The Washington Capitals are racing headlong into a crossroad for their franchise.
Five years ago, they took out the Vegas Golden Knights to win the first Stanley Cup in team history. This season, they put up 80 points, missed the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and will pick at No. 8 in the NHL draft.
Times change and players age, or need a change of scenery. Evgeny Kuznetsov, a key member of that Stanley Cup-winning team, might be one of the players the Capitals can trade to keep their dream of claiming another Cup with their veteran core mostly intact.
Rumors popped up at the end of this season that Kuznetsov wanted a trade. A report from a Russian TV station said he had requested a trade from Washington, but he mildly denied it days later. Nevertheless, he did leave open the possibility he could play elsewhere next season.
It's a bit of smoke which means there could be a bit of fire, and that's all it takes to get the imagination working to create trade scenarios that could work out.
The 31-year-old has two years left on his contract with a $7.8 million cap hit. He's piled up 551 points in 10 NHL seasons. He has dynamic playmaking ability, highlight-reel talent and one of the most controversial shootout moves out there.
Where could he go? Let's examine a few ideas and grease up the rumor mill while we're at it.
It's obvious to pick teams tight to the cap ceiling to move big-money players to Arizona in a trade.
Of course, the obvious happens because there's truth surrounding the circumstances and there are truths that make a Coyotes-Capitals partnership for Kuznetsov work out: The Coyotes have oodles of cap space and they have a desperate need for more talent at forward.
Take a look at what the Coyotes' roster looks like right now on CapFriendly,com and it will be clear why they would make sense.
It's even more apparent when you see their depth chart. Arizona's 2022 first-round pick, Logan Cooley, won't be around until 2024 at the earliest. They'll have Dylan Guenther there full-time next season, and they've got Matias Maccelli and star forward Clayton Keller giving fans in the desert hope…but they don't have a player with star power and a highlight reel to go with it. Kuznetsov would help address that.
If there's a question that sticks out here it's what would the Capitals want in return? Washington still has hopes of winning another Stanley Cup and injuries sent their season into a tailspin this year.
What Arizona can't exactly offer are the pieces needed to satisfy the Caps' needs for the immediate future that could also help them in years down the road. After all, the Coyotes are a ways away from being a true contender and the Caps' window is closing on them, if not shut already.
If one or the other feels desperation to make something happen, then just maybe Kuznetsov could find his way to the desert.