The salary cap forced Washington to thin out its stellar roster, but the high end skill at every position should be able to keep the Capitals in the thick of things in the Metro.
The Hockey News is rolling out its 2017-18 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of Stanley Cup odds, until the start of the season. Today, the Washington Capitals.
Stanley Cup odds: 17-1
Key additions: Devante Smith-Pelly, RW
Key departures: Marcus Johansson, C; Kevin Shattenkirk, D; Justin Williams, RW; Karl Alzner, D; Nate Schmidt, D
How important will Dmitry Orlov be to the cause?
It has been well established that the Caps’ defense corps took a kicking in the off-season and while rookies such as Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos will need to step up, the guy with the most influence may be Orlov. Playing most of the second half of last year with Matt Niskanen, he’s essentially a top-pairing guy now, at least on paper.
While Orlov ranked only fifth in ice time amongst Washington defenders last season, two guys ahead of him are now gone (Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner) and we have definitely see progression from the young Russian in the past two seasons.
Orlov is less risky than he was in his early NHL days and with Washington’s big guns at forward, he can afford to stay that way – solid, two-way play will be fine. But there will be more responsibility available and it will be interesting to see if Orlov can contribute to the penalty-kill; something he hasn’t done much of to date. If Orlov can up his average ice time from last season’s 19:32, it would be a huge boon for the Caps as they attempt to fold in some rookies.
It can’t get any worse, right? After the Capitals once again bombed out of the playoffs, we know they’re going to make sure it doesn’t happen this year: Sure, the Caps lost UFA rental Kevin Shattenkirk to the Rangers, but he wasn’t very good in the post-season, anyway. Justin Williams was much better; but he’s also logger a lot of miles. Karl Alzner is a slower D-man and a possession drag. As for those who remain, Tom Wilson showed he could be a game-changing force rather than a fourth-line fighter. Alex Ovechkin can still score. Nicklas Backstrom looks as dangerous as ever, and Evgeny Kuznetsov could be the team’s best player this year. Well, best skater, anyway. Braden Holtby is still an all-world goalie and could very well snatch another Vezina Trophy.
On the back end, Washington finally has room to graduate youngsters Madison Bowey and/or Christian Djoos while maintaining core members John Carlson and Matt Niskanen. This team has skill in all three zones and can’t get any hungrier for a title. The Caps will do everything in their power to win the Stanley Cup, and they’ve got the horses to do it.
The Capitals’ depth got absolutely decimated this summer. On top of Shattenkirk, Alzner and Williams, they also lost the rapidly ascending Nate Schmidt in the Vegas expansion draft and were forced to trade talented two-way winger Marcus Johansson to New Jersey due to salary cap issues. Meanwhile, they still have to pay Brooks Orpik $5.5 million a year to get turnstiled on the blueline by faster enemy forwards. Oh, and Ovechkin ended up on the third line in the playoffs. That’s a scary omen for a guy who’s fighting the notion that his peak years are over.
Washington’s pipeline was one of the weakest in the NHL, and now the team will have to rely on it for several roster sports up front and on the back end. Bowey is ready on defense, but scoring winger Jakub Vrana was a healthy scratch for some of AHL Hersey’s playoff games last year. He is Washington’s best hope among its forward prospects. No doubt the Capitals will still be a playoff team but with all the holes and weaknesses now appearing, it will no longer be surprising when they lose in the early rounds.
THN’s PREDICTION: 2nd in the Metropolitan. The Capitals won’t be the Presidents’ Trophy-winning juggernaut they have been of late, but they’re still a very good team. When you’ve got Ovie, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Carlson and Holtby, you’re gonna win a lot of games. As for the playoffs…
Previously: Arizona Coyotes | Boston Bruins | Buffalo Sabres | Calgary Flames | Carolina Hurricanes | Chicago Blackhawks | Colorado Avalanche | Columbus Blue Jackets | Detroit Red Wings | Florida Panthers | Los Angeles Kings | Minnesota Wild | Montreal Canadiens |New Jersey Devils | New York Islanders | New York Rangers | Ottawa Senators | Philadelphia Flyers | San Jose Sharks | St. Louis Blues | Vancouver Canucks | Vegas Golden Knights | Winnipeg Jets