Oh yeah, these guys. While the Capitals finally hoisting the Cup last season was basically the equivalent of Denzel winning an Oscar for Training Day or Scorsese winning for The Departed, they certainly didn’t celebrate like a team that beat an expansion franchise, and to be fair, they did take out the top seed in the conference Lightning and the two-time defending champion and arch-nemesis in the form of the very tired Penguins, so the names won’t be ground out of the silver any time soon. Last season’s champions return mostly in tact, if more than a little bit dehydrated.
’17-’18: 49W-26L-7OT 256GF 239GA 22.5%PP 80.3%PK 47.96%CF 9.19SH% .9248SV%
Goaltending: Last year was finally the year that Braden Holtby broke under years of tremendous workloads, with sub .900 months of January and Febrary, ceding much of the home stretch of the season to Philipp Grubauer, who even started the playoffs in Round 1 against Columbus. But as Grubauer faltered, a somewhat rested Holtby was able to return to form and posted a .922 overall the remainder of the post season. With Grubauer shipped to Colorado for a second round pick, Holtby will now be backed up by something called Pheonix Copley (yes, that’s how his name is spelled) who has allowed 6 goals on the 35 shots he’s faced in the NHL since 2016. While Barry Trotz and his propensity for grinding goalies into dirt might be gone (due to some of the dumbest ass reasons ever), Holtby might have to play 70 games again out of necessity. He’s always generally been up to the task as one of the most consistent and stable goalies in the league and has a Vezina to prove it, but the modern game just simply can’t ask goalies to play that much.
Defensemen: Someone was going to pay John Carlson an exorbitant amount of money this past off season, particularly after the playoff run he had where he scored 5 goals and 20 total points from the back end, and given that the Caps actually walked away with hardware this time, it makes a certain degree of sense that it would be them to keep the home grown product in the fold. Carlson is the de facto #1 defenseman here, and he’s certainly paid like it, but it’s the goddamnedest thing that his game picked up right around the time that the Capitals acquired Michal Kempny from a long-out-of-it team with a coach that somehow couldn’t or wouldn’t figure out how to properly use him. Kempny’s coming out party in the post season earned him a contract of $2.5 per over four years, which will be an absolute steal if he plays the way he did in Washington post-trade. Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov provide a fair amount of offensive punch themselves, however one of them is still going to be dragging around what’s left of the wheelbarrow full of cinder blocks that is Brooks Orpik. Orpik was traded, bought out, and resigned back with Washington for $1 million for this year, which probably figures to be his last as he turns 38 a week from today. It’s a solid grouping, but it still kind of hinges on Michal Kempny not being a fluke.
Forwards: The strong suit of any team that has Alexander Ovechkin on it. The sheer firepower that Ovechkin has produced in his career, particularly having occurred in this era, has been poured over at length in this space. Having just turned 33 on Monday, he’s not quite the force of nature that he once was, but he can still basically get whatever he wants on the ice whenever he wants it, even if he probably didn’t fully deserve the Conn Smythe he was awarded in June, which should have gone to Evgeny Kuznetsov and his 32 post season points. Kuzya’s emergence has given the Caps some true center depth as Nicklas Backstrom ages gracefully into a slighly reduced role as a #2 center, and Lars Eller slots in nicely as a #3. Timothy Jimothy Leif predictably did not put up the Mike Bossy-esque shooting percentage numbers last year that he did in his contract year, and the game he plays at 31 would indicate that age is going to hit him in a hurry when it finally catches up, and a summer of being dick in the dirt drunk probably won’t help that. Andrei Burakovsky will be counted on to take the next step while providing some size on the wing, and Brett Connolly and Jakub Vrana will certainly contribute some zest from the bottom six. Tom Wilson is now paid $5.16 million dollars a year to attempt to injure other players and generally be a pus-seeping carbunkle on the ass of the league.
Outlook: After the absolutely boneheaded decision to not pay Barry Trotz like the top tier head coach that he always has been in the wake of his and the franchise’s first Cup, and Todd Reirden has subsequently been giving his first ever head coaching job as Trotz has fucked off to Long Island/Brooklyn/wherever they play. Given how publicly and infamously the Capitals partied this year, having a rookie coach in the room doesn’t exactly seem like a great way to get everyone back on task to making another run at things. This team is still stacked given the restraints the salary cap imposes, but it took a lot of tread off the tires just to get to #1, and they may just not have it in them anymore. Given the personnel, the team can only get so bad, and they’ll probably ride Holtby until he collapses in the regular season which could very well win them an iffy division, but in all likelihood everyone will probably run out of gas by the time the inevitable post-season matchup with the Penguins comes around again.
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