A few minutes into his first NHL game, as a 19-year-old on opening night of the 2014-15 NHL season, Andre Burakovsky scored a goal against the Montreal Canadiens. In Game 7 of the Caps' first-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes just over two months ago, Burakovsky also scored.
As it turns out, those were the first and last games of Burakovsky's five years with the Capitals. On Friday, days ahead of the start of NHL free agency, the Caps traded the former first-round pick (23rd overall in the 2013 NHL Draft) to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, a third-round draft choice (originally belonging to Arizona) in 2020 and minor league winger Scott Kosmachuk, who will drop off Washington's reserve list three days from now when his 2018-19 contract runs its course.
In 328 regular season games with Washington, Burakovsky totaled 62 goals and 145 points along with a plus-34 rating.
For the Caps, the move frees up the $3.25 million of salary cap space Washington committed to Burakovsky when it issued a qualifying contract offer for 2019-20 to the 24-year-old right wing earlier in the week.
Burakovsky is a swift and talented forward with plenty of upside, but his five-season run with Washington was dotted with injuries and inconsistency that kept him from reaching his full potential, which is a top-six winger who is capable of scoring 20-30 goals in a given season. At his age, there is still plenty of time to get there. But last season, his ice time and his role on the team were diminished, leading the winger to request a deal and a change of scenery ahead of the Feb. 25 trade deadline. Burakovsky asked to be moved to a club that would allow him to play a top-six role. The Caps were willing to accommodate him, but spent some time hunting around for the best return they could get, both at the deadline and at the NHL Draft in Vancouver last weekend.
"We pursued it at the deadline, but it would have had to be a home run then," says Caps general manager Brian MacLellan. "We would have had to bring back a player at that point; to trade him for picks at the deadline didn't make any sense when we were trying to put together a playoff run.
"Had the player not requested the trade, I would have preferred to keep him in that third-line role for this season."
The Caps got the exact same return they got for Marcus Johansson two summers ago, when Johansson was arguably at the peak of his value.
Washington's challenge now is to find a way to spend the cap money earmarked for Burakovsky to fill a vacant slot on the right side of the team's third line alongside veterans Carl Hagelin and Lars Eller. The NHL's free agent shopping emporium opens its haphazardly stocked shelves on Monday, and the Caps' wallet is a bit fatter now than it was on Friday morning.
Friday's deal also marks the third time in this decade that the Caps have moved a player or players to Colorado in exchange for draft picks at this time of the hockey calendar. On July 1, 2011, Washington shipped goaltender Semyon Varlamov to the Avs for a first- and second-round draft choice. On June 22, 2018, the Caps dealt goaltender Philipp Grubauer and defenseman Brooks Orpik to the Avs for a second-round pick. After Colorado bought out the final year of Orpik's contract, the Caps resigned him for 2018-19. Orpik announced his retirement from the NHL earlier this week.