On Oct. 10, a very different Capitals team is going to take to the ice than the one that came up short in the playoffs in May. Will it be a better one? Well, that's the question.
So far this offseason, the Caps have seen Joel Ward and Mike Green sign with other teams, Troy Brouwer get traded and most likely will not re-sign Eric Fehr. Seeing so many players leave in the offseason is tough, but for head coach Barry Trotz, that kind of turnover is part of the business.
"Those guys that have left, they left holes not only on our team but they left holes in the community with what they've done," Trotz said. "That's the bittersweet part and that's just the reality of pro sports." Those won't be easy holes to fill, especially on the ice.
Ward was tied with Alex Ovechkin for the team lead in playoff points last season, Green spent his entire NHL career with the Caps and was once considered one of the team's core "Young Guns," Brouwer was a locker room leader and Fehr resurrected his NHL career in his second stint with the Caps. Each player had an integral role on the ice.
"Eric Fehr, Ward, Brouwer, were all great secondary face-off guys if not first face-off guys," Trotz said. "Brouwer in the power play was our go to guy in the face-offs. All three of those guys were good face-off guys, penalty killers and all three of those elements are gone."
How do you recover from losing so many key players? Adding Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie sure helps.
The most glaring hole on the team's roster last season was at right wing on the top line. The Caps may have lost a lot of depth players, but they managed to add two players who Trotz sees being major contributors going forward.
"They still have to perform, but I think...going into it, that both those guys will be in our top two lines," Trotz said.
"Justin Williams is a very intelligent player. He can play with high-end guys and really compliments those guys and he produces. T.J. is very, very competitive. He's got a real good skill set, he can be dynamic at times one-on-one. He's a pure athlete so he can do some things us non-athletes can't do."
The key now is finding out where each player best fits. Trotz is not yet sure what his line combinations will be or who will play where. He also noted that while both players showed they could contribute on special teams "they didn't do it for us. It's a little different so they're going to have to work through that."
While he may not know how things will ultimately look on the ice, Trotz does expect that picking up two big name players will send a clear message to the locker room.
"Last year, getting [Brooks Orpik] and [Matt Niskanen], those are pretty key guys for us. I think everybody took notice of that. These guys coming in, everybody will take notice.
"We've added some rings to the locker room. We lost Troy's ring, but we've added Justin's [three] so we gained two. We're going in the right direction."
If the Caps wanted to show the NHL that their window was not closed and that they were still gearing up for a Stanley Cup run, they certainly did that.
But is the team better? Despite all the positive aspects that come with picking up Williams and Oshie, Trotz was reluctant to declare this roster to be better than the one he initially inherited last season.
"We'll have to answer that into next year," he said. "Just because you bring players in--in terms of pure talent you think it's an upgrade--doesn't mean we're going to be a better team because there is a chemistry to it all."
While picking up players like Williams and Oshie is important, there is still a lot of work this team needs to do in order to build upon the success they saw last season.
"What we have to do with our team is understand that we set a good foundation," Trotz said. "That's the minimum standard. We want a higher standard than that and it takes hard work. Champions do more and we're going to have to do a little bit more."
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Surprises from Development Camp?
Keep a close eye on the Capitals Development Camp. You may just see some of those players in the NHL sooner than you think.
While many of the young players participating in the camp are still a few years from being able to contribute at the NHL level, Trotz noted the Caps have had a few pleasant surprises in recent history.
"Every year there's been one player from every camp in the last four years that actually has played games that year for the Capitals and there's always a surprise in there," Trotz said. "Last year, Liam O'Brien was a surprise. He was a free agent that came to rookie camp and then made our team out of the blocks which is really unheard of...That's just good scouting by our scouts, finding a player who can fill a role in the National Hockey League."
The 'specialness' of Samsonov
The Capitals' first round selection of goalie Ilya Samsonov in the draft left a few fans scratching their heads. With Braden Holtby only 25-years-old and poised to remain the team's top netminder for years to come, why use a first-round pick on another young goalie?
If fans were confused, however, there were several other NHL teams who were not.
"A couple teams when I was walking around pulled me and said we really wanted [Samsonov]," Trotz said. "They used the word 'special' and in scouting ranks, they don't use that a whole lot. Probably because of the little bit of 'specialness' to him, getting a good player, a good prospect is an asset. We're hoping he's special."
Trotz said he spoke with Backstrom prior to the NHL awards and that every indication is that his recovery is on track.
"Right now, he seems to be tracking well," Trotz said. "I haven't heard any negatives so we're hoping that everything falls into place and he's skating by training camp."
Backstrom underwent arthroscopic hip surgery in May. It's too early to tell if he will be ready for the start of camp, but conditioning could be a concern. According to Trotz, Backstrom will not be able to do much conditioning in the offseason because of the hip. That will make his ultimate return more difficult as he could potentially be far behind his teammates in terms of conditioning by the start of the season.