The long, endless summer is only halfway done. The Capitals last played a game on April 24 and will not play another one until Oct. 2.
But with free agency and the NHL Draft behind them now, the 2019-2020 roster is almost set and it won’t be long until players begin trickling back onto the ice in Arlington for informal workouts.
With that in mind, and given the roasting temperatures outside, for the next three weeks NBC Sports Washington will look at 20 burning questions facing the Capitals as they look to rebound from an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, keep alive their Metropolitan Division title streak and get back to their championship form of 2018.
The list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain futures. Today we look at the team's offensive depth.
Can a Carl Hagelin, Lars Eller, Richard Panik third line provide enough offense?
When you look at the Capitals’ offseason moves, it is clear the focus was to improve the team defensively. Richard Panik, Garnet Hathaway and Brendan Leipsic all look like decent defensive upgrades, but the team has also lost a lot of offensive production that it has not necessarily accounted for.
Gone are Brett Connolly, a 20-goal scorer, and Andre Burakovsky, a player who was inconsistent and frequently underperformed but who also had top-six skill and potential.
In seven playoff games against the Carolina Hurricanes last season, Washington got just five goals from the bottom-six. Two of those goals came from Connolly who is now gone, one was a penalty shot and one was an empty netter. Clearly, depth offense was a weakness for the team last season and now they seemingly have less.
In today’s NHL, the best teams do not rely solely on the top-six for offense, but the top-nine. But with Connolly gone, Washington’s third line projects to be Carl Hagelin, Lars Eller and Panik. Can that line provide enough offense for depth scoring not to be a weakness?
Hagelin is a very versatile player, but offense is not his strong suit. He managed only five goals and 19 total points last season. He has never scored 20 goals in any season of his career and has reached 30 points only once in the past five seasons. Eller has been a good fit in Washington and tallied 38 and 36 points in each of the past two seasons, the best two seasons of his career. But, like Hagelin, he has never scored 20 goals at any point in his career. Panik scored 20 goals only once in 2016-17 when he was with the Chicago Blackhawks and playing on a line with Jonathan Toews. Last season with the Arizona Coyotes, he totaled 14 goals and 19 assists.
The third line does not necessarily need one guy to carry the load and score 20+ goals, but it cannot be dragged down by a player scoring in the single digits either. Five goals from Hagelin will not be enough.
The good news is that in recent years many players join the Caps and see an immediate boost in their offensive production. Connolly had 59 points in five NHL seasons prior to coming to Washington and he scored 96 in his three years with the Caps. As noted before, Eller’s two best seasons of his career came in the last two years, both in Washington. Hagelin scored only five goals last season, but three of them plus 11 of his 19 points came in the final 20 games of the season after getting traded to the Caps.
This is not to suggest anyone on the third line will suddenly become a breakout scorer. They have established over their careers that is not who they are, but there is a reason to project that all three could score in the 15+ goal range with 30-40 points.
The Caps could not afford to keep or replace the offensive production they lost in the offseason, but if the team improves defensively as much as MacLellan hopes, they may not have to. We may see a lot more 3-2 games than 5-4 this year, but you don’t need to score as many goals if you are not giving up as many.
Can the third line score as many goals as last season? That seems doubtful. Can it generate enough offense that the team does not become top-heavy and entirely dependent on its top-six? Yes, it can.
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