The Washington Capitals missed the playoffs last season, but can new and accomplished coach Barry Trotz lead the team back in? We preview the Capitals’ 2014-15 season and project them to finish fourth in the Metro Division and in the playoffs. Do you agree?
2013-14 record: 38-30-14
Acquisitions: Kris Newbury, Tim Kennedy, Chris Conner, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Justin Peters
Departures: Tyson Strachan, Mikhail Grabovski, Joel Rechlicz, Jaroslav Halak, Tom Poti
Top five fantasy players: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Joel Ward, Mike Green, Marcus Johansson
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: A leaky defensive team went out and made big moves to rectify the situation, beginning with the hiring of coach Barry Trotz, the former Nashville bench boss. He’s been teaching staunch systems for years, and his new troops in Washington are intrigued by what he can instill. He’ll have a couple new assets on the back end in free agents Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen, who both swung over from Pittsburgh. So right off the hop, the Capitals are much deeper on defense, with Karl Alzner, John Carlson and Mike Green still in the fold.
Shifting to offense, this is still a team with exciting weapons, headlined by the captain, Alex Ovechkin. Sure, he’s no darling of the advanced stats set, but ‘Ovie’ knows how to light the lamp. Partner-in-crime Nicklas Backstrom and rising star Evgeny Kuznetsov can also dazzle, while Joel Ward is coming off a great 2013-14.
Trotz is bound to get this team to play better defense. Assuming the offense continues, the Capitals will ice a more complete team that can challenge for a top-three spot in the Metro.
Bust: What if Trotz’s defensive demeanor comes at the expense of offense? Do the Capitals just get a little better in one area and worse in another? For a team that missed the post-season in an easy East, that’s a troublesome thought. Plus, Orpik has a lot of miles on the odometer. Even though his rugged play is one of his attributes (not to mention the fact he shoots left, which balances out the ‘D’), it might also speed up a decline in effectiveness that has already taken hold.
As it is, Washington was one of the worst possession teams last season, and Ovechkin and Backstrom were largely sheltered from difficult assignments. That’s a nice way of saying their jobs couldn’t get much easier, yet the playoffs still eluded them. In net, Braden Holtby is coming off his second OK season as starter. If the Trotz experiment goes pear-shaped, major changes to the core will be in the offing.
Bottom Line: Orpik and Niskanen will help bump up Washington’s possession game on the blueline, while the widely respected Trotz can finally show what kind of coach he can be when given elite offensive weapons. Ovechkin will again vie for the Rocket Richard Trophy, and Kuznetsov has a chance at the Calder if he can be the secondary scoring threat the team needs. Washington didn’t miss the post-season by much and will get back in the top eight this time around.
Prospect To Watch: The prospect everyone is watching this year is Evgeni Kuznetsov, the 26th overall pick from the 2010 draft who spent the next four years in the KHL. Kuznetsov is a popular Calder pick because not only did he develop playing against men in Russia – while posting solid point totals – but he also had a strong showing at the end of the last NHL season when he finally came over, scoring nine points in 17 games. Now 22, Kuznetsov is a potentially explosive talent who may be more NHL-ready than most rookies.
THN’s Prediction: Fourth in Metro Division and in the playoffs
Contributors: Ryan Kennedy, Rory Boylen