For the past decade, The Capitals and Penguins were both dominant forces. Now, they are both in the same position, trying to stay away from a collapse. The Capitals are the ones with the upper hand on the rivalry as of now. Alex Ovechkin is now under contract for a lot longer. They have a successor to Braden Holtby. The team has great depth on the wings. But can Father Time stay away from this team for long enough?
Offseason additions: D Matt Irwin.
Offseason subtractions: D Brenden Dillon, D Zdeno Chara, F Michael Raffl, G Craig Anderson, F Dan Carr.
While winning another Stanley Cup would be nice, all that Alex Ovechkin needs to do is break Wayne Gretzky’s goal scoring record. Already the greatest sniper of our generation, if not all-time, Ovechkin scored 24 times with 42 points in 45 games. He was not close to winning the Rocket Richard, breaking his streak of three in a row for that award. It’s not like he needs it, as “Ovi” has led the league in goals nine times. The Capitals will miss Nicklas Backstrom to start the season, as the star center is still laboring from an injury sustained last season. Backstrom’s 53 points led the team last year. He scored 15 goals in 55 games, for a pace of 22 over 82 games, which would have tied for the third-highest total of his career. Washington reportedly tried to shop Evgeny Kuznetsov this offseason, but to no avail. He was very disappointing in 2020-21, scoring just nine times with 20 assists in 41 games. If he does not have a redemption season, then Kuznetsov will be letting down two teams; his IIHF suspension will prevent him from playing for Team Russia in the Olympics. Tom Wilson was successfully able to own an entire franchise, as the entire Rangers’ offseason seemed to revolve around an incident involving Wilson at the end of the regular season. Wilson’s 96 penalty minutes led the league last year, and he added 13 goals with 20 assists to the mix. The Capitals dealt a haul at the deadline for Anthony Mantha, who scored four goals with four assists in 16 games after the trade. He was not great in the playoffs, with just two assists in five games. Mantha has been a very good scorer for Detroit, but he suffered a career-low 10.9 percent shooting rate last season. Washington gave TJ Oshie a trial at center last season, although he should play wing again, even with Backstrom out. He continued to score in his sixth season with the team, with 22 goals and 21 assists. Oshie’s physical side is underrated; he has averaged over a hit-per-game in all 13 of his NHL seasons. Lars Eller could move up to second line momentarily. The ideal third line center, Eller does not score enough to be a consistent top-six threat. He played in 44 games last season, with eight goals and 23 points. Rookie Connor McMichael is an option as well. The 2019 first-rounder played in one AHL game last year, after scoring 14 goals with 27 points in 33 AHL games. This came after he dominated the OHL with the London Knights. Daniel Sprong has always been known for his shot, and he showed it off in 42 games last year, scoring 13 goals on 74 shots. He played all over the Washington lineup, although Sprong never had a ton of ice time. Former rival Conor Sheary was a solid bottom-six piece, as the five-foot-nine wing scored 14 times. The Capitals extended him for two more years, with an AAV of $1.5 million. Garnet Hathaway had 179 hits, missing his 2019-20 mark by ten, in ten less games. The checking winger added six goals and 12 assists while being one of four Caps to play in all 56 regular season games. The three forwards of that group are all on the bottom line. Speedy Carl Hagelin has definitely exited his prime, but he is still a very solid penalty killer. Hagelin had 16 points last season. Center Nic Dowd scored a career-high 11 times last season, as he was helped out by a 16.2 percent shooting rate. The Alabama native had 109 hits with 40 blocks while averaging well over 14 minutes a game. The team’s depth is pretty rough. Michael Sgarbossa had two assists in five games, an opportunity earned by leading the AHL Bears for multiple seasons. Sgarbossa had ten points in 14 games for Hershey last season. 2020 first rounder Hendrix Lapierre could win that middle-six center job over McMichael, or at least get the nine-game trial to start the season. Lapierre had 31 points in 21 QMJHL games last season.
John Carlson’s defensive struggles easily cost him the 2019-20 Norris, and hurt him from finishing top-five last season. Carlson scored ten times with 34 assists, finishing 12th for the best defender award. He has consistently been one of the league’s top offensive defensemen while playing heavy minutes. Dmitry Orlov is the backbone of the top pairing, although he averaged under 20 minutes a game for the first time since 2016-17 last year. Orlov had 22 points with 50 blocks and 87 hits. Orlov is the only left-handed defender on the team who does not carry a major question mark. Nick Jensen has been a solid shot-blocking defender since coming over from Detroit in 2018-19. He played in 53 games last year, with 14 points. Jensen also blocked 65 shots with 56 hits. Along with Sheary, Hagelin, and Sprong, Justin Schultz was a Penguin during the back-to-back Cup wins. Schultz was not amazing in his first season as a Capital, but he still managed to put up 27 points, his most since he did the same thing in 2017-18. Trevor van Riemsdyk only played in 20 games last year, but he is a solid third-pairing player who the Capitals will take after losing Brenden Dillon and Zdeno Chara. van Riemsdyk had three points with 27 blocks last season. Veteran Matt Irwin was a member of the Sabres last year, which is not an ideal location for a defenseman, or a player in general. In 24 games, Irwin was more a part of the problem than of a solution. He was not scared of making contact, with 43 blocks and 56 hits. Michael Kempny could be a huge part of the team’s defense this year, although his recent involvement on waivers suggests otherwise. He was injured for all of 2020-21. Kempny had 18 points with 72 blocks in 58 games back in 2019-20.
Compared to contracts signed by Igor Shesterkin, Ilya Sorokin, and Carter Hart, Ilya Samsonov’s new $2 million cap hit looks like a steal, even though he was underwhelming last season. Dealing with injuries, Samsonov had a .902 save percentage with a 2.69 GAA, and a -3.0 GSAA in 19 games. Backup Vitek Vanecek was the starter for most of the regular season. He had an eventful offseason, being claimed by Seattle before the Capitals traded for him back. He had a .908 save percentage in his rookie season.
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson
Anthony Mantha – Lars Eller – TJ Oshie
Conor Sheary – Connor McMichael – Daniel Sprong
Carl Hagelin – Nic Dowd – Garnet Hathaway
Extras: Hendrix Lapierre, Michael Sgarbossa
Dmitry Orlov – John Carlson
Nick Jensen – Justin Schultz
Matt Irwin – Trevor van Riemsdyk
Extras: Michal Kempny
If the Caps’ projected lines looked weak to you, remind yourself that their top scorer from last year should be in the lineup very soon. Washington is still a powerhouse. Health will be a key factor for them, but they have depth within their starting lineup. The one concern is really depth outside the lineup, but that can be improved upon midseason. Washington will finish in third place, but have to face old friend Barry Trotz again in round one.