The fantasy season is upon us. Another year of tears of joy and heartbreak.
To help you along, here’s your fantasy outlook for the Washington Capitals:
2022-23 FANTASY OUTLOOK: Washington Capitals
Last season: 44-26-12, 4th Metro, 13th overall. GF: 10th, GA: 13th, PP: 23rd, PK: 12th.
Their record shown above is more perfunctory than anything, but one thing does really stand out. How does a power play featuring Alex Ovechkin rank 23rd in the league? At just 18.8 percent, it was one of the worst Capitals power plays in the cap era. That isn’t to fault Ovechkin, who was tied for third in the league with 16 power-play goals, but only two other players scored more than five: Evgeny Kuznetsov, who’s more of a passer than a shooter, and John Carlson, a defenseman.
The Caps will remain competitive as Ovechkin chugs along, but the question is whether or not the team can surround him with the right supporting cast before he calls it quits, especially now that his long-time sidekick Nicklas Backstrom faces an uncertain future.
The power play wasn’t the only thing that plagued the Caps. Ovechkin was good overall but rather streaky, and Carlson’s defensive play vacillated between good to downright poor. And then there was the goaltending. The Capitals had two promising young goalies in Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek, but they went 0-for-2 and decided to jettison them in the off-season. They had shown flashes of brilliance, sure, but you never knew which of them was better and which version of themselves would show up that night. As a testament to how wildly their performances fluctuated, the Caps ranked fourth in the league with eight shutouts but ranked 23rd in save percentage, according to hockey-reference.com.
The Caps are still very much a playoff team, but a lot of things have to go right for them to be contenders. Ovechkin has to score a lot, Dylan Strome has to be a good contributor, they have to continue to be stingy in allowing shots and Darcy Kuemper needs to stay healthy. It’s a lot to ask.
Best fantasy option: Alex Ovechkin, LW
There’s no debate. He’s the best goal scorer of an entire generation, perhaps even in history, despite playing with a little less speed, strength and enthusiasm than he used to. He was an extremely streaky scorer last season, scoring 19 goals in his first 23 games then scoring 13 in the next 30 before finishing strong with 18 in 24. It added up to 50 goals, which was incredibly remarkable, but from December to February, other than in leagues that count shots and hits, Ovechkin wasn’t offering a whole lot.
It's still better than the rest, though. Carlson would be a close second, but he’s not a unicorn like Ovechkin. For an offensive defenseman, he doesn’t shoot the puck as much as you’d think, and when it comes to blocking shots, he’s always behind his peers. Kuznetsov’s production didn’t increase significantly even when he had to play more minutes to cover for Backstrom, and other than assists provides very little in leagues that don’t just count points. Tom Wilson will be injured to start the season and lost the title to Tanner Jeannot as a banger league favorite last season.
Hidden gem: Connor McMichael, C/LW
Anthony Mantha was the pick last year, and it turned out to be a dud with another injury-plagued season. He’s already 28 years old and averages less than 60 games played per full season. He can be a great source of goals and shots if he’s healthy, but we’re at the point where it might never happen.
That leaves McMichael, who might still be the best prospect in their system right now along with Hendrix Lapierre and Ivan Miroshnichenko. McMichael is certainly expected to have the most impact having played last season, and despite a quiet 18 points, at least stayed in the lineup for much of the season. The big hole in the Caps’ lineup is the No. 2 center spot behind Kuznetsov, and it’s going to be a competition with McMichael, Strome and Lars Eller. Even if the Caps decide McMichael isn’t ready to be a full-time center, he could just as easily move to the left wing. One big chance that will help McMichael’s production is getting minutes on the power play after playing a whopping 5:55 total minutes in 68 games. McMichael’s not worth drafting unless you’re in a deep, deep dynasty league, but among those on the Caps’ roster, he has the biggest potential to make the biggest leap.
It’s Kuemper’s net to lose, and as long as he stays healthy, he can easily be a top-10 goalie. That’s been the story for Kuemper for just about every team he’s ever played for, but it’s also unknown if he’s really good enough to elevate the Caps into a contender. Surely, he’ll be a big improvement over Samsonov and Vanecek, and his consistency alone will help them win more games. The Caps are also one of the best teams at limiting shots on goal with the sixth-lowest shots-against in the league. As long as Peter Laviolette’s voice stays in their heads, Kuemper should have no problems getting 30-plus wins on his own.
If Kuemper falters, the Caps have a pretty good backup in Charlie Lindgren. He has only 29 games of NHL experience, and two years ago played only three games for AHL Laval due to the Habs’ logjam in the crease amidst a COVID-shortened season. Signing with AHL Springfield for one year to recoup some market value, Lindgren was excellent. He went 24-7-1 with a .925 save percentage and a perfect 5-0-0 with the Blues when Ville Husso was injured, and parlayed that to a $3.3-million contract with the Caps. Lindgren has the potential to be one of the better backups in the league if he can get close to 30 appearances.
It’s clear the window is closing on the Caps, but there doesn’t seem to be a big sense of urgency. They’ve merely sought replacements such as Brown for Wilson and Strome for Backstrom, and in both cases may end up falling short. The Caps waltzed into the last wild-card spot to make the playoffs because a few teams were exceptionally bad last season, and it won’t be nearly as easy since the Islanders, Jackets, Sabres, Wings, Sens and Devils are expected to improve.
Ovechkin and Carlson remain the hottest fantasy commodities, but neither are held in the same regard as they used to be. Kuznetsov is the only other player worth drafting and Wilson is stash-worthy in banger leagues, but beyond that, it’s a crapshoot. THN’s Pool Guide projects Ovechkin to lead the team in scoring with 90 points and six others between 40-49: Strome, Brown, Mantha, McMichael, T.J. Oshie and Conor Sheary.