Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2017-18, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2017-18 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2017-18 Washington Capitals.
Puck Drop Preview: 2017-18 Washington Capitals
It’s the same old story in the U.S. capital. Coming off a second consecutive President’s Trophy and the third in the Alex Ovechkin era; the team was poised for a deep postseason run. However, history repeated itself for the Capitals in the form of a second round defeat to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion: Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s difficult to imagine Ovechkin and company building off a 55-win, and 118 point campaign; especially considering the roster turn over Washington experienced in the off-season.
The impressive core of this team remained intact. T.J. Oshie was spectacular, posting career highs all across the board. He was subsequently rewarded with an eight-year, $64 million dollar contract. The deal carries an AAV just north of $5 million, which puts the Capitals up against the wire and ultimately some difficult off-season decisions. Following the Oshie deal, Washington has made an expensive commitment to all of their high end players leaving zero wiggle room to supplement their roster with depth pieces. On the Caps current roster, eight players are earning north of $5 million annually. Listed below are Washington’s highest priced assets.
- Alex Ovechkin: AAV $9.5 M through 2022
- Nicklas Backstrom: AAV $6.7 M through 2021
- Evgeny Kuznetsov: AAV $ 7.8 M through 2024
- T.J. Oshie: AAV $5.75 M through 2024
- Matt Niskanen: $5.75 M through 2022
- Brooks Orpik: $5.5 M through 2020
- Dmitry Orlov:$5.1 M through 2023
- Braden Holtby: $6.1 M through 2021
The Capitals are currently right about against the league’s salary cap, and it doesn’t get any easier. John Carlson will be a free agent next summer and likely will demand a significant raise north of the current $3.96 million earned this season. In order to remain competitive while Ovechkin can still compete general manager Brian MacLellan needs to retool every off-season in order to stay within the salary cap constraints.
After yet another second round loss in the Stanley Cup Playoffs the Capitals experienced a heavy roster turn over. Washington had a win-it-all mentality in 2017 taking on a multitude of expiring contracts. Kevin Shattenkirk came over from the Blues at the trade deadline in exchange for prospects and draft picks. Aside from a playoff overtime goal against Pittsburgh, Shattenkirk’s impact to the roster was underwhelming. On July 1st Shattenkirk signed a mega-deal with the New York Rangers.
To add insult to injury for the Capitals blue line Karl Alzner signed with Montreal on a five-year, $23 million contract. Hold on, there’s more; Justin Williams went back to the Hurricanes where he previously won his first of three Stanley Cups in 2006. With the inception of the Vegas Golden Knights Nate Schmidt was the casualty for Washington. After losing three of your top six rear guards it doesn’t bode well, forcing the Capitals to promote from within. At the mid point of the NHL off-season Marcus Johansson was traded to the New Jersey Devils in order to make room for the Oshie signing.
Forward Line Up Combinations
Despite the off-season turnover the Capitals will once again be in the upper echelon in offense this season. Aside from Johansson the Capitals still have a lethal and intact top six forward group. The question mark for this team is their bottom six forward group. Smith-Pelley was brought in to add some physicality, but has the ability to chip in on the score sheet. In 266 NHL contests Smith-Pelley has only put the biscuit in the basket an underwhelming 33 times. The intriguing aspect of this player is his age. At 25, he is just entering the prime years of his career, and expect a boost on an offensive powered franchise like Washington.
Christian Djoos – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Madison Bowey
Easily the biggest question and potential liability of this team heading into a fresh campaign is their back end. Any team that loses three of their top six defenders is likely to take a step back and the Capitals are no exception. Bowey could step in and play effective minutes. The 22-year-old was drafted in the second round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and has put up solid minutes in Hershey the last two seasons.
Christian Djoos is another interesting case. At the age of 23, Djoos was nearly a point-per-game in the AHL and could inject some much needed offense to a depleted blue line. The silver lining in all of this is both Bowey and Djoos are young rookies which means they are bound to make mistakes in their own end. The question is, can Braden Holtby bail them out?
Player to Watch
Djoos is a promising prospect, and with the amount of change the Capitals have experienced on the back end they will be hoping he can fill in as a possible top four defenseman. The minimum they will be hoping for is that he can fill in as a solid third pairing defenseman.
Keep an eye on Djoos, as he could very well end up being the unsung riser of the year for the Capitals.
Players on the Rise
As mentioned multiple times throughout this article, there has been a lot of promotion from within due to salary cap constraints. Stepping into a perennial playoff team and getting significant playing time can make or break multiple young players this season. At the very least, the Capitals will see what they have coming through the pipeline.
Player on the Decline
Yes, we know, this sounds crazy. But relative to expectations he is on the down swing of his storied career. It will be quite some time before he hangs up the skates, but Ovechkin’s point totals will likely continue to mirror what he produced in 2016-17.
The interesting part of this all will be to see how long he can sustain that, and how far up the all-time scoring list he can push himself.
2017-18 Washington Capitals Season Prediction
When it’s all said and done what will be the legacy of Alexander Ovechkin? The 32-year-old’s best years are behind him, but he can still contribute 30 goals per season. The detriment to Ovechkin’s current legacy is the fact his team has never surpassed the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Perhaps this is their year. For the past decade other franchises and media have honed in on the Capitals as a Stanley Cup contender due to the their stacked roster. This year is different. Washington is younger than they have ever been and that exuberance could lead to a deep postseason run.