Offseason Game Plan: Washington Capitals
Over the past couple of months, I have been taking a closer look at each of the Eastern Conference teams to show what their current status is and where their offseason focus lies. Knowing a team’s strategy should provide extra assistance in any offseason trading or keeper decisions. This week I’ll take a look at the Washington Capitals.
As a reference, I’ll add each of the teams I’ve covered here at the top in case you’d like to look at some of the other game plans.
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs
UFA: Mike Knuble
RFA: John Carlson
Rostered players signed for next season: 23
Available cap space: $10.57M
The cap space above (taken from capgeek.com) consists of 13 forwards, eight defensemen, and two goaltenders. Of the forwards, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Ribeiro, and Brooks Laich carry no-trade clauses, and Marcus Johansson is the lone forward with a two-way contract. On defense, Mike Green is the only player with a no-trade clause, while Dmitry Orlov still carries a two-way contract. Neither goaltender has a no-trade clause, but Braden Holtby does still have a two-way contract.
Washington’s forward mix will look much different than last year primarily due to the departure of Alex Semin and the arrival of Ribeiro. Besides the player shuffle though, the Capitals have switched coaches with Dale Hunter moving on and Adam Oates coming in. Oates – the 16th highest NHL scorer of all time and an NHL Hall of Famer – is expected to re-vitalize the Washington offense, which should ultimately lead to more fantasy value.
The Capitals top-six should include Ovechkin, Backstrom, Laich, Ribeiro, and two of Johansson, Wojtek Wolski, Troy Brouwer, or Mathieu Perreault. The Caps have told Wolski that they seem him as a top-six forward, so one possible combination could have Wolski skating with Ovechkin and Backstrom, leaving the second line to be filled by Laich, Ribeiro, and Johansson. The slight issue with that line setup is that both players who would be pegged for right-wing duty (Wolski and Johansson) are accustomed to playing on the left-wing (with Johansson getting time at center as well). If either is able to stick at right-wing though, they could see added value as a multi-positional player in Yahoo league formats. The other risk is that they would struggle at a position they are unfamiliar with, while players like Brouwer or Ward – who are accustomed to playing right-wing – might have an opportunity to jump into a top-six role.
Assuming Brouwer and Perreault don’t make the top-six – at least to start the year – the bottom-six would be filled out by Brouwer, Ward, Jason Chimera, Perreault, Joey Crabb, Jay Beagle, and Matt Hendricks. Mike Knuble is still unsigned, and at this point it does not appear likely that he will re-sign with Washington. With players like Perreault, Crabb, Brouwer, and Ward, the Capitals will have enough talent to produce a third scoring line, depending of course on the chemistry formed and the coaching decisions made by Oates and staff.
In terms of prospects ready to make the jump up to the NHL, the Capitals have Stanislav Galiev, Ryan Potulny, Zach Hamill, and Ryan Stoa. Galiev comes with the highest upside of the bunch, but also with the least experience – this will be his first year of professional hockey. Galiev fought a wrist injury for most of the year, but he came back and had a strong end to the regular season and an even stronger postseason for the Saint John Sea Dogs. On a team packed with prospects deemed NHL ready such as Jonathan Huberdeau, Zack Phillips, and Charlie Coyle, Galiev’s 34 points in 17 postseason games was a tie for the team lead as the Sea Dogs won their second consecutive QMJHL title.
After Galiev, the Capitals have a trio of players who were once promising prospects, but have struggled to stick in the NHL. Potulny has proven himself the most out of the three, with a couple of promising stints in the NHL and more than a few productive AHL seasons. It’s possible that Potulny is brought in simply to keep Hershey competitive, but if he can make his way into the NHL, he might actually surprise. Stoa is next on the list, coming from Lake Erie (Colorado affiliation) and scoring only 36 points in 75 games. While that might sound pretty bad, context is key. The leading scorer potted only 39 points. The season before that, Stoa scored 33 points in only 48 games, while finishing seventh on his team in scoring. The 33-point performance last year shows a relative improvement as Stoa finally became one of the top players in the locker room for his team. With a new home and a new opportunity, Stoa could be ready to take another step forward in his development. Last on the list is Hamill, a player who is also looking for a fresh start with the Washington organization. Hamill is a former eighth-overall selection who has certainly been slow to develop. While he finally saw a split season between the AHL and NHL last year, a promising sign would have been strong production at the AHL level when there. Instead, Hamill managed only 21 points in 41 games.
At defense, Washington’s top-four should include Green, Carlson (once signed), Karl Alzner, and Roman Hamrlik, which would leave the bottom pairing open to John Erskine, Orlov, and Jack Hillen. While Tom Poti has one more year left on his contract, it is unlikely he will be able to suit up. Placing him on the LTIR would free up about $2.9M of cap space, and while Washington is already in better shape than most of their counterparts (i.e. Philadelphia, Pittsburgh), they may need the extra space once the CBA is ironed out. In terms of fantasy relevance, Green and Carlson are by far the top two to own here, and under Oates’ system we may see Green thrive the way he did under Bruce Boudreau. Orlov is the next fantasy asset, and while he is slated for third pairing duty, he has the talent to play in the top-four and could bump Hamrlik down the depth chart. Alzner is a solid defenseman who is more known for his defensive abilities, so although he may eat up top-four minutes, he is less likely to occupy power-play minutes or provide offensive production, opening the door for Orlov to at least get top-four minutes on the man advantage.
In terms of prospects ready to step up, the Capitals have Patrick McNeill, Tomas Kundratek, Kevin Marshall, and Cameron Schilling. McNeill has spent five years as a professional hockey player, but still does not have an NHL game of experience. Last year was his biggest step forward though, as his 41 points in 71 games led the Hershey Bears in defensive scoring. Believe it or not, in 2003, the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit drafted McNeill first overall, ahead of players like Marc Staal, Bobby Ryan, and Steve Downie. While he has certainly taken longer to develop, McNeill might be in store for a call up or two this year and potentially a full time gig next year as a fifth or sixth defenseman. Kundratek got into the lineup this year for Washington, going pointless in five games, but he also solidified himself as the other top defenseman in Hershey, scoring 23 points in only 55 games, and adding a point-per-game in four contests in the postseason. His offense is still a work in progress, but Kundratek may be in store for another cup of coffee this time around.
Marshall comes with the most NHL experience of the bunch – a whopping 10 games with Philadelphia last year. Marshall has been projected to be a second-pairing defender who blends offense with physical intimidation, despite being only 6-0, 203 pounds. Due to his physical nature, Marshall tends to end up in the penalty box a lot, so if he does get a call up, he may be a great way to add PIMs from a depth defensive slot. Schilling is an undrafted defenseman out of Miami University, who signed an entry-level deal with Washington for a whopping $1.75M per year. While he was the top-scoring defenseman for his school, Schilling scored only 14 points in 39 games. He has never been a goal-scorer, but does come with a pass-first mentality and a plus-58 rating through four years at Miami. The fact that Washington was willing to dish out the kind of money they did should show how they value his services down the road, making Schilling a player to at least keep an eye on.
In goal, the question of who will be the starter is truly anyone’s guess. In the past, each time Neuvirth would fall out of the lineup due to injury, someone else would step in and perform quite well. First it was Varlamov, then it was Vokoun, and now it is Holtby. Recently there was an article which supposedly quoted Neuvirth criticizing many of the people in the Washington organization, including former coach Hunter, Ovechkin, and even taking a jab at Holtby. Red flags went off right away and Neuvirth wanted to set the record straight, confirming that the interview was taken out of context and it sounds as though some parts were completely fabricated.
Regardless, it appears as though both Neuvirth and Holtby will have an equal shot at claiming the starting role, and for Neuvirth, the competition couldn’t be stronger. Holtby and Neuvirth won the Calder Cup together in 2010, then each progressed on their own path. Holtby filled into 14 NHL games the next season and managed a 0.934 save percentage and 1.79 goals against average. He returned to Hershey as the starter last season, but sure enough found his way into the NHL again, this time taking the Capitals to Game 7 of the second round of the playoffs with a sparkling 0.935 save percentage and 1.95 goals against average.
In terms of prospects ready to make the jump to the NHL level, the Capitals do not have any. There is a reason for that too as both of their NHL goalies are young, emerging goaltenders with a bright future in front of them. They do not have a need for a prospect ready to fill in at a moment’s notice. Instead, they might lean on a veteran presence like Dany Sabourin in Hershey to step up if the time comes when he is needed.
Biggest holes to fill: None.
Priorities: The top priority should be to sign John Carlson. With a pending lockout on the horizon, Carlson’s contract is likely on hold though. The next priority should be acquiring veteran support and mentorship for the goaltending. While both NHL goalies have very promising careers, they are quite young. A veteran presence could go a long way in developing one of them into a franchise goaltender. Selecting which one is the right one will likely take a bit of time though as the team will likely wish to see how both perform in training camp and beyond.
Overall, Washington is a team that has fallen from glory the past couple of years, but appears to be back on track to be one of the league’s elite franchises once again. The addition of Adam Oates will allow guys like Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green, and Carlson to focus on a more offensive model than they have been accustomed to the past couple of seasons. The offense has two strong scoring lines, a third line consisting of players with offensive potential, and a strong checking line. On defense, they have three studs in Green, Carlson, and Orlov, but balance may be an issue over time. The goaltenders are young, but the entire team model is young and emerging. The next season might be a bit of a re-grouping year, where the team re-adjusts to the Oates’ model, as well as moving on without Semin in the lineup, and adjusting to their new starting goaltender. While next year should be a strong one, the year after should be absolutely huge for Washington, and more specifically any fantasy owners who have been able to acquire Washington’s top stars.
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