The Capitals have won the Metropolitan Division three straight years. Can they defend their title? Here’s a preview of each team in the division for the 2018-19 season.
Today's team: Washington Capitals
2017-18 Results: 49-26-7, 105 points, first in the division. Won the Stanley Cup (!!!).
Notable acquisitions: F Nic Dowd
Notable departures: F Jay Beagle, F Alex Chiasson, D Jakub Jerabek, G Philipp Grubauer, head coach Barry Trotz
Offseason recap: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That was the approach Washington took to the offseason after winning the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. There were a number of free agents in need of new contracts, however, so general manager Brian MacLellan had to get creative to keep the roster together and fit everyone under the salary cap.
Looking for a starting role, Grubauer was shipped to Colorado along with Brooks Orpik and Orpik's massive cap hit. The Avalanche subsequently bought Orpik out and the Caps re-signed him for a much more modest $1 million cap hit. No one wanted to see Beagle go, but it soon became clear why they had to when he signed a four-year, $12 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks. There was no way the Caps could match that.
While the roster will look largely the same for the Caps, the coaching will look very different. Trotz stepped down in the wake of the team's championship and associate coach Todd Reirden was promoted in his place. This is the first head coaching job Reirden has had in the NHL and it comes on a team trying to repeat as Cup champs. No pressure.
Biggest strength: Center
Even after losing Beagle, the Caps still boast Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and Lars Eller down the middle. Center is the most important skater on the ice, so the fact that the Caps are that deep at such an important position is a big factor in their success.
Biggest weakness: Backup goaltending
With Grubauer gone, Pheonix Copley is poised to be the backup in Washington. The NHL career of the 26 year-old-netminder consists of just two games. He won't even get the benefit of working with the goalie wizard Mitch Korn as he is following Trotz to Long Island. The issue is compounded by the fact there are now suitable replacements for Copley on the roster. Yes, the highly-touted Ilya Samsonov will be in Hershey, but he is transitioning from the European game to North America. He needs to play and not be stuck on the bench behind Holtby.
After a lengthy postseason run and a short offseason, you have to worry about fatigue for Holtby. The plan can't be to play him in 65-70 games this season or you could see him suffer a slump similar to what he went through last season. That slump did not tear down the Caps' season because they had Grubauer. Could Washington turn to Copley with the same confidence if Holtby suffers another midseason swoon?
2018-19 season outlook: With essentially the same roster returning for a team that won the Stanley Cup, it would be foolish to not consider the Caps a contender again. Then again, Washington will not exactly be picking up from where they left off.
There is always a chance of a champion falling to the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover. Not only that, but Washington will enter the season with a new head coach. There may be a level of familiarity between Reirden and the players considering Reirden has been in Washington the last four years as part of Trotz's staff, but we ultimately do not know what type of coach he will be or how the team will respond to him. Considering that, it would not be a huge surprise if the Caps get off to a less than ideal start.
Still, the ceiling is high for the Caps.
Defensively, this team comes in with a solidified top-four which they did not have to start the season a year ago, Holtby re-established himself as one of the elite netminders in the league with how he performed in the postseason and few teams can match the center depth Washington boasts.
And, oh yeah, they still have Alex Ovechkin and he's still incredible.
2018-19 season prediction: The Capitals will finish in the top three of the division. They look like they are clearly the best team in the Metro and are in good shape to potentially advance again to the Conference Final. I am not sure anyone is going to beat whoever comes out of the Atlantic this year, but hey, that's what everyone said about Caps-Lightning last year.
Other Metropolitan Division previews: