Checking in on the Washington Capitals

August 5, 2014, by

The five-year, $27.5 million deal that Washington completed with Brooks Orpik is a real head-scratcher

Last year: 38-30-14, fifth in the Metro Division. Missed the postseason by three points.

Key additions: Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Justin Peters

Key subtractions: Mikhail Grabovski, Jaroslav Halak, Michal Neuvirth, Dustin Penner (likely)

Franchise direction: Like the rival Penguins, Washington chose to make major changes in the front office over overhauling its roster. In for George McPhee is Brian MacLellan as General Manager while long-time Predators coach Barry Trotz replaces Adam Oates behind the bench. Trotz is one of the most respected men in the business, but he’s made his living as a defensive-minded coach and faces an entirely new challenge in the nation’s capital. Trotz was surely part of the inspiration for the team’s two big signings, Niskanen and Orpik. The Capitals needed a major upgrade on defense after finishing 21st in goals against, but lobbing $67.75 million at Niskanen and Orpik was a bit excessive, especially in Orpik’s case. The acquisitions certainly don’t say much for the team’s faith in its long-time top-three of John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Mike Green. Focusing on bringing in defensemen from outside the organization does make some sense given that Washington has several talented forward coming up through the organization.

Salary cap: The Capitals’ opening night roster looks pretty much set, with the only potential for surprise being a young forward like Andre Burakovsky pushing for a roster spot. The Capitals have just over $1 million in cap space, so there’s no wiggle room for any other additions of significance. Going forward, Washington is in decent shape with $20 million in cap room next summer. Of course, there’s only that much because key cogs like Green, John Erskine, Braden Holtby, Eric Fehr and Joel Ward will be unrestricted free agents while promising young centers Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson figure to be looking at big raises as restricted free agents. Still, the additions of Niskanen and Orpik likely spelled the end for Green and Erskine, so Washington looks like it will have plenty of room to maneuver.

Prospect pipeline: Burakovsky was the big story of Washington’s development camp and the 2013 first-round pick certainly seems like he’s on the fast track to the NHL. Kuznetsov did play 17 games with the Caps late last year, but he’s long been considered one of the best prospects in the game and should make a bigger impact this year. Big things are also in store for RW Riley Barber and defensemen Madison Bowey and Connor Carrick. The Caps continue to struggle developing an in-house solution in goal, at least for the long-term. Philipp Grubauer is next in line, and he impressed in limited time last season. D Nate Schmidt and C Michael Latta are also knocking on the door, although they aren’t quite on the level of the top guys.

Projection: It will be very, very interesting to see how Alex Ovechkin and company respond to Trotz. Trotz himself faces major questions since he’s never had a group of forwards anywhere near as talented as this. The key for the Capitals will be keeping the puck out of their own net, and Washington put a lot of effort into improving in that area. The Capitals figure to turn things around this season and should be a playoff team once again.

Other Metro Division offseason recaps: FlyersDevilsBlue Jackets, Penguins 


  1. Walt says:

    Orpik is way to slow, and won’t help at all on their defense. Niskanen is a very good offensive weapon, but he won’t do much unless he improves his defensive skills. The Caps still be weak on their D, and have plenty scored on them.

    The key is Ovie, and his willigness to do whatever it takes to win. They named a street after him, “One Way”, all for me, and none for you! The man is a cancer, he helped get rid of Hunter, then Oates, who’s next, and how soon?????

    I’m not sure they make the play offs this coming season!!!!!

    • Centerman21 says:

      I totally agree. Oats had a real solid strategy in his first season during 12/13. It seemed to me like he got away from that and was less aggressive offensively. At first he valued the neutral zone. Blue line to blue line mainly and causing turnovers their. Maybe he felt he didn’t have the supporting personnel for that aggressive forecheck but it worked and in trying to be more concious defensively he made it worse. Oats was/is a good coach and with a second line centerman that was a good threat to score he spread out his offense and the oppositions defense. Should have made last season a carbon copy of the season before.

      Maybe Ovie had the room and never let go of games 6 and 7 against the NY Rangers they lost in the playoffs in 12/13. As long as Ovechkin is captain of that team, they’ll never compete to their full potential. McFee was not a great GM but he has pieces set for the future. Maybe not the deepest farm team but some of the best prospects in the NHL. Kuznetzov is going to be another Kovalchuk someday as he grows into that frame of his.

      I also see the same problems between Ovie and Trotz as Ovie had with Hunter. Ovechkin will never be the best player in the NHL because he slacks on defense. He is a Cancer in more way than one. He’s a problem in the locker room and the Caps spend so much on him they can’t afford a decent second line Center. They let Ribeiro go for $500K more than the Caps were paying him.

    • Centerman21 says:

      They got the wrong defenseman. What they needed was a Shutdown “Stay at Home” type of rear guard. A defender that can play side by side with an offensive defenseman like Green to cover up his defensive miscues. I do think that the coaches both the Caps & Pens brought in will try a system closer to what the Rangers are using with AV. The Pens coach who came from the Portland Winterhawks is that type of coach. Pittsburgh also added a couple defensive minded forwards with a little offensive upside like Horqvist. A Barry Trotz guy. Trading James Neal was a good idea.

      The Caps made the wrong moves on defense if that is what they want to improve upon. Orpik will help with grit and toughness on defense but good transition teams like the Rangers will blow right by him. I think you were a little light on Niskanen. He’s a pushover in his end.
      The Caps should trade Mike Green for a roster player to cover salary and picks in next years draft or replenish their shallow prospect pool. Green has regressed in recent years and a defensive coach will only cut him minutes and production. Smart move to trade him now to clear his $6+ million off the books now while he still has value as a 40 point offensive specialist. They won’t thought until possibly the deadline and get JACK for him after his lowest point total of his career.

      I agree with you Walt. They will have a top 14 draft pick next summer.

  2. SalMerc says:

    He may be a cancer, but still the scariest player in the league. If Trotz can make them 0.5 goals against better, they can become a tough team. If you had to take Ovie or Cindy C on your team, who would it be?

    • Walt says:

      I have no use for Cindy!! Nuff said.

      • Centerman21 says:

        I hate Cindy as much or more than anyone. However, he plays in all zones. Even if he’s not scoring, he’s playing hard in the corners being a pest. Remember the tic tac toe play the Rangers made at the garden in the series against the Caps and the video of Ovie within 15 feet of Stepan the eventual goal scorer. He was just gliding in place watching the play unfold. If I’m captain of an NHL franchise I’m sliding with my stick extended to break up that pass. Callahan did things like that and that’s what makes a locker room respect you. Not 40 goals! Those 40 goals in the regular season mean squat when you have 1 point in seven playoff games.
        I hate Crosby but I’d take him over Ovechkin any day of the week. The Caps would be wise to give a team leader the “C” and let Ovie just go out and play. He’s maybe not so good at being a bridge between coach and players. At least from what I have heard. The best player on the team isn’t always the best leader.

  3. Gary says:

    Caps are a comedy in progress. Every year they vacillate back and forth between high tempo offense and a ‘new’ defensive aspect to their game.

    First it was the Beudreau run and gun. Then the Hunter pack it in in front of the goal and block everything. Back to inmates running the asylum again (and run and gun) under Oates. Now Trotz comes in to lay down the defensive law.

    This team is a basket case with a basket case superstar who’s larger than life. Caps are an ongoing tragic comedy IMO.

    • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

      Agreed. The fact that the org continually shuffles coaches and playing styles does not bode well in the near future. A coach like Trotz demands a lot from his forwards, I wonder if that transition will be seamless.

    • Centerman21 says:

      I agree but Oats had a good strategy in his first season as HC in DC. He used a hybrid trap to clog up the neutral zone. He valued the space between blue lines above all. It worked well once the Capital players caught on. However, last season he seemed to get away from that with a slightly more moderate approach. He opened the neutral zone but tried a more traditional forecheck. It worked in spurts but they couldn’t keep the puck out of their net. The moves made do nothing for them in the defensive game. If they weren’t in the Metro division would think trading Staal for their draft pick in this coming draft. It’s loaded with talent said to rival the ones in the early 2000’s.

  4. Chuck A says:

    Past performance: Ovie 2, Coaches 0. Best to ya’ Bar.

  5. Spozo says:

    MDZ now a Flyer

  6. Bloomer says:

    Barry “No Neck* Trotz is a heck of a good hockey coach. Not only will he get the most out of the talented players in Washington, but he will give the Caps something they haven’t had in many years….a system.

    • Centerman21 says:

      They’ve changed strategies many times the last 4 or 5 years. They had a Torts like strategy in place with Hunter. Then Oats had a trapping type strategy in place but he didn’t stick to his guns last season. He either by request from management or by a lack of confidence made changes to his strategy last season if you can call it a strategy. Either way It backfired in his face. Now the new coach is going to be more defensive minded but the Caps have the scorers to threaten any team defending their end. Erskine or Hillen should be 7th defenseman IMO. Neither is fit for the top 6 on any NHL team. Too slow and no more than goons on defense.

      Trotz is a great coach. You don’t remain with the same team as long as he did without knowing a thing or two. I think he has to alter his thinking for this roster as opposed to the one he had in Nashville.