A brand new NHL season is drawing very near, so to get you prepared, we’re previewing what’s ahead for each of the 30 NHL teams. Here’s a look at the Washington Capitals.
MAIN SUMMER HEADLINES
• Holtby wins the Vezina Trophy
• Ovechkin marries Russian model Nastasiya Shubskaya
• Capitals acquire Eller from Canadiens for draft picks
Head coach: Barry Trotz
GM: Brian MacLellan
Team payroll: 69.5 million ($73 million salary cap)
Acquisitions: Lars Eller, Brett Connolly
Key departures: Michael Latta, Jason Chimera
Rookies To Watch: The Capitals would like to see Jakub Vrana, the 13th overall pick in the 2014 Draft, get some NHL playing time this year. However, it’s not clear exactly how many games he’ll get. The Caps are content to let Vrana develop a two-way game in the AHL, and with a stacked forward lineup already, there may not be room for Vrana to stick with the team for 82 games anyway. Still, he’s an intriguing young talent who scored 34 points in 36 AHL games last season – his first full year in North America. At 20 years old, Vrana could at least show us flashes of what’s to come.
Washington will have a successful season if…
They keep excelling on defence, or offence…or both, of course. The Caps scored the second-most goals in the league last season and allowed the second-fewest, so if just one of those standards can be met again, the Caps will be a tough team to handle. Nobody could expect Washington to run away with the East as easily as they did last season, but even a 15-point drop would still be more points than any other team in their conference in 2015-16.
This team is built to support the offensive wizardry of Alex Ovechkin (and now Evgeny Kuznetsov) so as long as he keeps doing his thing, the Capitals are a contender. And there’s no reason to believe he’s on a troubling decline, is there?
Washington will have an unsuccessful season if…
Too many things don’t go as smoothly as they did in 2016-17. It’s worth noting the Caps were 14th league-wide in 5-on-5 CF% (51.04) and third in PDO (101.2), which suggests a regression to some degree. Not that we’d expect them to fall out of a playoff spot, or even a home-ice advantage seeding really. But there are variables that may not contribute as significantly this season.
Kuznetsov’s production jumped by 40 points last year and he led the Caps in scoring – is that who he is, or will he fall back a bit in Year 3? Braden Holtby had a Vezina season, but should his 66-game workload be dialed back a bit after the Caps fell short in the playoffs again? Will Tom Wilson or Brooks Orpik be too much of a drag? To be sure, the only thing that is likely to really throw the Capitals season into a tail spin would be some pretty significant injuries.