NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers. Capitals-Rangers stream coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
The Capitals enter Wednesday’s game against the Rangers with a chance to move back into a tie for first place in the East Division with a win. Somehow, though, that seems to be taking a backseat to all of the wildness that has transpired over the past few days.
So let’s just dig into all of that and try to examine it and all of the questions ahead for what has suddenly become one of the most bizarre teams in the league.
All Tom, All The Time
As you’ve probably already heard, Tom Wilson did something this week and the NHL responded by doing, well, not enough to satisfy anybody outside of Washington. It has now become the story in the NHL, and all eyes will be on him tonight as he faces the Rangers again.
The NHL is taking (much deserved) heat for allowing things to escalate the way they have in Wilson’s career, but there has to come a question as to when the Capitals will start to reach their breaking point.
It is clear that Wilson does not know where the line is and when not to cross it.
He plays a reckless style and it has already cost him 30 games in suspensions and more than a million dollars in salary throughout his career. None of that has delivered the message.
Most teams that have a player like that eventually get tired of dealing with it. When Raffi Torres got his 41-game suspension (after multiple other suspensions) the Sharks finally stopped defending him (as they fiercely did the year prior following one of his other suspensions). The Penguins eventually told Matt Cooke he had to change or he could not play for them. After multiple postseason suspensions the Maple Leafs traded Nazem Kadri.
How long can the Capitals keep playing the victim before they themselves try to step in and change the behavior of their player?
The argument in Wilson’s favor is that he is a very good player and every team in the league would love to have him. That may very well be true. And if it is true, wouldn’t it be in the Capitals’ best interests to keep him in line so he actually stays in the lineup? Because if he continues to go unchecked he is going to cross the line again. And when he does the next suspension might take him out of the lineup for a lot longer than any of the previous lengthy suspensions did.
The Evgeny Kuznetsov situation
The latest Wilson fiasco has kind of allowed this one to slide under the radar a little bit.
But earlier this week the Capitals benched Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov for a game because they were late for a team function. The next day it was revealed they could miss even more time and that the team was “working through things” in the locker room.
Then came word on Tuesday that Kuznetsov was being added to the NHL’s COVID-19 list for the second time this season. Given that he already tested positive for COVID earlier this season that certainly creates a lot of speculation as to what happened. It is not the first time he has missed time for off-ice incidents, as he was one of four Capitals players that were sidelined for breaking COVID protocols and he was also suspended three games back in 2019. With all of that happening, as well as his sometimes inconsistent play on the ice, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun mentioned on the latest “Insider Trading” that he believes the Capitals could (emphasis on could) be willing listen to trade offers on Kuznetsov this offseason.
Given Kuznetsov’s contract, role, and impact he has made over the years that would be a rather seismic change to the roster.
That is not a change you make lightly. If you do consider it, and then ultimately do go through with it, you better be right or it is the type of move that can set you back a couple of years.
Goalie questions for the playoffs
Now for a short-term question that could have major implications within the next couple of weeks.
Which goalie is going to end up starting the playoffs?
Imagine it is the preseason, and you are a Capitals fan, and some wild eyed doctor with crazy hair and a young kid show up telling you they are from the future and that Vitek Vanecek is going to be your Game 1 starter for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Pretty heavy, right?
Well it could happen! Neither Vanecek or Samsonov has really done anything to secure the starting job, and it is the single biggest question the team is facing for this year’s playoff run. Neither goalie has been bad. But neither one has really done anything to say “this is my job,” either.
Alex Ovechkin‘s status
After all of that you also have the fact that Ovechkin has played 39 seconds of hockey since April 22. He missed four consecutive games, returned for one shift on Monday, and then exited the game and did not return.
It is not really a huge concern until his status for the playoffs is in question, but given how healthy he has been throughout his career and how few games he has missed seeing him out of the lineup this late in the season has to be concerning for the Capitals.