Checking in on the Washington CapitalsAugust 5, 2014, by
Last year: 38-30-14, fifth in the Metro Division. Missed the postseason by three points.
Key additions: Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Justin Peters
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.