The Washington Capitals are in a pretty good spot. They just finished a good, but not great season under first-year head coach Barry Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan. Their farm system is quite good and they have a few interesting young players that could make the roster out of training camp next season depending on MacLellan’s moves this summer and who he decides to bring back. I’ve written potential outcomes on Caps UFA’s Mike Green and Joel Ward previously, both are unlikely to return.
We take a look at Capitals roster and who should be back for next season below, along with potential young players that could make the team next season.
Capitals Roster Situation
Goalies: Braden Holtby (RFA), Justin Peters, Philipp Grubauer (RFA)
The Capitals should do everything in their power to rid themselves of Peters’ contract this offseason. The former Carolina Hurricanes net minder posted a mediocre .881 save percentage last season in just 12 games, but has just a $950,000 cap hit. Washington should look to slide Grubauer into a backup role behind Holtby. Grubauer has proved enough at the AHL level and is more than capable of being an NHL goaltender, something he has already proven. If MacLellan can’t move Peters, sending him to the AHL is a possibility if Grubauer makes Washington’s roster.
Defense: Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, John Carslon, Karl Alzner, Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt (RFA), Madison Bowey, Connor Carrick
Washington has five NHL caliber defensemen signed for next season and will likely add a veteran or two on a short-term contract. Schmidt’s contract needs to be ironed out, but that shouldn’t be much of an issue. The Capitals could very well go for a defenseman with the 22nd overall pick, but he wouldn’t be in the mix to make the team out of training camp. Young blue liners Bowey and Carrick could crack substantial roles in the 2015-16 season if their development warrants an NHL roster spot. Neither would be on the team just to be a seventh or eighth defenseman because it would hinder their development.
Forwards: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera, Tom Wilson, Marcus Johansson (RFA), Evgeny Kuznetsov (RFA), Andre Burakovsky, Stanislav Galiev (RFA), Riley Barber, Jakub Vrana, Michael Latta
It’s obvious the Capitals would like to upgrade their top six and MacLellan has already stated his intention to do so earlier this summer. The Capitals have a few young options who could contribute next season and they could bring back one of their UFA’s, including Jay Beagle, Eric Fehr and Joel Ward. Fehr is the most logical fit to return to Washington.
Galiev (67 GP, 25 G, 20 A, 2.6 SOG per game) made huge strides with Hershey in the AHL this season and could be a third line option for Washington out of camp or later in the season. A few of the other aforementioned young forwards will start the year in Hershey, but if they develop quickly they could move up to the NHL. MacLellan will likely add a few veterans to round out their forwards rather than just play multiple young players, especially since Washington hopes to contend for a Stanley Cup in the upcoming season.
Capitals Boast Strong Farm System
The Hershey Bears (AHL) should reap the benefits of Washington’s farm system during the 2015-16 season. They fell in the second round of the AHL playoffs to Hartford this past season, but could make another run toward a Calder Cup.
The Bears should have a host of skilled forwards on their roster including Jakub Vrana, Travis Boyd, Riley Barber, Caleb Herbert, Chandler Stephenson and Nathan Walker. Washington has a few minor league free agents to make decisions on as well including RFA’s Chris Brown and Garrett Mitchell along with the veteran free agents who are signed for AHL depth.
Missed this from earlier, but @MiamiOH_Hockey's Riley Barber inked an ELC with the Washington Capitals today. 40pts in 38gp this season.
— Mike McMahon (@MikeMcMahonCHN) April 18, 2015
Hershey’s defensive core will again be anchored by veterans Washington signs for them, but could include prospects Madison Bowey, Connor Carrick, Christian Djoos, Tyler Lewington and Patrick Wey (RFA). The goalie tandem could be headlined by second-year pro Pheonix Copley and Brandon Anderson or Czech net minder Vitek Vanacek, if he plays full season in North America this year.
Washington could go multiple directions with their five draft picks, but there really is no position of weakness they need to address. They should continue to look for the best player available along with players who are undervalued in Europe, like they have in past drafts. Washington could use some additional defensive prospects to add to their system along with adding another two-way center.
Washington’s 2015 Picks
First Round, 22nd Overall
Third Round, 61st Overall
Fourth Round, 113th Overall
Fifth round, 143rd Overall
Sixth Round, 173rd Overall
With just five picks, Washington needs to be creative and add some picks. One way they could do this is by trading the UFA rights of both Joel Ward and Mike Green. By doing this the Capitals could potentially add a late pick in the sixth or seventh round. This is a deep draft and MacLellan could always trade his third round pick for two later picks, but I don’t believe that would be a good idea, especially when Washington owns just two picks in the first three rounds.
The Capitals traded away three picks they would have had for this draft in previous deals. Their second and third round picks was traded for Curtis Glencross on March 1st in a deal that never worked out for Washington. Glencross is now a free agent and Washington is without two picks in the first three rounds, the trade was a bad one for MacLellan. The Capitals are also without their seventh round selection because it was traded last summer for goalie Edward Pasquale, who never played a game for the Hershey Bears last season.
This is an important offseason for the Capitals. The draft is important, but their actions in free agency are the most critical. Washington needs to continue to add pieces to their system to supplement their high-priced players on the NHL roster in the future. A mix of youth with their veterans under Barry Trotz gives Washington an advantage over the competition that can’t be understated.
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.