Burakovsky, 24, has been the subject of trade speculation since December, and this move comes three days after the team extended the restricted free agent a qualifying offer worth $3.25 million — an overpay given that he has finished with 12 goals and 13 assists in each of the past two seasons. Washington did that to retain his negotiating rights, unwilling to let the 2013 first-round pick become an unrestricted free agent Monday.
Trading him means the Capitals will get a solid return on an asset, and they now have more salary cap freedom to re-sign restricted free agent forward Jakub Vrana and potentially add a middle-six forward in free agency next week. With the NHL’s salary cap set at $81.5 million for next season, Washington has roughly $9.2 million in space, according to CapFriendly.com. If Vrana, who had 24 goals and 23 assists last season, signs a bridge deal of two or three years in length, he’s expected to take up slightly less than $4 million of that.
Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan acknowledged last week that other teams had inquired about Burakovsky’s availability.
“We like the player,” MacLellan said. “There’s been some inconsistencies there, but when he’s on his game, he’s a good player. We’d like to keep him around, but obviously his name is out there a little bit, so we do talk to some teams about him. But we’re not going to move him unless we get something we’re comfortable with back.”
MacLellan made similar comments around the trade deadline in February, when it looked as if Burakovsky could be moved. At the time, the Capitals were interested in receiving a comparable young forward in return, rather than draft picks. Burakovsky’s production had flatlined with Washington, and he probably requested the trade in hope of a fresh start with a new organization, where he could have an opportunity to move into a top-six role.
Burakovsky had just five goals and four assists in his first 41 games of the season but put up seven goals and nine assists in his final 35. MacLellan described the season as “frustrating,” and that description also could apply to Burakovsky’s career in Washington. He has been streaky throughout his five seasons in the NHL, alternating between showing bursts of the speed and skill that made him an impressive prospect and prolonged slumps that could make him a lineup liability.
Burakovsky scored two goals in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the team’s 2018 Stanley Cup championship run and he was again one of the Capitals’ best skaters in Game 7 against the Carolina Hurricanes, who beat them this year to end their title defense in the first round. But he was a healthy scratch in six games during the 2018-19 campaign.
The Capitals now have a need for a third-line right wing, and it’s possible they could re-sign pending unrestricted free agent Brett Connolly, who scored 22 goals in that role this season. Washington also could target a player from outside the organization, such as Joonas Donskoi or Marcus Johansson, who played for the Capitals from 2010 to 2017. The team also recently inquired about Minnesota winger Jason Zucker as a trade target, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, but his $5.5 million salary cap hit was prohibitive. Dealing Burakovsky could open up that possibility again.
The Capitals hold seven picks in the 2020 draft, including two third-round selections.
Coming off its playoff loss to Carolina, Washington has now traded two members of its 2018 Stanley Cup championship roster in the past two weeks: defenseman Matt Niskanen and Burakovsky. Defenseman Brooks Orpik, an alternate captain the past five years, retired this week, adding to the turnover.