To get you ready for the 2015-16 season, we will be previewing all 30 NHL in 30 days, division by division. Check the bottom of the page for a schedule of each preview.
Today’s team: Washington Capitals
2014-15 record: 45-26-11, 2nd in the Metropolitan
How they finished: Lost in seven games to the New York Rangers in the conference semifinals
Coach: Barry Trotz (2nd season)
Notable additions: RW T.J. Oshie, RW Justin Williams
Notable subtractions: RW Troy Brouwer, D John Erskine, C Eric Fehr, D Mike Green, RW Joel Ward
Outlook: Despite all the progress that was made last season, the Caps still headed into the summer on a familiar note after a heart-breaking Game 7 loss in the playoffs to the New York Rangers. The team is back on the right track in terms of coaching -- to call Barry Trotz and upgrade over Adam Oates would be an understatement -- but they still must find a way to climb over the playoff hump and the clock is ticking.
Alex Ovechkin will be 30 by the start of the season, the time for this team to win is now. General manager Brian MacLellan knows that so he went out and brought in two top-six forwards to try and balance out the offense.
Despite having Ovechkin and Nicklas Bacstrom, the Caps did not have a set top line because they lacked a true top-line right wing. That should not be an issue now that the team added both T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams in the offseason.
With Evgeny Kuznetsov at center on the second line and either Andre Burakovsky or Marcus Johansson at left wing, this top six looks dominant.
The loss of Eric Fehr leaves the Caps with a hole on the third line, but the good news is that whoever loses the battle between Burakovsky and Johansson will be pushed down giving that line a top-six caliber forward. It is not exactly clear just how the lines will ultimately fill out (I have my theory), but the addition of Oshi and Williams should make the offense much more balanced and adds more skill.
Despite the loss of Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer, this season's offense will be better.
Mike Green will no longer be patrolling the blue line, but at $6 million per year, he became simply too expensive as a third-pair defenseman. Taking over for him and Tim Gleason will be Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt. This pairing is one of the biggest question marks for the Caps.
After complications from wrist surgery forced Orlov to miss the entire 2014-15 season, it's anyone's guess just what to expect from him. Nate Schmidt has never spent a full season at the NHL level. Though he is clearly ready, it remains to be seen just how a pair of Orlov and Schmidt will ultimately pan out.
In front of them, the top four will remain intact from last season. The team will need more production out of John Carlson especially on the power play to make up for Green's absence and the Caps will have to cross their fingers that the soon-to-be 35-year-old Brooks Orpik is still able to play top-pair minutes.
The defense's job is made much easier by Braden Holtby, of course, who will benefit from another year under goalie coach Mitch Korn and should have a backup behind him in Philipp Grubauer who can actually give Holtby a few nights off. There's no reason to think Holtby will not continue to show himself to be one of the NHL's top goalies.
Expectations: This is a better team than the one that came within one goal of reaching the conference finals last season. The question is how much did the teams around them improve as well?
The Metropolitan Division this season will come down to the Caps, Penguins and Rangers. If Backstrom misses an extended period of time at the beginning of the season, that could put the Caps at an early disadvantage that could drop them in the regular season standings, but I believe with the additions of Oshie and Williams they have surpassed the Rangers and I don't trust Pittsburgh's coaching. Ultimately, the biggest obstacle in the conference comes from Tampa Bay.
They may not be at the level of a team like the Lightning, but the Caps are definitely one of the better teams in the conference and it would not be surprising at all to see them finally get through the second round and compete for a conference title.
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