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20 offseason Caps questions: Is Nate Schmidt ready for a top-4 role?

20 offseason Caps questions: Is Nate Schmidt ready for a top-4 role?

Another playoff disappointment—as well as a host of expiring player contracts—has left the Capitals with a ton of questions to answer this offseason. Over the next month, Jill Sorenson, JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir will take a close look at the 20 biggest issues facing the team as the business of hockey kicks into high gear.     

Always the happiest player on the ice, Nate Schmidt looks poised for a bigger role next season. Schmidt was pushed out of an everyday role by the acquisition of Kevin Shattenkrik, but an injury to Karl Alzner put him back into the lineup and he made the most of it. Even when Alzner was ready to return, Barry Trotz elected to dress seven defensemen rather than take Schmidt out. Now with an aging Brooks Orpik and the likely departure of Karl Alzner, general manager Brian MacLellan told reporters Schmidt will have a top-4 role next season. But is he ready for that or being thrust into that position too soon?

Today’s question: Is Nate Schmidt ready for a top-4 role next season?

Sorenson: The fan favorite and Minnesota Sunshine Nate Schmidt is poised to enter next season as one of the Caps’ top four defensemen. Schmidt’s speed and skating ability are certainly two of his biggest assets and he has worked closely with Todd Reirden to improve his offensive game. Reirden helped Schmidt pick the most effective route for his rushes into the offensive zone and Schmidt responded immediately, using that method every opportunity he has to jump in on the offense. The blueliner is exceptionally coachable and his intelligence helps him read plays, teammates, and opponents' moves quickly. Schmidt found himself on the outside looking in when the team acquired Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline, but his professionalism and positive attitude served him well while sitting in the press box. When presented with an opportunity in the playoffs, Schmidt more than delivered. He was one of the Capitals’ best defensemen night in and night out. I look forward to seeing the soon to be 26-year-old as a top defenseman not only for the Capitals but in the league as well. Stay tuned for another season of Schminutes as well!

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Regan: Schmidt’s impact on the team last season has been a hotly debated topic. The analytics said he was one of the top defensemen in the entire NHL, but the eye test said he was not even one of the top defensemen on the team. Whatever metric you have that says Schmidt is one of the top defensemen in the league, let’s pump the brakes. You’re putting him on a pedestal that includes players like Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns. Not only is that ridiculous, that’s putting undue pressure on a young, developing defenseman and setting the bar absurdly high. That’s not to say Schmidt isn’t ready for the next step, however. He absolutely is. Schmidt’s skillset is well suited for today’s NHL and he showed that with his strong play in the playoffs. But I do have some concerns. First, Schmidt played the most protected minutes of any defenseman on the team in 2016-17 with a defensive-zone start rate even lower than that of Alex Ovechkin (26.1-percent compared to 26.6-percent). Schmidt must play better in his own zone and Trotz must learn to trust him. You cannot have a player in the top-4 if you feel you need to protect him to that extent. Second, will Schmidt be playing a top-4 role for Washington or Vegas? If the Caps don’t protect him in the expansion draft – and they may not with Carlson, Orlov and Niskanen in tow – you would have to think he would be an attractive target for the Golden Knights.

El-Bashir: After seeing the way Schmidt played as an injury replacement at the end of the regular season and then again in the playoffs, it sure looks to me like he’s ready for a role in the top-4 next season along with Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson. That’s good for Schmidt, who has diligently polished his game over the past few years, and great for the Caps, who need a few young, affordable players to step into bigger roles because of a tight salary cap situation. Schmidt is a restricted free agent and figures to count somewhere between $2-3 million against the cap in 2017-18. A fast, puck-moving blue liner with underrated offensive instincts, Schmidt was good in a third pairing role during the regular season. Late in the year and into the playoffs, though, more was asked of him due to injuries. First, Schmidt stepped in for Carlson over the final four games of the regular season and played solidly in his own end and chipped in with a goal and an assist as the Caps went 3-1-0. In fact, he was on the ice for six of the Caps’ goals during that stretch and none against. It was eye-opening. When his number was called in the postseason due to Karl Alzner’s injury, he picked up right where he had left off, playing so well that he forced the coaching staff to deploy seven defensemen when Alzner returned. Schmidt was used in critical junctures, too, underscoring the staff’s growing trust in him. The bottom line: Schmidt, who turns 26 in July, proved in April and May that he’s ready to make the leap that Orlov so successfully completed a year ago. 

MORE CAPITALS: Caps' ECHL affiliate falls in Kelly Cup Final

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Touted Prospect Shane Gersich signs with Caps, joins team immediately


Touted Prospect Shane Gersich signs with Caps, joins team immediately

The Caps signed University of North Dakota forward Shane Gersich, a fifth round selection in 2014 and one of the organization’s top prospects, on Friday morning, the team announced.

Gersich, a left shot who is listed at 5-11, 175-pounds, has already joined the team in Montreal, where the Caps play the Canadiens at Bell Centre on Saturday night.

His contract, which begins this season, carries an average annual value of $925,000.

It’s unclear when Gersich will make his NHL debut, but it could happen at some point in the Caps’ final eight games before the playoffs.


NBC Sports Washington has been told that the primary objective for Gersich in the coming weeks is to get his first taste of the NHL by observing—and practicing alongside—his new teammates in Washington. If the opportunity to get him into the lineup presents itself, then it’s possible he’ll suit up.

The 21-year-old just completed his third season at UND. Here are Gersich’s numbers from junior and college, courtesy of


At UND, the smooth-skating and skilled Gersich also produced this memorable goal vs. Denver:

Gersich has been assigned jersey No. 63 in Washington, according to the Caps’ website.

The addition of Gersich and subsequent subtraction of Travis Boyd, who was reassigned to Hershey on Friday morning, leaves the Caps with 14 forwards on the roster.

“I think he did a great job at rookie camp,” Caps GM Brian MacLellan said of Gersich in July. “He was one of our best players, if not the best player, at camp. Really happy about the way he’s progressed and where we picked him. I think Ross Mahoney did a great job with that pick.”

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Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018 projection: Still too close to call in the Metropolitan Division


Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018 projection: Still too close to call in the Metropolitan Division

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are right around the corner and there is still a lot to be decided.

The Metropolitan Division is going to come right down to the wire as each team seemingly continues to win and put the pressure on the first place Capitals.

With just over two weeks remaining in the regular season, the playoff matchups for the first round of the NHL playoffs are still up in the air with only five points separating the top four teams in the Metro. Washington is in good position with a four-point cushion between themselves and the second place Pittsburgh Penguins.

With both teams meeting on April 1, however, the Caps are still a long way off from clinching the division and earning home ice in the first round.



Eastern Conference (As of Friday 3/23):

1M Washington Capitals (93pts) vs. WC1 Philadelphia Flyers (88pts)
2M Pittsburgh Penguins (89pts) vs. 3M Columbus Blue Jackets (89pts)
1A Tampa Bay Lightning (106pts) vs. WC2 New Jersey Devils (82pts)
2A Boston Bruins (100pts) vs. 3A Toronto Maple Leafs (95pts)

Western Conference (As of Friday 3/23):

1C Nashville Predators (106pts) vs. WC1Anaheim Ducks (88pts)
2C Winnipeg Jets (98pts) vs. 3C Minnesota Wild (90pts)
1P Las Vegas Golden Knights (100pts) vs. WC2 Colorado Avalanche (88pts)
2P San Jose Sharks (93pts) vs. 3P Los Angeles Kings (89pts)


Washington has won only one out of four games against the Philadelphia Flyers this season. That's not an ideal first-round matchup for Washington, but there is still time for the Flyers to climb and overtake Columbus or Pittsburgh in the standings.

What seems unlikely to happen is for New Jersey or Florida to pass Philadelphia. While things remain close near the top of the standings, there seems to be a growing divide between the top-four teams in the Metropolitan Division and the two teams battling for the final remaining spot in the playoffs.

The Flyers may be in fourth place in the division, but they still boast a healthy six-point lead over the Devils who sit in the second wild card.

If we assume New Jersey and Florida will not be able to climb to any postseason position, but the second wild card, that makes the three most likely candidates to face Washington in the first round Pittsburgh, Columbus and Philadelphia.


Metropolitan Division
1. Washington Capitals (93 points, 74 GP, 40 ROW)
2. Pittsburgh Penguins (89 points, 74 GP, 40 ROW)
3. Columbus Blue Jackets (89 points, 75 GP, 36 ROW)

Atlantic Division
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (106 points, 74 GP, 45 ROW)
2. Boston Bruins (100 points, 72 GP, 42 ROW)
3. Toronto Maple Leafs (95 points, 74 GP, 37 ROW)

Wild Card:
WC1. Philadelphia Flyers (88 points, 75 GP, 36 ROW)
WC2. New Jersey Devils (82 points, 73 GP, 32 ROW)

Still in the Hunt:
Florida Panthers (81points, 72 GP, 34 ROW)


Central Division
1. Nashville Predators (106 points, 73 GP, 43 ROW)
2. Winnipeg Jets (98 points, 73 GP, 42 ROW)
3. Minnesota Wild (90 points, 73 GP, 38 ROW)

Pacific Division
1. Las Vegas Golden Knights (100 points, 74 GP, 44 ROW)
2. San Jose Sharks (93 points, 74 GP, 38 ROW)
3. Los Angeles Kings (89 points, 75 GP, 39 ROW)

Wild Card:
WC1. Anaheim Ducks (88 points, 74 GP, 34 ROW)
WC2. Colorado Avalanche (88 points, 74 GP, 39 ROW)

Still in the hunt:
St. Louis Blues (85 points, 72 GP, 34 ROW)