With just over one week until NHL training camps open on Sept. 18, we have reached the end of offseason analysis of the Metropolitan Division opponents that the Blue Jackets will face this year. From the Carolina Hurricanes to the Pittsburgh Penguins, we’ve looked at what they added, who they might have lost to trade or free agency and how they may fare in 2014-15.
Next, we travel to our nation’s capital, the home of our government and massive over-spending.
Today: Washington Capitals
Looking in the rear-view mirror, the Capitals missed out on postseason play for the first time in seven years. With the NHL being realigned before the start of 2013-14, Washington was no longer the "lock" as the top dog in the Southeast Division. They became part of the new Metropolitan Division and faced a much tougher divisional schedule of opponents.
Ultimately, their struggles throughout the season cost GM George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates their jobs. On May 26, the team announced that Brian MacLellan had been promoted from Director of Player Personnel to General Manager and that former Nashville Predators head coach Barry Trotz was hired as the new bench boss.
The hope is that Trotz will get the Capitals to play a more defensively responsible game, thus leading them back to the playoffs.
Shoring up their poor defense from last season was a priority for new GM MacLellan. Ownership gave him the green-light to spend, and spend he did. On the first day of free agency, they signed former Pittsburgh defensemen Matt Niskanen (7 years/$40.25M) and Brooks Orpik (5 years/$27.5M).
Conventional wisdom says that they overpaid to land Orpik, as he is 33 years old and entering the twilight of his career. Barry Trotz will do his best to wring every bit of productivity out of Orpik, but both players should fit well into Trotz’s defensive style.
With that much money spent on the blue line, they were left within $1.1M of the salary cap. That precluded making any bold moves to add some scoring to their forwards. With the Washington Capitals forward lines, what you see is what you get.
After Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on top of their forward lines, there is a precipitous drop-off. They need players such as top-prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, Brooks Laich, Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer to step up their games in the hopes of making a deep playoff run this time around.
Between the pipes, the hope is that Braden Holtby will improve upon last season’s performance after ending the year with a Goals Against Average of 2.85, a Save Percentage of .915 and a record of 23-15-4. They will need more than the 48 games Holtby started last year.
As backup for Holtby, Washington signed former Carolina Hurricane Justin Peters (2 years/$1.9M). In 21 games for Carolina, Peters had a GAA of 2.50, a SV% of .919 and a record of 7-9-4.
Perennial All Star Alex Ovechkin, four-time winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer, leads the team. In his nine years in the NHL (all with the Capitals), he has scored more than 50 goals in a season four times, finding the back of the net 51 times last season. He’s a threat to score every time he steps on the ice. The question that remains is if new head coach Barry Trotz can get him to play a bit more defensively.
At the age of 26, Nicklas Backstrom is the other scoring threat for the Capitals. Over the course of his career, he plays at an almost point-per-game pace, with 494 points in 495 NHL games. He knows how to setup Ovechkin seamlessly. In seven years with Washington, he’s only dipped below scoring 65 points twice.
With both of these players locked up for at least the next six years, the team has the time to find the right fit to compliment their scoring prowess.
Having only missed the playoffs last year by three points, they remain a contender to return to post-season play. Look for the Capitals to be a more defensively sound team in 2014-15. What is uncertain is if being more defensively responsible under Trotz equates to fewer goals scored. They could very well be the "dark horse" of the Metropolitan Division, throwing all prognostications out the window.