2014/15 NHL Season Preview – Washington Capitals

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2013/14 Season Record – 9th in Eastern Conference, 5th in Metropolitan Division

W

L OT PTS

GOAL DIFF.

38 30 14 90

-5

2013/14 Season Recap

Last season was another of steep decline for the Caps. They found themselves 5th in the wretched Metropolitan Division and outside the final Eastern Wild Card slot when their campaign ended. As ever, their power-play was their most effective weapon, finishing the season tied at the top of the league with the Penguins.

Equally, their defensive shortcomings were again their undoing. 21st in goals against is not a recipe for success.  The Caps also struggled to score at even strength, finishing 21st, again. Adam Oates paid the price for this, as he became the third coach fired in DC since 2012. GM George McPhee was shown the door at the same time as owner Ted Leonsis reacted to missing the postseason for the first time in seven years.

The Capitals promoted Brian MacLellan to GM and hired former Preds coach Barry Trotz as the first step towards addressing their defensive woes. How Trotz is going to utilise and get on with Alexander Ovechkin is probably one of the most important questions as the Caps prepare for a new season.

Projected Roster

LW C

RW

Brooks Laich

Nicklas Backstrom Alex Ovechkin
Troy Brouwer Evgeny Kuznetsov

Joel Ward

Jason Chimera

Marcus Johansson Eric Fehr
Aaron Volpatti Jay Beagle

Tom Wilson

 

LD

RD
Brooks Orpik

Matt Niskanen

Mike Green

John Carlson
Karl Azner

Dmitry Orlov

 

G

Braden Holtby

Justin Peters

 

EXTRAS

John Erskine (D)

Jack Hillen (D)

Top Call-Up Options

Forward

Chris Brown

Defense

Connor Carrick

Goal

Philipp Grubauer

 

Top Prospects

1. Andre Burakovsky

2. Chris Brown

 3. Connor Carrick

Key Additions

  • Brooks Orpik (D) (from PIT)
  • Matt Niskanen (D) (from PIT)

Key Subtractions

  • Mikhail Grabovski (UFA)
  • Dustin Penner (UFA)

Roster Thoughts:

Once again Alex Ovechkin scored 50+ goals and once again we had to listen to endless complaints about his defensive lapses. There’s a measure of validity to these gripes, but Ovi does one thing really, really well and, as long as he keeps doing it, he’s doing his job. That thing is putting the biscuit in the basket. His situation isn’t helped when his regular Center, Nicklas Backstrom, is also a defensive liability. Backstrom remains an excellent player and a great pass-first foil for one of the world’s deadliest snipers, but the ease with which opposing teams scored while these guys were on the ice has to be weighed against their offensive potential.

Brooks Laich only played 51 games this year and, even when playing, was clearly hampered with the lingering groin injury that sidelined him. There are huge questions about the role of Marcus Johansson and budding star Evgeny Kuznetsov: should they be on the Wing or at Center? On which line? With the departure of Mikhail Grabovski, there’s an argument to be made for Kuznetsov’s promotion to the 2nd line. Any which way, the Caps still look very top-heavy.

Did you know that 14 different players suited up as defensemen for the Caps last season? That’s not a good thing. The biggest story in the Blueline corps was the addition of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen from Pittsburgh to some very long & expensive deals. Niskanen may well be value for 7 yr/$5.75M… Orpik, now 34, is most definitely not worth the ridiculous 5 yr/$5.5M he was given in one of the worst contracts handed out this summer. There was talk from MacLellan of operating Orpik and John Carlson as a shutdown pairing. This would mean a 2nd pairing of the oft-injured and ever-erratic Mike Green with Niskanen. Which is a terrifying prospect for Caps fans who’d like their defensemen to, you know, defend.

14 Defensemen? How about 4 Goalies. Braden Holtby started as #1 then struggled with his form and the style Oates was asking him to play. He lost his net to first Michal Neuvirth and then Jaro Halak after the latter replaced the former. Now he’s – at least nominally – the starter again, with sometime Hurricanes backup Justin Peters as his deputy. I suspect that Washington’s goaltending problems may not have gone away.

Key Player:

Troy Bro.. just kidding. It’s Ovi, of course. There’s a great deal of speculation about his role, especially with a coach as (reputedly) defensively-minded as Barry Trotz and a (likely unearned) reputation as a coach-killer himself. The mission for Trotz must be to find a way to keep his prize asset scoring goals for fun while attempting to mitigate the inevitable defensive frailty that comes as part of the deal. Barry Trotz is a very smart man, and if he can pull this trick off, he can be elevated to the ranks of “Genius”.

2014/15 Expectations:

Everyone has heard their fill about how Barry Trotz is a defense-first coach etc etc; but the truth is, he’s never, in his NHL career, had offensive firepower like this at his disposal. Equally, he has no-one of the ability of Shea Weber or Ryan Suter on his blueline. It’s, therefore, hard to predict what sort of system this Capitals team is going to be playing, come October. A little more defensive responsibility while still allowing Ovechkin and Backstrom to do what they do so well and the continued weakness of their Division means that the playoffs are certainly a possibility.

However, they’re still miles short of the likes of Pittsburgh, Washington, Montreal and New York so I wouldn’t expect much more than a 1st Round exit. But that, after last year, would be seen as an improvement and the first steps on the road back to competition.

Follow Mike on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk!

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