The Washington Capitals traded winger Andre Burakovsky to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for second and third round picks in the 2020 draft and Scott Kosmachuk, an American Hockey League forward and pending free agent. The trade is mostly a salary dump for the Caps, who this week extended a qualifying offer to keep Burakovsky’s rights that would’ve forced them to pay him $3.25 million, a hefty price for the underachieving young player.
Burakovsky is only 24 years old and has seemed poised for a breakout season for the last several years. Though he’s shown flashes of brilliance, including several great performances against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 playoffs and a two goal Game 7 of the ECF in 2018 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, he’s struggled with consistency over the course of an 82-game season, having never reached the 20 goal or 40 point marks and trended down in point totals since his second season. Still, the 2013 first round pick possesses incredible skill, and he’s certainly capable of putting up elite offensive numbers if he can stay consistent.
Burakovsky’s struggles in Washington were compounded by two factors: injuries and a lack of ice time. He suffered two broken hands that kept him out of significant chunks of the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons and has never seemed to recover his pre-injury form. In the meantime, Washington’s forward depth has only grown stronger, causing Burakovsky to be relegated to the third and fourth lines this season when he’s playing at all, which has taken its toll on his production and his confidence. This is particularly true because of Brett Connolly’s consistency on the third line and the emergence of 23-year-old Jakub Vrana, a similar player to Burakovsky who has taken over what likely could’ve been Burakovsky’s place on the second line this season. Fittingly, Burakovsky’s trade will clear the cap space needed for the Caps to re-sign Vrana, who is also a restricted free agent this offseason.
Trade rumors have swirled around Burakovsky ever since he was scratched for five games in a row in December. Caps General Manager Brian MacLellan said today that Burakovsky requested a trade ahead of the deadline to have an opportunity to play top 6 minutes somewhere. He played well down the stretch and through the playoffs, leading many to think the Caps may give him another chance after all, and MacLellan also said today that, had Burakovsky not requested the trade, the Caps would’ve kept him in his third line role for next season.
It’s sad to see Burakovsky go. He’s a fantastically skilled player and I firmly believe that, given the chance to be a top 6 forward every night, he will be a very good NHL player. But at the same time, this trade is good for everyone. Burakovsky should benefit from the change of scenery and hopefully a bigger role on a young, talented Colorado team. The Caps got a decent return for a salary dump trade. They had previously moved their 2020 second rounder, so getting back into the game there is valuable (these picks could also be flipped at the deadline next year for roster improvements down the stretch). They also have space now to pursue a free agent middle 6 winger, including possibly re-signing Brett Connolly, though his price elsewhere may still be too much. The AHL player means almost nothing (he’s not considered an NHL prospect), but maybe he’ll help in Hershey if the Caps can get him signed. For Colorado, it’s a relatively low price for a player with Burakovsky’s potential.
All things considered, I think this trade is sad, but not a mistake for MacLellan. It may end up hurting if Burakovsky is successful in Colorado, but he’s doing what he has to do to give the Caps enough money to contend again next year.