Are the Capitals Too Old to Win?

Is the current Washington Capital team past their prime? It’s a good question. Depending on how the season goes it will be asked a lot. The answers can vary. Let’s look at the different factors.

A Key Player Over 30

Let’s start with the mainstay of the Washington Capitals, Alex Ovechkin. He will turn 34 before the season starts. But even at this “advanced age” for a professional athlete, he was still the team leader in ice time last year. Known as “The Russian Machine,” he does adhere to an offseason training regimen in Moscow. Russian athletes are notorious for their training, and given Ovechkin’s history it’s an easy assumption that he’ll be in great shape when the season begins.

Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin
Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker, File)

Apparently, he’s made an effort to come back at a lighter weight this year. According to the AP, Ovechkin believes the game is “getting faster” and he’s making every effort to “just be quicker”. That in itself speaks volumes. Time is the enemy of every athlete. If Ovechkin comes into this season leaner, any speed he’s lost will be made up and his experience is a big benefit.

Can Backstrom and Oshie Keep Up?

Nicklas Backstrom is 32 this year. Two years younger than Ovechkin. Backstrom has a history of injuries but has stated that he wants to finish his career with the Capitals..

Nicklas Backstrom Capitals
Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

General manager Brian MacLellan has said that not having Backstrom on the Capitals would be an “emotional issue” for the team. The center did play in 80 games last season and contributed 22 goals with 52 assists. Those are good stats. If he is on a line with another 32-year-old, T.J. Oshie, what kind of results can be expected?

Over the last three seasons, Oshie’s missed 35 games due to injury. And he had a bit of a down year last year with only 54 points. Both Backstrom and Oshie are great players and chances are they’ll both step up. The question is for how long.

What About the Defense?

John Carlson is the heart of the Capital’s defense and he’ll be 30 on Jan. 10. He’s been in the NHL for 10 years – since he was 19 years old. He logged a lot of time on the ice last year, playing in 80 games and finished the season with 70 points. That was good enough to finish fourth in Norris Trophy voting. Let’s face it, the guy is a work horse and a strong blueliner.

John Carlson Washington Capitals
John Carlson, Washington Capitals (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Carlson will be the guy the Capitals will lean on for defense. With the departure of Matt Niskanen, Carlson may have to pick up some slack. It might be a heavy burden but Carlson did have a career year last year and could remain strong.

Radko Gudas, who the Capitals got in the trade with the Philadelphia Flyers for Niskanen, may help. Gudas is a defensive presence and does have a history of significant ice time.

Is Goaltending a Question?

Braden Holtby has been with the Capitals for 10 years and was their netminder when the team won the Stanley Cup in 2018. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2016 and finished last year with a 32-19-5 record. Holtby’s in the last year of a five-year contract. Though his stats were good last year, Holtby will be 30 on Sept. 16.

Washington Capitals Braden Holtb
Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

And yes, Holtby does have the franchise record for career shutouts, but how much longer can he keep up? He may or may not get a contract extension and even might be subject to a trade. Perhaps Holtby’s age wouldn’t be much of an issue if the Capitals didn’t have a strong goalie prospect in Ilya Samsonov.

Ilya Samsonov on draft day 2015 (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

Samsonov will start the year with the AHL Hershey Bears but according to MacLellan, Samsonov will “develop into the goalie we think he can be”. That statement in itself will probably weigh on Holtby’s mind.

Can This Team Get It Done?

No one can really answer this question. But, given the Capitals’ history, there is a lot of experience and talent to carry the load. Even if Ovechkin is 34, he’s still Ovi. Carlson is solid. Backstrom and Oshie are older but they can step up. The real question is Holtby. Goalies can be temperamental. The Capitals are Ovechkin’s team with or without their number one goalie. With Samsonov waiting in the wings, that may help or hinder Holtby’s success.

In all probability, this team can get the job done. There is a chance they could go further in the playoffs than last season. But the campaign is long and sometimes legs aren’t as strong as they once were. If the Capitalss don’t advance in the playoffs this season, expect a lot of changes.