The time has come. After nearly half a season on injured reserve, John Carlson will be back in the Washington Capitals lineup tonight. To make room to activate him from LTIR, the Capitals have loaned Zachary Fucale and Gabriel Carlsson to the AHL.
Carlson missed 36 games after taking a Brenden Dillon slapshot to the head in late December. The veteran defenseman suffered a fractured skull, and was ruled out indefinitely. As the Capitals pointed out in their announcement today, things may have gone very differently had Carlson not been sidelined for so long.
In the 30 games he did play, the team went 18-10-2, a winning percentage that would have them securely in the playoff picture had it continued all year. Instead, the Capitals sit six points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final wildcard spot with just ten games to play.
While it isn’t over just yet, Washington essentially threw in the towel at the trade deadline, by sending Dmitry Orlov, Garnet Hathaway, Marcus Johansson, Erik Gustafsson, and Lars Eller to contending clubs in exchange for (mostly) draft picks. Carlson’s return likely won’t be enough to get them to the playoffs this season, but it will be good to see him back on the ice taking part in an NHL game after such a scary injury.
Unless he does something spectacular in the next few weeks, Carlson will likely miss the Norris Trophy ballot for the first time since 2017. He finished in the top 12 in each of the last five years, including a second-place spot in 2020. A full season in 2022-23 will be a huge step toward the Capitals’ returning to the postseason.