What changes could be made at forward for the Capitals entering next season?

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What changes could be made at forward for the Caps for next season? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Capitals are now in a summer of unpredictability, more so than any year they’ve had in the last few years.

So who is under contract at forward, who could play a role next season and who could depart before summer’s end?

As of the playoff loss, the Capitals have 14 forwards under contract for next season (injuries to Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson and Carl Hagelin included) at a cap hit of $56,079,999. The league’s salary cap is $82.5 million.

Here’s a look at most contributors on the roster as of early June, sorted by salary. All figures are per CapFriendly.

Left wing Alex Ovechkin, age 36: four years remaining, $9.5 million AAV

Ovechkin just finished another 50-goal season and as the team’s captain and leader, he’s not going anywhere. He’s got Wayne Gretzky to chase down.

Center Nicklas Backstrom, age 34, three years remaining, $9.2 million AAV

The Capitals’ offseason will likely start with a decision on Backstrom.

The franchise icon has put together a brilliant 15-year career in Washington, but a lingering left hip injury has clouded his and Washington’s future with questions. Will Backstrom be able to return early, or perhaps even late, in the 2022-23 season? Will he have to undergo some kind of treatment that will keep him out for the season — or perhaps longer? Once the Capitals have their answer, they’ll be able to attack the offseason.

Center Evgeny Kuznetsov, age 30, three years remaining, $7.8 million AAV

Kuznetsov had a stellar 2021-22 season with 78 points in 79 games as the newly 30-year-old center delivered one of the better seasons of his NHL career. At under eight million dollars per season, Kuznetsov’s contract is beginning to look like a bargain if he can keep this level of play up.

Right wing T.J. Oshie, age 35, three years remaining, $5.75 million AAV

Oshie had one of the most difficult seasons of his NHL career as he was plagued by injuries all season long. He played in just 44 games and had 25 points.

Moving forward, his age and injury situation is certainly a concern. But considering his value both off and on the ice, especially coming off a postseason where he was the Capitals’ best offensive player, it’s hard to imagine an immediate future without him on the team.

Wing Anthony Mantha, age 27, two years remaining, $5.7 million AAV

Mantha also had a troubled season, as he played in just 37 games due to a shoulder injury he suffered in early November. But when the 6-foot-5 winger is on his game, the Capitals are a different team — just think back to Game 1 against the Panthers.

Right wing Tom Wilson, age 28, two years remaining, $5,166.666 million AAV

Wilson recently underwent surgery for a torn left ACL, which will keep him out likely until at least December. Coming off a career year, and considering his status on the team and in the organization, Wilson is one of the safest bets to stay on the team long-term.

Center Lars Eller, age 33, one year remaining, $3.5 million AAV

After the season, coach Peter Laviolette and general manager Brian MacLellan said that they’d like to find a spot on the roster for Connor McMichael at center. If Backstrom remains in the team’s plans, some simple math could indicate Eller might be the odd-man-out in a roster pinch to try and get younger.

Should the Capitals have room at center, their Stanley Cup Final hero could finish his contract out in Washington.

Left wing Carl Hagelin, age 33, one year remaining, $2.75 million AAV

Hagelin, like Backstrom, presents a unique question for the Capitals this summer.

He is recovering from a grisly eye injury that ended his season and nearly cost him his left eye. The choroid in the back of his eye was ruptured and he still struggles with depth perception issues. Hagelin also said his eye will never be 100% again.

If he is able to return to the ice and get medically cleared — certainly not a given — the Capitals will have a decision to make on whether to go younger or bring Hagelin back into the fold for the final year of his deal.

Right wing Garnet Hathaway, age 30, one year remaining, $1.5 million AAV

Hathaway had a career year in the 2021-22 season and at just a million-and-a-half dollars, offers good value for the Capitals on the ice and on the salary cap.

Wing Conor Sheary, age 29, one year remaining, $1.5 million AAV

At just a $1.5 million cap hit, with 43 points and 19 goals in 71 games and an ability to play up and down the Capitals’ lineup, Sheary is one of the most versatile players on the roster in both salary and ability.

Center Nic Dowd, age 32, three years remaining, $1.3 million AAV

Dowd will be starting a brand new contract this season, one he signed in the early parts of the 21-22 season, as he continues to improve with age and time on the Capitals.

Center Connor McMichael, age 21, two years remaining, $863,333 AAV

McMichael will be a hot topic of conversation this summer amongst Capitals fans. The team wants to find a spot at center for him — and the question remains where that will be. Could he elevate his game in the second year of his NHL career and be the team’s second-line center? Will he slide into a third-line center role for the year?

Whatever happens, the Capitals have two years left to capitalize before what might end up being a significant pay raise for their talented young center.

Left wing Joe Snively, age 26, two years remaining, $800,000 AAV

Snively signed a two-year deal in March after impressing enough in 12 games — where he scored four goals and had seven points. He figures to compete for a spot in the team’s middle six as the Capitals look to get younger.

Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, age 24, one year remaining, $750,000 AAV

Jonsson-Fjallby was the Hagelin replacement after his eye injury, and with a similar skill set to what Hagelin brought to the lineup, it could be an easy transition to help the Capitals get younger and cheaper to slide him into the lineup full time.

Upcoming free agents: 

Marcus Johansson

Johan Larsson

Brett Leason

Beck Malenstyn

Other contracts to monitor

-Aliaksei Protas, age 21, two years remaining, $789,167 AAV

-Center Hendrix Lapierre, age 20, three years remaining, $863,33 AAV