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20 Burning Capitals Questions for the 2019-20 NHL Season

20 Burning Capitals Questions for the 2019-20 NHL Season

The Washington Capitals set high expectations for the 2018-2019 season, but their aspirations fell short.

After a first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes, the Capitals regrouped at the NHL Draft and during free agency and are looking to top the Metropolitan Division and hoist the Stanley Cup again.

In this series, our Caps Insiders answer 20 burning questions they have this offseason about how the Capitals will handle the 2019-2020 campaign.  Every weekday until August 9, the list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain future and every Wednesday we'll post a new podcast with our analysis.

1: Can Ovechkin score 50 goals again?

Alex Ovechkin notched 51 goals this season, marking the eighth time he's reached the 50-goal plateau in his 14-year NHL career.

Even more impressive, "The Great 8" has scored at least 50 goals in four of his last six seasons.

Can Ovechkin register his ninth career 50-goal season, doing so at 34 years old?

Check out our analysis of Ovi's goal-scoring prowess.

2: Can the new-look third line score?

This offseason, the Caps lost Brett Connolly to the Florida Panthers and dealt Andre Burakovsky to the Colorado Avalanche.

With new signings in Richard Panik, Garnet Hathaway and Brendan Leipsic, what does the Caps third line offer next season?

J.J. Regan breaks down how a Carl Hagelin, Lars Eller and Richard Panik third line fits in with the Capitals.

3: Is Nick Jensen ready for more minutes?

With Brooks Orpik hanging up his skates and retiring after 15 years, rising blue-liner Michal Kempny back to full health and the acquisition of Radko Gudas for Matt Niskanen, Washington's defense will certainly look different than the last few iterations.

Nick Jensen needed some extra time to adapt to the Capitals following an acquisition at the trade deadline. Jensen is in position to receive more minutes in 2019-2020, but is he ready for it?

Here's our take on Jensen's ability to play top-4 defensive minutes.

4: What adjustments does Reirden make?

In his second season as the Capitals bench boss, Todd Reirden should look more comfortable making tough decisions. How will he tinker with the lineup this coming season?

Brian McNally explains where Reirden could improve in his sophomore season.

5: Will the power play improve?

Washington had one of the deadliest power plays for the last decade. What will get it back to that elite level?

Check out our take that systems and tactics should give the unit a fresh start.

6: Is Radko Gudas an upgrade?

The Capitals dealt Matt Niskanen for Radko Gudas before the free agency window. Can Gudas provide essential minutes for the squad?

Brian McNally explains that it could come down to how good Nick Jensen is.

7: Will the Caps depth hold up?

The Caps have managed to stay relatively healthy over the last few seasons. Does that trend continue with an aging lineup?

J.J. Regan explains that there are differences for that scenario based on offense or defense.

8: Do the Caps face a contract crunch next season?

Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby's contracts expire at the end of the 2019-2020 season. Will either of them take team-friendly contracts?

With the Seattle expansion draft coming up, it could be a bit hairy.

9: Was re-signing Carl Hagelin the right move?

The Caps were able to bring back speedy winger Carl Hagelin on a team-friendly deal. However, they let Brett Connolly walk in free agency due to cap constraints. Was that the right move?

Brian McNally explains why the move makes sense.

10: Can the Caps revamp their penalty kill?

Washington's penalty woes in the 2018-19 season were obvious. They took the sixth most penalties of any NHL team, and had a 23rd ranked penalty kill. Can that penalty kill be remedied next season?

With different personnel, there's optimism things could change.

11: Will Evgeny Kuznetsov return to form?

Evgeny Kuznetsov will be expected to carry a heavier load as the rest of the team around him hits their 30's. Is he ready for that responsibility?

Kuzy's ceiling is high, but it's up to him to reach those lofty expectations.

12: How will Michal Kempny recover from his injury?

After an awkward scrap with Cedric Paquette, Michal Kempny was done for the rest of the season. How will he re-integrate into the Caps lineup?

Easing Kempny back from his hamstring injury will be crucial to helping the Caps d-corps.

13: Who challenges the Caps at the top?

The Metropolitan is a notoriously difficult division, but the Caps have managed to come out on top for four years. Can anyone dethrone them?

The Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers could all give the Caps trouble at going for five consecutive Metro Division crowns.

14: Did the Caps upgrade their fourth line?

After a season that saw over ten different fourth line combinations from the coaching staff, will the Caps new off-season acquisitions improve their fourth line and help it find consistency?

Travis Boyd and Chandler Stephenson will have to earn their jobs back in training camp thanks to the salary cap crunch.

15: Is Ilya Samsonov ready for primetime?

The Caps scored one of the most coveted goaltending prospects in the 2015 draft, and Ilya Samsonov is widely considered the teams best prospect. Should he get NHL starts next season?

The short answer is yes, but J.J. Regan digs deeper into why Samsonov needs to be promoted to NHL minutes.

16: What is Lucas Johansen's future with the Capitals?

2016 defensive prospect Lucas Johansen is still looking for his first NHL minutes. Will he get them next season?

The upcoming season is crucial in determining how LuJo's future will pan out with the organization.

17: Can the Caps hang in October?

The Capitals have a brutal schedule to start their season, including facing down the Stanley Cup-winning St. Louis Blues to start and taking on the Carolina Hurricanes as their home opener. Can the squad make it through the slog relatively unscathed?

Washington's record on the road last season should help assuage some fears.

18: Will Dmitry Orlov rebound?

On defense, much more was expected of Dmitry Orlov. As injuries hampered the left side, Orlov had a flagging season. Can he recover?

Due to Matt Niskanen being dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers, it's all on Orlov to prove himself.

19: Does age finally catch up with the Caps?

Most of Washington's top forwards will hit their 30's this season. With an age curve that isn't favorable, does it finally hit the Capitals this season?

The hope will be to squeeze more elite years out of the group, but age catches up with everyone eventually.

20: Which prospect could help the Caps the most?

With an aging veteran core, the Caps have gone all-in for draft picks to shore up their prospect pool. Who among them is ready for primetime?

Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary got rave reviews in development camp and appear to be the closest.

BONUS! 21: Who plays more, Djoos or Siegenthaler?

With two young and promising defensemen and only six players that get a sweater each night, what do the Caps do with Christian Djoos and Jonas Siegenthaler?

There's a chance that salary arbitration forces the Caps to move one of them now that they're over the salary cap.

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Ovechkin awarded the prestigious Wayne Gretzky International Award

Ovechkin awarded the prestigious Wayne Gretzky International Award

Alex Ovechkin has already collected almost every award in hockey imaginable, and he just won another.

USA Hockey announced on Wednesday that Ovechkin will receive the prestigious Wayne Gretzky International Award. He will be honored at the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Dec. 12.

The award recognizes international players who have had a significant impact on advancing hockey in the United States.

After the Capitals drafted him first overall in 2004, Ovi has used his prominence in hockey to make an impact on the Washington area. Ovechkin started Ovi's Crazy 8's in 2006, providing more than 5,000 tickets to help underserved children attend Caps games.

2019 marks the sixth consecutive season that he will be hosting a skating event for the American Special Hockey Association. Ovi has also worked with several foundations to grant the wishes of ill children.

Over the course of Ovechkin's NHL career, youth participation in hockey in the DMV has nearly doubled, rising from 13,923 to 22,500, according to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

“His performance on the ice and efforts off the ice have certainly translated into more kids and families wanting to be involved in our sport,” said Pat Kelleher, executive director of USA Hockey, in a press release. “He’s been a great ambassador for hockey and embodies what the Gretzky Award represents.”

Entering his fifteenth season in Washington, Ovechkin has made a habit out of winning awards.

Ovi's scoring prowess has him ranked thirteenth on the NHL's all-time goal list, and another 50 goal season would push him all the way to seventh.

Finishing his career as the top-ranked goal scorer is not out of the question, as Ovechkin continues to chase the namesake of his most recent award.

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: These kids are alright

Capitals Mailbag Part 1: These kids are alright

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

Have a Caps question you want to be answered in the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

@TheWuWu on Twitter writes: In order to get the salary cap down, which Caps players do you think, are up for trading away?

First, it’s important to note that the suspension to Evgeny Kuznetsov bought them an extra week. His cap hit won’t count against the salary cap for the three games in which he is suspended. When he comes back, however, the team is still going to have to make some tough decisions to get under the cap ceiling.

The guys I think could potentially be on the chopping block are Chandler Stephenson, Travis Boyd, Christian Djoos and Pheonix Copley. Stephenson and Boyd underperformed last season, Djoos is making too much money to be a No. 6-7 and at some point the Caps are going to have to get Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek playing time.

The problem with trying to trade any of these players is the fact that every general manager in the league knows Washington’s cap situation so unless there’s a player they really, really like, they are not going to be willing to trade for them and will instead wait until someone is placed on waivers and try to claim them then for nothing. If the Caps love what they see from Samsonov, for example, why would anyone trade for Copley? They know the team will have to put him on waivers to fit Samsonov so there would be no point.

@elbaforero on Instagram writes: How many new players?

The salary cap forced the Caps to let go of several players, but as this team is still contending for a Stanley Cup, general manager Brian MacLellan also had to find a way to improve the roster while shedding salary.

Richard Panik was signed in the offseason to play wing on the third line in place of Brett Connolly. He does have some offensive potential as he scored 22 goals and 22 assists in 2016-17 with the Chicago Blackhawks, but this move was about bringing in a defensively responsible player who can play on the penalty kill. That will be a theme with the team’s new faces.

Garnet Hathaway and Brendan Leipsic will be fourth-line additions. Hathaway signed for four years so he will be here for a while. Leipsic is the team’s latest reclamation project as this will be his fifth team in four years. Both players are strong in shot suppression and could potentially play on the penalty kill.

Defenseman Radko Gudas was acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers in a trade for Matt Niskanen. Known for dirty hits and checkered past with the Department of Player Safety, many do not realize that he is actually a solid defenseman and was voted by the media to be the Flyers’ best blueliner last season. He is better at this point in his career than Niskanen and this will be a good upgrade for Washington’s defensive end of the ice.

Micah R. writes: How much weight should we put into the training camp groups?

Some, but not much initially. Those groups are not random and there is a reason they are organized that way, but it is also important to remember that there is some competition and experimenting going on. Initially, the NHL players are spread out so that they can get plenty of time with the coaches during practice, but also so that prospects get time to practice with and against those players. In terms of lines and combinations, however, everything should be taken with a grain of salt.

For example, we saw the most likely line combinations for the first three forward lines on the very first day of training camp. It is also no coincidence that players competing for a fourth-line role are playing together with Chandler Stephenson, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway on a line and Brendan Leipsic and Travis Boyd together.

Does that mean I think Stephenson has a leg up and Leipsic and Boyd? Not at all. Do I read anything into prospect Brett Leason skating with Leipsic and Boyd? No. He definitely will not make the team this year. The defensive pairings also shuffle constantly so I read nothing into who plays with whom on the blue line at all.

When you dissect the groups and lines you can kind of start to see why they are organized in a certain way, but it is far too early to draw any conclusions from line combinations.

Niakan K. writes: Based on the results of the prospect showcase, who do you think made a strong enough impression on the coaching staff to potentially play for an NHL roster on the Capitals? I thought Martin Fehérváry looked the most NHL ready.

You nailed it. Fehervary was the most impressive player for the Caps in the tournament. I knew the team was high on him, but I was taken aback by how much praise was heaped upon him at the start of camp. Clearly, he has made an impression on the organization and his stock rose the most from the showcase.

The bigger takeaway I had was who did not impress. Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and Shane Gersich are thought to be the two forwards closest to being NHL ready and neither played all that well in the showcase. If you can't handle playing other prospects, chances are you are not ready to play against NHL competition yet. Granted, their chances of making the NHL roster this year given the depth additions MacLellan made were pretty slim. To me, it only goes to confirm my suspicion that neither player is ready for the NHL and needs a full season in Hershey to get there.

tim101searle on Instagram writes: Caps lineup looks pretty set — if a rookie has a camp too good to ignore, what do they do?

This is dependent on who the rookie is and what position they play. Teams are loath to burn entry-level contract years if they do not need to with junior players and there are also times where a prospect just will not get enough playing time to justify a spot on the NHL roster.

For example, I think Tyler Lewington has a much better chance of making the Caps this year than Fehervary. In terms of skill, Fehervary blows Lewington out of the water. Neither player is going to beat out someone in the top six, however,  and Todd Reirden knows he can use Lewington as a No. 7 and not feel pressure to get him playing time. He can’t do that with Fehervary because he needs to play regularly to help his development.

On the other hand, if Fehervary plays so well that it looks like he is actually one of the team’s top six defensemen, then you find a way to get him in. The Caps are right up against the salary cap so adding a rookie to the roster with his entry-level salary would only help that situation and give the team more flexibility in terms of trade or waiver possibilities.

So far, I do not foresee any unexpected players performing so well as to change the outlook of the team ... yet.

Purvis G. writes: Are there any young scoring wingers in the farm system ready to contribute anytime soon?

Not really, no. Brett Leason has good size and, at 20 years old is certainly older than most draft picks, but he looked bad in the Prospect Showcase and clearly needs time in Hershey to adjust to the pros. I mentioned Gersich and Jonsson-Fjallby above, though neither player would be what I would consider a scoring winger — both will be bottom-six energy guys. Perhaps they could get a call-up this season, but neither player is ready yet. Riley Sutter and Kody Clark are both injured so I can’t judge how far along they are, but I would be surprised if either sees the NHL this season.

So to answer your question, no. Leason, Connor McMichael and Aliaksei Protas are exciting additions to the farm system, but in terms of players who could help right away, the cupboard is still pretty bare.

Christopher S. writes: Has the coaching staff ever considered/what do you think about giving Christian Djoos some time as a winger? I know the mind-set and game-play is very different for the two positions but it actually might make Djoos a better defender down the road.. and it gives cover for a 7th defenseman and 13th forward.

I do not believe the coaches have ever considered this and I do not know why they would. Djoos will become a better defenseman by working on being a defenseman, not trying to learn a new position that would require extensive work and practice. That would not happen overnight or over the course of a week.

The idea of teaching him as insurance in case you need an extra forward or defenseman is not a viable option. If your roster is so barren you cannot find a natural forward to insert into your lineup when needed and have to go with Djoos, that says a lot about the team's forward depth or lack thereof. Prospect forward depth may be an issue for Washington, but it's not that bad.

@theoneandonlydoofnugget on Instagram writes: Do any of the guys like waffles?

Cereal is the breakfast food of choice, particularly Ovi O’s.

@avabetzner13 on Instagram writes: Can Jakub Vrana get any cuter?

Who, this guy?

Thanks for all your questions! Part 2 of the mailbag will be coming on Thursday. If you have a question you want to be answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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