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Caps move Evgeny Kuznetsov but otherwise stay quiet as trade deadline passes

Caps move Evgeny Kuznetsov but otherwise stay quiet as trade deadline passes

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

Evgeny Kuznetsov’s winding road with the Washington Capitals reached the end. The Capitals traded the 31-year-old center to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday, the NHL’s trade deadline day, and received a 2025 third-round draft pick in return.

Washington retained 50 percent of Kuznetsov’s $7.8 million salary cap hit in the transaction. Kuznetsov’s contract runs through next season, so $3.9 million of his salary will remain on Washington’s cap next year. After they also retained salary on the trades of winger Anthony Mantha and defenseman Joel Edmundson, the Capitals have now used all three salary retention slots. Mantha’s and Edmundson’s contracts end this season, meaning Kuznetsov’s is the only one that will remain on the books into next year.

Kuznetsov was cleared to resume practice Saturday after a stint in the NHL’s player assistance program. The Capitals placed him on waivers the same day. When he cleared waivers, he was assigned to the Hershey Bears, Washington’s American Hockey League affiliate. Kuznetsov reported to Hershey, Pa., for practice Tuesday and joined the Bears for their road trip to Charlotte on Wednesday.

“I think we’re open to anything that gives him an opportunity to continue his career the way he wants to continue it,” Washington General Manager Brian MacLellan said after Kuznetsov was placed on waivers. Six days later, the result was a trade that ends Kuznetsov’s 11-season tenure with the Capitals.

After the deadline passed, MacLellan said that conversations with Carolina began over the last “four or five days.” Putting Kuznetsov on waivers sent a tacit message to the rest of the league that Washington would be willing to do what was required to help him get a fresh start.

“The idea behind waiving him was to generate something, some kind of change,” MacLellan said. “ … You can’t do it verbally, but everybody gets a better understanding of where we’re at.”

Kuznetsov flew to Raleigh, N.C., from Charlotte on Friday afternoon and joined the Hurricanes for practice. Carolina Coach Rod Brind’Amour said Kuznetsov is expected to make his debut Saturday against the New Jersey Devils.

At the high points of Kuznetsov’s time in Washington, he was a driving force, and his star turn during the 2018 playoffs helped lift the Capitals to a Stanley Cup triumph. But since that run, Kuznetsov’s time in Washington has been rocky.

In 2019, he tested positive for cocaine while representing Russia at the IIHF world championships, resulting in a four-year ban from international competition. He was later suspended for three NHL games for “inappropriate conduct.”

Kuznetsov looked resurgent in the 2021-22 season, recording 78 points in 79 games. But another downward trend last season led to a report by a Russian TV outlet last March that he had requested a trade. It didn’t get any easier for Kuznetsov this season.

In December, he was a healthy scratch for a game against the Arizona Coyotes. Kuznetsov scored in his first game back, but he tallied just one more goal before entering the program. In 43 games with Washington this season, he recorded just six goals and 11 assists for 17 points.

Across his 723 games with the Capitals, Kuznetsov scored 171 goals and totaled 568 points. He leaves behind a complicated legacy in Washington after a quiet end to a loud tenure.

“He means a lot,” MacLellan said. “I mean, everybody’s going remember the [overtime] goal [against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2018], the championship, [his] play in the playoffs. I mean, he’s a fun guy. He’s entertaining. Skill level and skating were off the charts. He’s provided entertainment for our fans. He’s done a great job for the organization. You know, we’re going to miss him.

“I mean, we tried everything we could at the end to get it back on track, and unfortunately, this is where we ended up.”

Trading Kuznetsov was the only move the Capitals made on deadline day. After sending Mantha to the Vegas Golden Knights and Edmundson to the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier in the week, Washington otherwise stood pat on the final day and didn’t move goaltender Charlie Lindgren, center Nic Dowd or winger Max Pacioretty, all of whom were the subjects of rumors leading up to the deadline.

“We didn’t actively look to move the players,” MacLellan said. “We listened to some inquiries on them, and if something made sense, we might have considered it more. I think our goal was to do the things we had to do on the trades and try to keep our team together as much as we could.”

MacLellan said Saturday that his ideal plan was to flip draft picks for a young roster player before the deadline like Washington did last year when acquiring Rasmus Sandin. The Capitals explored a couple of options this time around, but nothing came to fruition.

“We identified a couple players, a couple of young guys that we liked, and we tried to be aggressive on our offers for them,” MacLellan said. “And it just didn’t materialize.”

Instead, Washington now has 26 picks across the next three NHL drafts, giving MacLellan flexibility to either acquire players through the draft or trade those picks in the future for roster pieces.

The Capitals’ goal remains to get younger, but the development this season of centers Connor McMichael and Hendrix Lapierre and wingers Aliaksei Protas and Beck Malenstyn has led to MacLellan feeling differently about his team now than he did at this time last year.

“I think it feels different,” MacLellan said. “Lapierre is playing better, McMichael is playing better, Sandin is established and now we have [defenseman Alex] Alexeyev in. I think we have more than a few young guys, and I think we’re growing that part of it.”

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