause that Kuznetsov has as part of his contract. For the next three seasons the amount of teams he could cut off the list is 15, starting in 2022 that number drops to 10 teams.  Couple the limited places that would take him, and further lessen that with his choice of teams he would go to, and this will be a difficult undertaking.

One thing is for certain the Capitals will want to wait until the off season as opposed to before the trade deadline so the options for trade will increase. Next would be the compensation coming back to the Capitals, this will need to be a minimal contract or draft capital. This will help the Capitals get out from under the current cap situation and to open up funds to award those players deserving of increases, such as Vrana, Siegenthaler, and Leipsic.