What will the Washington Capitals Look Like in 2014-2015?
The Washington Capitals had an off year in 2013-2014. They missed the postseason for the first time since the 2006-2007 season. While they were only three points out of the hunt, they should have probably made the playoffs for a seventh straight season.
Everyone suspected that there would be some major changes in Washington once their season concluded. Capitals assistant GM Brian MacLellan replaced longtime GM George McPhee and former Nashville head coach Barry Trotz replaced Adam Oates as the Capitals head coach.
A new regime is in place and some new life has been injected into the Washington Capitals front office. But how will this impact the roster? What changes will come to the Capitals roster for the upcoming season?
Projected Forward Lineup
Extra: Aaron Volpatti
UFA: Mikhail Grabovski, Dustin Penner
There is expectation that UFA Mikhail Grabovski will return to the Capitals next season and return as the team’s second line centre. Dustin Penner is not expected to return to the Capitals as he was not used properly in the lineup when he was acquired at the last Trade Deadline.
The Capitals are not a bad team at forward on paper. While they struggled at times to score five-on-five last season, this group is full of NHL experience and has a good mix of youth and veteran players. The third line was the biggest surprise in the second half of the 2013-2014 season. Joel Ward was a big reason for this as he set career highs in goals (24) and points (49).
Young studs Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson were not given much of a chance to flourish under Adam Oates and were given limited minutes. The potential is there for both of the Capitals young studs and they should both see some time in the top six mix next season.
There are some names in the rumor mill that could interest the Capitals via trade or free agency. Some of these names include: Paul Stastny, Mike Richards, Brad Richards, Joe Thornton, Ryan Kesler, and Marian Gaborik. If things go south with Mikhail Grabovski, would the Capitals sign or trade for one of these big names? The Capitals biggest holes at forward are on the second line. With Grabovski negotiations and Brooks Laich’s health still in limbo, some adjustments need to be made to the Capitals second line.
Projected Defensemen Lineup
Karl Alzner – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Mike Green
Jack Hillen – John Erskine
Extra: Connor Carrick
The defensive core is the area that desperately needs to be addressed during the summer. After Alzner, Carlson, and Green, it has become a crap shoot on who can play top minutes for the Capitals blueline. While Orlov has shown flashes of good play, he is not anywhere close to his full development and may miss the start of the Capitals season because of a broken wrist. Hillen and Erskine have proven to be good depth defensemen, but have limited upside when playing top minutes. Connor Carrick should have never made the Capitals roster in 2013-2014 and could have used some more junior league development.
The blueline has haunted the Capitals for several years now because they have not been able to get a guy in there who can consistently give them good defensive zone play. In order for the Capitals to get back into contention, they need to acquire at least one more defenseman who can skate well, play top minutes, and be a star in the defensive zone. This would help the depth defensemen stay near the bottom of the lineup and play fewer minutes. It would also benefit Mike Green, who has needed a defensive partner that he can trust for a while.
There are some names that could intrigue the Capitals during the summer. With names like Alex Edler, Jason Garrison, Johnny Boychuk, Anton Stralman, and Brooks Orpik on the market via trade or free agency, the Capitals could fill some holes on the blueline. The best option for the Capitals is probably to go the trade route since there is more options available that will cater to their needs.
Projected Goaltender Lineup
The Capitals goaltending position has some interesting questions heading into the upcoming season. Braden Holtby struggled under Adam Oates and goalie coach Olaf Kolzig in 2013-2014. With a new goalie coach in Mitch Korn who has plenty of experience with goaltenders, this should benefit Braden’s development. Capitals fans can only hope that Braden returns to the level he played at during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Will the Capitals go out and get a veteran to mentor Holtby, or will they stick in-house and promote Philipp Grubauer? There are some interesting names in the free agent goalie market this summer. These names include Ryan Miller, Jonas Hiller, Tomas Vokoun, Martin Brodeur, and Tim Thomas.
The Capitals can go either way with this position, but bringing in a veteran backup is probably the best option for the club. While Braden Holtby is “the future” of the Capitals, he still has some mechanical work to do in his game. The Capitals squandered around ten points in the standings because of poor goaltending in 2013-2014. Ten points is a friendly estimate, but if you think about it, it adds up very quickly and can determinate a playoff fate.
The Plan Ahead
The Capitals are in desperate need of some defensive help. If they have to make a trade that sacrifices some high to mid round picks to get a steady defenseman who can help now, they need to make the move. There is no way they can have long term success with the patchwork blueline they have in place. Good defensive play is required to do well in today’s NHL. Defense is at a premium price, but it is the price the Capitals will have to pay to get better for the long term.
The second goaltending spot is the next biggest hole to fill. Signing a guy like Ryan Miller or Jonas Hiller would not hurt the Capitals at all because they can take some of the load off of Braden Holtby, while keeping Holtby’s compete level up. Braden still has some learning to do, and a good veteran behind him can help him learn the ropes of the position some more.
While the second line is not the biggest concern of the Capitals lineup, it could still use some tweaks. It would not hurt the Capitals if they could somehow acquire another shooter for the top six, or if Grabovski departs, another second line centre. If Grabovski re-signs, the centre hole for the second line is filled. Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer could garner some attention via the trade route and could help bring in some defensive help if the Capitals wanted to go that route.
With 20 players signed and just under $15M in cap space available for the summer, the Capitals have plenty of options to make tweaks to their lineup accordingly. If they just fix the backend and goaltending situation first, there is no reason why they cannot re-enter the postseason race next season.
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