Given all of these 20-game factors, a question arose: How are the Capitals going to get out of this, and could a major move or change be the key to finding a solution?
With Washington struggling, Sportsnet’s Elliott Friedman shared some thoughts on the team in his latest issue of 32 Thoughts. He wondered – and made it clear that this is not an official report – if the team is not only interested in Bo Horvat – of course, waiting for Nicklas Backstrom’s future – but if San Jose Sharks blueliner Erik Karlsson can also be useful to the club. And at the end of the day, it’s an interesting idea to consider.
Going into the offseason, the Capitals have a number of suspended free agents, and every defenseman on the roster except John Carlson is a restricted or unrestricted free agent suspended. Dmitry Orlov, Nick Jensen, Trevor Van Riemsdyk, Eric Gustafsson and Matt Irwin are NFL linebackers, while Martin Vervary and Alex Alexiev are the award bearers. Considering the situation and the fact that the blue line hasn’t clicked much at all despite settling in last season and several changes in pairs since then, changing the blue line is definitely an option to consider.
There are many up-and-coming youngsters waiting for their full-time opportunity in the NHL, including the likes of Alexiev, Lukas Johansen, Bobby Nardella, and Vincent Iorio. However, at the end of the day there has to be experience as there are many top 4 caliber defenders in need of new contracts. While Orlov appears to be a likely candidate for a return given his meaning for the blue line in the capital, there is still uncertainty surrounding other options such as Jensen, TVR and Gustafsson, especially with things not going according to plan at the moment.
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With that in mind, would Carlson make sense? Let’s break it down.
Carlson, who has been a star for years in Ottawa and dipped a bit in San Jose, is back to Norris form this season with the Sharks. Through 20 games, he’s scored 11 goals and 17 assists for 28 points, and he’s making great games, recording heavy minutes and playing several different roles. Washington already has another Carlson-type fullback on the roster in Carlson, who plays the same role and is known more for his offensive acumen than his defensive play. The same can be said for Carlson, but this season, his defensive approach has been healthier, suggesting that the 6-0, 190-pound blueliner may return to the form that made him a top pick and one of the league’s best defensemen. Path 2010.
Capitals also need more depth on the right side. After TVR, the only RHD in the NHL’s close system is Iorio, now playing his first professional season with the Hershey Bears of the AHL. So, it’s nice to have another higher RHD with All-Star ability who can also change the look of power play and provide more depth and a different look to the blue line. Plus, having a couple of RHD veterans can help when it comes to injecting more youngsters on the blue line, as they could mesh well with the likes of smaller LHD flowers like Johansen waiting for the jump. Also, Carlson is a proven leader and can be a positive voice in the room.
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However, it would be a gamble. Karlsson has an annual cap of $11.5 million over the next four seasons. That, and Carlson’s cap at $8 million through 2026, would be a lot to spend on two RHDs, but then again, it could lead to a different look at the power play and even give the Blue Line a new look. However, the team will have to have enough space, so it will have to work to not only address other free agents but also work on injuries up front because once Backstrom and Tom Wilson are back, their salaries will have a huge impact on the cap. And as mentioned earlier, such a move would also eat up a lot of cap space, which would allow a little wiggle room when it comes to major rebuilds or changes, especially since Karlsson also has NMC.
The core is also getting old, and the window for the Stanley Cup is closing. Washington has the second oldest roster in the league this season (behind the Pittsburgh Penguins), and as evidenced by some of the games so far this season, the young teams have shown they play a much faster and stronger game than the Capitals. So bringing in Carlsson, who will be 37 when his deal ends, wouldn’t necessarily align with the plan to make the roster younger, but could add a ‘win now’ factor to the club.
However, Carlson’s move also means the Capitals have to give up some things. A name like that could lead to picks or prospects going the other way, and that might not be something Washington doesn’t want to give up because the team needs to plan ahead. Nothing theoretically rules out a Carlson-for-Carlson deal, but it seems unlikely that it will develop that way, since it would be a trade for roughly the same type of player (not just in name).
In general, there will be a lot to consider. It would certainly shake things up and provide a fresh look, especially in the ever-struggling powerhouse and top 4. However, the potential risks and consequences may outweigh the benefits in the short term.