10 offseason questions facing the Caps
10 offseason questions facing the Caps
Next year needs to be different for the Capitals. But how? Here are 10 questions the Caps must answer this offseason as they prepare for 2016-17.
Is it time to start over?
It is a question that many of the fans are asking with Alex Ovechkin now 30 yearsold. The answer to this question will determine everything the team does between now and the start of next season and, spoiler alert, the answer will be no. General manager Brian MacLellan believed the team had a two-year window to win the Stanley Cup including this past season. As frustrating as another second round playoff loss may be, nothing about the 2015-16 campaign suggests the window is now firmly shut on a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy and has one of the top goal scorers and goaltenders in the NHL.
How much are they willing to spend on Marcus Johansson?
Last year, talks with Marcus Johansson went all the way to arbitration. He was given a one-year deal for $3.75 million and now both sides get to start over. With similar stats this season (17 goals, 46 points) compared to last season (20 goals, 47 points) there’s no reason why this should drag out to arbitration again. Both sides know about what the pricetag is going to be. Given the importance of offensive depth, as demonstrated by the Pittsburgh Penguins in which their third line proved to be the difference, and the fact that he was one of the few Caps willing to battle in the crease for dirty goals this past season, Johansson is a player the team cannot afford to lose.
Will the Caps re-sign all of their restricted free agents?
When it comes to pending free agents, restricted free agents are usually the priority. Excluding Marcus Johansson who we touched on already, Tom Wilson, Michael Latta and Dmitry Orlov are also restricted. Wilson and Orlov will almost certainly be back. Brian MacLellan talked to the media about his hope that Wilson be molded into a player similar to Joel Ward so clearly he remains in the team's future plans. The only real question here is whether they want to bring back Latta who spent much of the season as a healthy scratch. He may find himself to be the odd man out on a loaded Caps team hoping to reload for a run at the Stanley Cup.
How much does Jason Chimera have left in the tank?
Jason Chimera, Mike Richards and Mike Weber are all unrestricted free agents. Unfortunately for Weber, his last play as a Cap will likely be the critical turnover in Game 4 in which he tipped the puck right to Patrick Hornqvist for the overtime winner. Mike Richards was exposed on the third line in the playoffs as compared to the Penguins’ third line. Though the team values his leadership, unless Richards is willing to take a lesser role at an even more discounted rate it is not likely that he will return. The real interesting question here is what to do with Jason Chimera? Chimera scored 20 goals for just the second time in his career last season and he may be the fastest player on the team. The problem is that he is 37 years old and you have to wonder how much he has left in the tank. Can he remain as fast and continue scoring 20 goals per season at that age? That seems doubtful. A possible solution would be to slide him down to the fourth line, but Daniel Winnik will also be back next season and he played extremely well in the playoffs. There may not be room for both.
Will Jay Beagle center the third line or the fourth line?
Jay Beagle was re-signed prior to the 2015-16 season as the third line center. He has said it his goal to be a third line center and he performed fairly well over the regular season. When the playoffs rolled around, however, Beagle moved back to the fourth line in favor of Mike Richards. Brian MacLellan talked to reporters after the season about the need for the bottom two lines to generate offense and about the league is turning into a top nine league instead of a top six. As he builds a top nine to compete next season, just where Beagle will fit into the lineup will be a major question. He is better than a fourth line player, but is he skilled enough to be a “top nine” player in the new NHL?
Are Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt good enough as the third defensive pair?
The Dmitry Orlov-Nate Schmidt pair looked fine in the regular season, but there’s no question they got exposed in the playoffs. That was evident by the carousel of players Barry Trotz moved in and out of that third pairing throughout the postseason as he searched for consistency. Now the Caps are left with the age old problem of whether they stand pat and hope Orlov and Schmidt continue developing or if they bring in someone else. An aging Brooks Orpik, who will be 36 in September and who missed 41 games in the regular season last year, may force Brian MacLellan’s hands. He has to have someone dependable on the third pair who is also capable of filling in for Orpik in the top four.
What is Stanislav Galiev’s future in Washington?
It’s time to make a decision on Stanislav Galiev. The 24-year-old forward spent the season up with the Caps, but played in only 24 games in the regular season and none in the playoffs. He was evidently too valuable to expose to waivers in order to send him back down to the AHL, but not valuable enough to play. The Caps need to figure out if there’s a place for him on the roster and not just on the bench. If not, then it’s time to explore his value on the trade market.
Who’s ready to make the jump to the NHL?
Hershey is full of talent and they’ve turned that into a deep playoff run. Chandler Stephenson has a real shot to be the fourth line center next season. The coaches were impressed with him last summer and he could make the full-time jump. Jakub Vrana is one of the Caps’ top prospects and is tied for the team lead with nine points in the playoffs. If he had managed to go a full season in Hershey there would be a chance he could move up to the NHL, but Vrana was sidelined with a wrist injury for a significant period of time and will likely begin next season in the AHL. Top defensive prospect Madison Bowey will also likely need another season in Hershey to cook before he’s ready to move up. There’s a chance we see Vrana, Bowey, Riley Barber, Travis Boyd and Nathan Walker all at some point next season, but it would be surprising to see anyone other than Stephenson stick around long-term out of camp.
Who’s available in free agency?
Let’s get this out of the way: Steven Stamkos isn’t coming to Washington. Eric Staal isn’t coming to Washington. Milan Lucic isn't coming to Washington.
Who the Caps will actually look at will depend on need. If the team does not re-sign Jason Chimera and decides to move Jay Beagle down to the fourth line, Brian MacLellan will have to find a forward for the third line. The Caps can go after whomever they see as the best fit at center or left wing with Andre Burakovsky or Marcus Johansson filling in at the other spot. Andrew Ladd and Mikkel Boedker (though the analytics on him are not pretty) look like possible fits on the left wing, but they will have to lower their asking prices to be in play for Washington. In terms of center, Frans Nielsen would be an excellent fit, but he has said he wishes to remain with the New York Islanders. On defense, the Caps need someone that can step in if Orpik misses significant time again. Dan Hamhuis was a name thrown around at the trade deadline as someone the Caps could have interest in. Kris Russell may be another candidate.
Here’s the catch: the Caps will likely only have enough cap space to sign one impact player. So what’s the bigger priority for Brian MacLellan, offense or defense?
What assets, if any, are they willing to trade?
If the Caps can’t fix everything in free agency or with prospects, they may need to explore trade possibilities. Goalie Philipp Grubauer has higher aspirations than being Braden Holtby's backup. If another team sees potential in him as a starter, they may be willing to pay a high enough price to pique the Caps’ interest. The issue here for Washington is depth. Both Justin Peters and Dan Ellis, Hershey’s two goalies, will be free agents at the end of the season. Even if prospect Vitek Vanecek makes the move from the ECHL to the AHL next season, trading Grubauer would mean the Caps would need to find an immediate backup option at the NHL level and still replenish depth through the ranks. If Stanislav Galiev can't establish a regular spot in the lineup, perhaps he is someone the team would also explore trading though his value certainly took a hit with the little playing time he received over the course of the season.
The Caps also have several prospects in Hershey who are getting closer and closer to becoming NHL-ready who other teams may come calling about. Brian MacLellan likely won’t think of moving Jakub Vrana or Madison Bowey, but for the right price no one else looks untouchable.