A reassignment to the minor leagues is usually accompanied by disappointment, but Stanislav Galiev was excited. It had been three weeks since he last played in an NHL game with the Washington Capitals, his confidence slightly shaken. When he was approached about a conditioning stint with their American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey, he was thrilled to see actual ice time again.
Getting sent down for conditioning purposes meant Galiev couldn’t be in Hershey for longer than two weeks, he would still receive his NHL salary and he wouldn’t be exposed to waivers. After playing in five AHL games, Galiev returned this week to Washington, where he could be in for a long year.
He can’t do another conditioning stint this season, so if Galiev were reassigned again, he would be exposed to waivers, something the Capitals seem hesitant to do because the 23-year-old Russian winger could be a desirable addition for a team lacking forward depth.
That leaves the Capitals wondering what to do with Galiev, a prospect who needs to be developed but is watching NHL games from a press box seat instead of getting first-line minutes in the AHL.
“Something that we need to do is not only balance trying to win hockey games but also balance developing people in our organization,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “That is a little bit of a balance sometimes. If you’re not winning, it’s harder to have as much flexibility sometimes.
“There’s not a lot of trust because there isn’t a big body of work. That’s probably the biggest thing, so we need to win.”
That Washington is healthy and winning arguably makes it harder to justify inserting Galiev into a game. T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Andre Burakovsky and Tom Wilson are ahead of him; Wilson was projected to be a third-line winger, but the forward corps is so crowded that he’s back on the fourth line.
Galiev understands all of that and has focused on staying positive. He looked like a long shot to make the team in training camp, his skills better suited for heavy minutes in the minors rather than a depth forward role in Washington. Trotz even challenged him late in the preseason, saying that he needed to see more from Galiev.
But Galiev stuck around, cracking the lineup just twice, during Washington’s first week of the season. That he would evolve into a prospect the Capitals would prefer to have idle on the NHL roster than risk losing on waivers shows how much he grew last year. Underwhelming through four seasons in the Capitals’ organization, Galiev led Hershey with 25 goals and the entire AHL with 15 on the power play, earning an early-April promotion to the Capitals.
Trotz said he and Galiev need to come up with a plan, a list of things Galiev should be working to improve through practice and individual work. In Hershey, he scored three goals during his 10-day stint, but Bears Coach Troy Mann said Galiev tried to do too much at times and make plays that weren’t there. Galiev was surprised by how well he handled the workload, though he was naturally winded at first.
Galiev said the Capitals haven’t told him what his short-term future holds, but next year always seemed as if it would his time. His contract will change from two-way to one-way, meaning he’ll get paid the same regardless where he’s playing. Winger Jason Chimera, 36, is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
Galiev would prefer to not have to wait that long.
“I’m ready to play, and I want to have my chance,” Galiev said. “And if I’m going to have my chance, I’m going to make sure I’m going to use it.”
“We’ll get him in here fairly shortly, I think,” Trotz said. “We have to.”