With the NHL lockout finally settled, hockey fans can finally look forward to the regular season, most likely a shortened 48 game schedule. Washington Capitals’ fans have some great things to look forward to in 2013 including new head coach Adam Oates, a hopeful bounce back year from superstar forward and Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and a goalie competition between Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth, not only for this season, but to become the franchise goaltender.
Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee made a few key additions during the offseason, including the addition of center Mike Ribeiro at the draft in exchange for forward prospect Cody Eakin and a second round draft pick in the 2012 NHL entry draft. McPhee also added a few marginal free agents this summer including depth defenseman Jack Hillen and forwards Joey Crabb and Wojtek Wolski.
Washington locked up restricted free agent defensemen Mike Green and John Carlson, continuing to build their blue line for the future that also includes the NHL ready Dmitry Orlov and Karl Alzner and prospect Cameron Schilling, who could potentially make the Capitals’ opening night lineup.
McPhee overpaid for Green, signing the puck moving defenseman and power play specialist to a three year $18.25 million dollar contract. Green could be a potential compliance buyout candidate, but that’s a conversation for a later date.
The Capitals also signed John Carlson to a six year $23.8 million dollar deal, a steal for such a young offensively skilled defenseman, who still has loads of potential that has yet to be unleashed. He’ll likely start the season on the second defensive pairing with his long term partner on the blue line, Karl Alzner. Carlson also should earn time on the second power play unit.
Even with these additions to the forward units and the continued stability of the blue line, the Capitals could very well struggle this season. The team will have to adjust to new head coach Adam Oates, along with his highly defensive oriented system. His system calls for minimal risk on the blue line, with defensemen rarely pinching during even strength play. It will require a buy in by not only the defensemen, but by every forward to block shots, back check and play with grit late in games, egos aside.
Along with a new system being implemented, Oates will have a very short amount of time to figure out line combinations to start the season, along with what players fit on the power play and penalty killing units. The loss of offensively skilled forward Alex Semin to the Carolina Hurricanes in the offseason will hurt Washington, but they will look for multiple forwards to fill Semin’s production.
Although the Capitals have been near the top of the standings in the Southeast division the past few seasons, the competition is quickly catching up with them. The Florida Panthers won the division last year and are vastly improving for both the short and long term, with young goalie prospect Jacob Markstrom and forward prospect Jonathon Huberdeau on the rise.
The Carolina Hurricanes are my favorite to win the Southeast, because of their strong goaltending from Cam Ward and their key offseason additions of Alex Semin and Jordan Staal, who they inked to a ten year extension. The team also features a few young players including Jeff Skinner and Zach Boychuk. The big question is whether the Carolina defense can play well in front of Cam Ward to capture the Southeast division title.
The Tampa Bay Lightning led by sniper Steven Stamkos and young defenseman Victor Hedman, will also be in contention for a playoff spot, and are never an easy team to beat late in the regular season. The Winnipeg Jets look to compete in their second season since their relocation from Atlanta, and have numerous up and coming defensemen in their system including Zach Redmond and Jacob Trouba.
Don’t expect a long playoff run by the Capitals this season, or for that matter, a postseason berth. Washington owns multiple offensively skilled forwards, but with the uncertainty on the third pairing of the Capitals’ blue line; a lot of pressure will be pushed on Washington’s young goalies, Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth.
The offense lacks much punch after the second line, with many grit type players filling out the remaining two lines, including Brooks Laich, Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle. The Capitals need a bounce back year from Ovechkin, along with the need to stay healthy following the lockout, most importantly Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green, who are both returning this season following injuries last year.
But even with highly talented scorers like Ovechkin, Backstrom and Ribeiro, the Capitals are just not ready to make another run at the Stanley Cup, at least this season. Washington has a solid group of prospects that will help cement the Capitals as a contender once again in future seasons, with the Swedish born Filip Forsberg and hard hitting forward Tom Wilson a few years away from reaching the nation’s capital. Riley Barber is another forward prospect who has top six potential, and could be a big part of Washington’s success down the road.
There are just too many moving parts from a new coaching staff, new players, new system and new team philosophy for the Capitals to be a success this season. Let’s call this season what it really is, a transition year in the nation’s capital.
Stay tuned for more Capitals news as the 2013 regular season begins, including line projections and statistics.
Matthew Speck covers the Washington Capitals organization for The Hockey Writers. He provides coverage of both Washington at the NHL level and prospect related content. Matthew also covers local sports for the Lebanon Daily News in Central Pennsylvania. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments.