The identity of the Capitals came into question last postseason, as they were dismantled in the first round for the second consecutive season. While in 2019 they took it to overtime of game seven, in 2020 they were easy beaten in five games by the Islanders. The Capitals extended Nicklas Backstrom, but they decided to let longtime starter Braden Holtby leave. They must make sure that another franchise icon doesn\’t leave after 2020-21.
Additions: D Justin Schultz, D Zdeno Chara, G Henrik Lundqvist, G Craig Anderson, F Conor Sheary, D Trevor van Riemsdyk, F Dan Carr, D Paul LaDue.
Subtractions: G Braden Holtby, D Radko Gudas, F Ilya Kovalchuk, F Brendan Leipsic, F Travis Boyd.
Best Move: Signing Zdeno Chara to a one year deal.
Worst Move: Signing Justin Schultz to a two year deal.
One Move I\’d Make: Trade Trevor van Riemsdyk to reduce the crowded defensive core.
Best Contract: Lars Eller, three years remaining with a $3.5 million cap hit.
Worst Contract: TJ Oshie, five years remaining with a $5.75 million cap hit.
New Division Rivals: Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, Islanders, Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh.
Pending UFAs: Alex Ovechkin, Zdeno Chara, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Conor Sheary, Dan Carr, Paul LaDue.
Pending RFAs: Ilya Samsonov, Jakub Vrana, Jonas Siegenthaler.
Alex Ovechkin has still proved that he is a top-three goal scorer of all-time. Now 35, Ovechkin scored 48 goals, tied with David Pastrnak for the Rocket Richard trophy. It was his ninth Richard, and his seventh in the past eight years. Ovechkin shot over 300 times for the seventh year in a row, and his 15.4 shooting percentage was a career high. I didn\’t love giving Nicklas Backstrom a five year extension worth $9.2 million a year at age 33. Backstrom is still an elite passer, but his 12 goals was his lowest in his career, minimum 50 games. You could also say the same for his 42 assists. Backstrom still received both Byng and Selke votes last year. Everyone\’s least favorite player, Tom Wilson, scored 21 goals, hitting the 20 mark for the second year in a row. He only had 93 penalty minutes, which is a lot, but it was the first time in his career that the number wasn\’t three digits. With a career high average ice time, Wilson tied his career high 253 hits. Evgeny Kuznetsov had a little bit of a down season, with 52 points in 63 games. He was one goal away from his 4th 20 goal season in five years. TJ Oshie scored 26 goals, his most since 2016-17. He had a very high 19.5 shooting percentage, so luck was a factor. Oshie is entering his age 34 season, which might be a concern. Jakub Vrana improved on his breakout 2018-19, scoring 25 goals with 52 points in 69 games. The Capitals have the perfect top-six, with six potential 20 goal scorers. They also have a nice third line center in Lars Eller, who plays on both special teams units. Eller has never reached the 20 goal or 40 point mark, but he had 16 with 39 points in 69 games last year. Speedy winger Carl Hagelin was mostly used for the penalty kill in his first full season with the Capitals. He had 25 points in 58 games, which is nice for a bottom-six winger. A former teammate of Hagelin, Conor Sheary fell off after leaving Pittsburgh. He returned to the Penguins at last year\’s trade deadline, and he had four points in eight games, with two assists in four playoff games. He had .51 points per game as a Penguin, and .40 as a Sabre, so you could see another drop-off in Washington. The Capitals liked Richard Panik\’s goal scoring numbers and defensive play in Arizona and Chicago, so they gave him a four year deal. Last year for Washington, Panik only scored eight goals, with 22 points and a +16 rating in 59 games. Like Panik, Garnet Hathaway got a four year deal before the 2019-20 season. Hathaway only had 16 points, but he showed more physically, with 189 hits and 79 penalty minutes. Nic Dowd has had a good two year run as the 4th line center. Last year, Dowd had 15 points with a +11 rating and a 6.6 GAR in 56 games. 2015 2nd rounder Daniel Sprong is now on his third team. He had a goal and an assist in eight games for the Ducks last year, with 12 goals and 33 points in 44 AHL games. Dan Carr hasn\’t been given a big NHL chance, but he has always dominated the AHL. Carr had a goal in 11 games for Nashville last year, but he scored 23 goals with 50 points in 47 AHL games. Playing in the 2020-21 season in Switzerland, Carr had eight points in eight games.
John Carlson is an elite offensive defenseman, but he isn\’t strong in his own end. Carlson scored 15 goals with 75 points in 69 games last year, finishing 2nd in Norris voting. His GAR was 7.6, but that was brought down heavily by his defensive value. Dmitry Orlov is often tasked with being a safety blanket for Carlson, but he is good offensively as well. Orlov had 27 points in 69 games, for the second best points per game mark of his career. Brenden Dillon came over at the trade deadline, and was extended in the offseason. He had 14 points last year, with 104 penalty minutes and 194 hits. The Capitals will have a brand new second pairing this year with Dillon and Justin Schultz, who was a rival on the Penguin for years. He\’s fallen off after a 51 point 2016-17 season, mostly due to injuries. Last year, Schultz had 12 points in 46 games. Nick Jensen brings just about nothing offensively, but he is a very strong defensively and on the penalty kill. The Capitals signed Zdeno Chara, the 43 year old who was with the Bruins since before I was born. Chara was still effective last year, although he seemed to finally be on the downturn by the postseason. Last year, Chara had 14 points with a +26 rating in 68 games. The Capitals would have a really good fourth pairing. Trevor van Riemsdyk mostly started on the strong Carolina defensive core over the past three years. He had eight points in 49 games last year, and his average GAR over six seasons is 5.4. Jonas Siegenthaler had nine points in 64 games last year. If there was a Siegenthaler – Jensen pair, they would be a shutdown pair, with no offensive gain. Siegenthaler had a 5.1 GAR last year.
The Capitals let Braden Holtby walk to Vancouver, meaning that Ilya Samsonov will take over the reigns as a the starter. The 23 year old had a .913 SV% with a 2.55 GAA and a 2.30 GSAA. He received some Calder votes as well. The Capitals signed Henrik Lundqvist, but a heart issue will cause him to miss the season. The backup will either be veteran Craig Anderson or rookie Vitek Vanecek. Anderson, a 17 year veteran, is in camp on a PTO. He had a .902 SV% with a -7.95 GSAA in 34 games for Ottawa last year. Vanecek was the main AHL starter last year, and the 25 year old had a .917 SV% with a 2.26 GAA.
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Evgeny Kuznetsov – TJ Oshie
Carl Hagelin – Lars Eller – Conor Sheary
Richard Panik – Nic Dowd – Garnet Hathaway
Extras: Daniel Sprong, Dan Carr
Dmitry Orlov – John Carlson
Brenden Dillon – Justin Schultz
Zdeno Chara – Nick Jensen
Extras: Trevor van Riemsdyk, Jonas Siegenthaler
The Capitals were embarrassed in the playoffs. But, they still have an all-around great team. The top-six is good, the bottom-six is fine, and the defense and goaltending has upside. It would be a big surprise if the Capitals under Peter Laviolette, who normally does well in his first year with a team, miss the playoffs. The Capitals could easily finish first, although I see a second place finish instead.