After their second President’s Trophy in as many years (2015-16, 2016-17), it’s safe to say that for the first time in recent memory, the Washington Capitals can no longer be considered a powerhouse in the National Hockey League. Not that any of their regular season success has ever translated in the postseason, (see: the most second-round exits ever, probably), and with the departure of almost half of their starting blue-line from last season, expect the Caps to take a step in the wrong direction in 2017-2018.
Superstar winger Alex Ovechkin is yet another year on the wrong side of 30, and after some of the lowest point-totals of his career in 2016-17 (33-36-69 in 82 games), there are questions surrounding the Capitals’ captain as he enters the 13th season of his NHL career. Ovechkin, who weighed in at 240-pounds a season ago, was asked by management to train differently this offseason in order to get lighter and faster. Along with having a bigger role up-front this season for the Caps, expect Ovi to raise his point totals from a year ago, as he’s expected to carry much of the offensive workload.
Center Nicklas Backstrom will also be expected to continue his elite-play, likely to be skating alongside Ovechkin in both even-strength and power-play situations. Evgeny Kuznetsov (19-40-59 in 82 GP last season), who signed an eight-year, $62.4 million contract in July just after turning 25 years-old, will be expected to live up to the worth of that monstrous contract. T.J. Oshie, fresh off signing a monstrous contract of his own (8-years, $46 million), will be expected to the near the 50-60 point mark this season as well. With the departure of wingers Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams, both 20 goal scorers in ‘16-’17, Washington will rely heavily on young winger Andre Burakovsky to step up his production this season. Though not as potent an offense as it once was, Washington’s forward core should provide enough goal-scoring to win games.
By far the area which has taken the biggest hit, the Caps lost three of their seven rostered defensemen from last season without having any proven talent to replace them. Two of these defensemen were in Washington’s top-four last season, those being Kevin Shattenkirk (signed with NYR in July) and Karl Alzner (with MTL). Shattenkirk, though only acquired at the deadline last season, will be missed for his elite vision and offensive abilities, while Alzner will be missed more for his shut-down capabilities. Replacing the two experienced and reliable D-men are two inexperienced and unproven young players in left-handed Christian Djoos (2012 seventh-round draft pick), and right-handed Madison Bowey (2013 second-round draft pick). Depending on the performance of the two youngsters, and if 26-year-old Dmitry Orlov can handle the role of No. 1 D-man, there is the potential for real regression on Washington’s back-end.
The saving-grace of Washington’s stripped defensive core comes in the form of proven-elite netminder Braden Holtby. Holtby, who posted the best stat-line of his career in 2016-17 (42-13-6, 2.07 GAA, .925 Sv. %), will continue to be one of the league’s most reliable goalies in 2017-18. Though he will be relied on more heavily than in his past two seasons, in one of which winning the Vezina Trophy for league’s best netminder, all arrows point to Holtby being up to the task.
Another positive for the Capitals is back-up Philipp Grubauer, who very well may be dangled in a trade with a team desperately in need of help in goal this season. The return could possibly bring needed support on the wings or the blue-line for the Caps.
The Washington Capitals will not perform as the league powerhouse in the 2017-18 season. There are too many holes and uncertainties up-front and on the back-end, for Washington to sustain the type of regular season play that was seen for the last two seasons. They will, however, relying on the performance of their proven-stars, win games and compete again in the postseason.
Division Rank: 3rd