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2018-19 Washington Capitals season in review

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2018-19 Washington Capitals season in review

Coming off a Stanley Cup title, the Washington Capitals had heightened expectations for 2018-19, especially with their rookies having gained experience and their stars having played to their highest potential. However, the season didn't end in the fashion that Washington expected.

Here's how each player did this season and their overall report cards as we look back at the Caps' campaign this past season.

Alex Ovechkin, LW

After putting up 49 goals in the regular season and 15 in the playoffs last year, many wondered if Ovechkin, 33, could keep up the pace coming off his first Stanley Cup title. However, he surpassed all expectations and silenced critics with a year that amounted to 51 goals, 89 points, his eighth Rocket Richard award and several milestones to boot. He also capped off the year with a strong, physical showing in the first round against Carolina, where he registered four goals and five points.

Here's the Great 8's season in review.

Nicklas Backstrom, C

Year after year, Backstrom has been outstanding for the Capitals and an elite NHL center, though he's gone under the radar. However, this year, with yet another consistent showing with at least 20 goals and 50 assists for the fourth straight year. He also came in clutch for Washington toward the end of the season, when he had 11 points in seven of eight games in a span from late February to mid-March. He also led the Caps in goal-scoring through the playoffs, where he registered five goals and ultimately finished with eight points against the Hurricanes.

Check out Backstrom's season report card here.

T.J. Oshie, LW

Despite continued injury and concussion woes, Oshie still managed to have a strong season as the Caps' second-leading goal scorer (25) and another 50-point campaign. He continued to bring a lot of energy and was a huge asset on the first and second line. He had a decent postseason performance with a goal and assist through the first four games, but his season was cut short when a hit from Warren Foegele led to a broken clavicle.

Here's a look at Oshie's season.

Tom Wilson, RW

Controversy surrounded Wilson again to start the season after a preseason hit on Oskar Sundqvist led to yet another suspension, this one lasting 20 games. However, after his return, he got off to an outstanding start and never slowed down, putting up 11 goals and 19 points through his first 18 games and ultimately ending up with 22 goals and 44 points by the time the season was over. Overall, he proved his worth as a top-line forward and continues to show tremendous upside moving upward.

Here's his season in review.

Jakub Vrana, LW

With higher expectations following his rookie campaign and coming into a contract year, Vrana was able to exceed his potential with extra work at practice and offensive prowess. He put up his first career 20-goal campaign, finished as Washington's third-leading goal scorer (24) and totalled 47 points to prove his worth to the organization.

Here's Vrana's entire season in review.

Carl Hagelin, RW

Coming in at the trade deadline, Hagelin fit in right away, putting up a strong performance for Washington through his versatility, devotion on special teams and offensive chemistry. He finished the regular season strong and had three goals and 11 points in 20 games with the Caps, and also led all forwards in shorthanded ice time. Look for him to be a key piece of the lineup if he returns in 2019-20.

Tune in to see how he performed this season here.

Brett Connolly, RW

In a contract year, Connolly came up huge for Washington by finally reaching his full potential. Displaying outstanding offensive prowess and chemistry alongside Lars Eller, the 27-year-old established career-highs in goals (22) and points (46) and was able to put past struggles behind him.

Take a look at Connolly's season in review right here.

Devante Smith-Pelly, RW

Despite becoming a playoff hero last year with seven goals en route to the Capitals' Cup title, Smith-Pelly started the season off on the wrong foot and never recovered. He posted just four goals and eight points through 54 games, and when the trade deadline came around, he found himself reassigned to Hershey to improve. While he did return for the playoffs, he went scoreless through Washington's final three games.

Check out Smith-Pelly's year in review here.

Andre Burakovsky, RW

After a year of inconsistency and struggles with confidence, Burakovsky came into the season with a different approach. However, the ups and downs continued as he put up 12 goals and 25 points; however, he did perform well leading up to and following the trade deadline with seven points in eight games. He was able to show flashes of what he was capable of, but he still has ways to go, especially if he's brought back next season.

Here's how Burakovsky stacked up this season.

Travis Boyd, C/W

Despite an injury that sidelined him to start the year, Boyd was able to start the season off right and win a roster spot. Inconsistency in the latter part of the year, where he went 25 games without a goal from January to March, would place him in and out of the lineup. Still, with impressive point streaks here and there, Boyd finished the year with a strong rookie campaign with five goals and 20 points in 53 games.

Here's Boyd's report card for this year.

Chandler Stephenson, C

Stephenson's speed and versatility helped him become a utility player and join the ranks of the NHL last season, but this year showed a decline in his performance. The 25-year-old registered just five goals and 11 points in 64 games, and his lack of offense and chemistry made it difficult for him to earn ice time. However, despite inconsistency and lengthy point droughts, he was given the opportunity to play all seven games against Carolina in the first round; while he beat out Travis Boyd and Dmitrij Jaskin for a spot in the lineup, he went scoreless and was a minus-2 in the first round.

Take a look back at Stephenson's campaign here.

Dmitrij Jaskin, RW

Claimed off waivers before the start of the season to potentially play full-time on the fourth line, Jaskin wasn't able to generate a lot of offense and in turn, didn't earn a lot of playing time this year. He finished with just two goals and eight points in 37 games and was a minus-5.

Check out how his year in review here.

John Carlson, D

Coming off a hefty contract extension, Carlson was able to carry his game to the next level and prove himself as a blueliner worthy of the Norris Trophy with a 70-point campaign in the regular season.

Take a look back at Carlson's season here.

Matt Niskanen, D

Again paired with Dmitry Orlov on the top-4, Niskanen was called upon to step up and maintain Washington's blueline depth and be a leader in the locker room. While he was solid, he didn't greatly impress this season, putting up a minus-3 rating after finishing with a plus-24 rating last year.

Check out Niskanen's year in review here.

Dmitry Orlov, D

Though he played well and provided a lot of insurance for the Caps this year, it wasn't Orlov's best season as his performance would decline at times, especially in January, when he managed just three points and was on the ice for seven goals against. However, he redeemed himself at the end of the season and was able to contribute offensively in the playoffs with four assists in seven games.

Here's how Orlov's season played out.

Brooks Orpik, D

After Orpik was traded to Colorado and subsequently bought out, the Capitals brought him back on a one-year, $1 million deal, which ended up being a smart move for Washington. The 38-year-old not only continued to bring guidance and mentor players off the ice but he also had a solid showing on defense, registering seven points, 131 hits and a plus-8 rating.

Check out how Orpik stacked up right here.

Christian Djoos, D

Djoos had an outstanding rookie campaign last year as he showed his potential to develop into a top-4 defenseman, and in turn, the expectations were high this season. While he had a strong start to the year, the 24-year-old suffered a lower-body injury that held him out of the lineup from mid-December to February. Though he finished the year with a goal, 10 points and a plus-9 rating, he could never truly regain his rhythm and then struggled greatly in the playoffs, where he was a minus-3 against Carolina and ultimately lost his spot in the lineup to Jonas Siegenthaler.

Here's how Djoos stacked up this season.

Jonas Siegenthaler, D

Siegenthaler looked NHL ready as he came into training camp, but he ended up heading down to Hershey to start the season. However, in light of an injury to Christian Djoos, Siegenthaler capitalized on the opportunity and made a statement with an outstanding performance during his stint in the middle of the season, recording 31 hits and 44 blocks in 26 games. He also impressed in the first round and surely earned a roster spot next year.

Take a look at Siegenthaler's rookie year here.

Braden Holtby, G

After struggling in the 2017-18 regular season but coming up huge en route to the Capitals' first Cup title, many looked to Holtby to have a bounce-back season. While he was decent, he still showed his fair share of struggles, putting up a 2.82 GAA and .911 save percentage, the second-worst regular season showing in his career behind last year, where he registered a 2.99 GAA and .907 save %.

Check out Holtby's season in review here.

Pheonix Copley, G

In his first year up in the NHL backing up Braden Holtby, Copley proved to be solid and consistent in the crease for Washington with a 2.90 GAA and .905 save percentage, which is decent for a rookie. However, there's still room for improvement as he enters his sophomore year.

Find Copley's season in review here.

Todd Reirden, Head Coach

After Barry Trotz finally coached Washington to its first Cup title last season, the expectations were somewhat high as Todd Reirden took over and the Capitals looked to repeat. He managed to have a solid first-year though, coaching the Capitals to their fourth-straight Metropolitan Division title; hwever, the season ended early with a first-round exit.

Here's Reirden's season report card.

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Free Agency Bracket: Micheal Ferland vs. Joonas Donskoi

Free Agency Bracket: Micheal Ferland vs. Joonas Donskoi

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin, and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s matchup:

Region: Third line forward

Micheal Ferland vs. Joonas Donskoi

2018-19 stats

Micheal Ferland (27 years old): 71 games played with the Carolina Hurricanes, 17 goals, 23 assists, 40 points, 14:06 TOI

Playoffs: 7 games played with the Carolina Hurricanes, no goals, 1 assist, 1 point, 10:16 TOI

Joonas Donskoi (27 years old): 80 games played for the San Jose Sharks, 14 goals, 23 assists, 37 points, 13:25 TOI

Playoffs: 12 games played for the San Jose Sharks, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 12:26 TOI

Hockey-Graphs contract projections

Micheal Ferland: 4 years, $4,181,982 cap hit

Joonas Donskoi: 3 years, $2,847,521 cap hit

The case for Micheal Ferland

Ferland fills the Caps’ need for a productive third-line player. He scored 40 points last year with limited minutes and ranked fourth on the Hurricanes in points despite being 16th on the team in time-on-ice per game. Being able to be productive without getting top-six minutes is a skill. Brett Connolly has it and so does Ferland.

In addition to his production, Ferland also plays a physical game which would fit in well with Washington as the Caps like to play a heavier game. While they do have some speedy players, the trade of Matt Niskanen for Radko Gudas is a sign that the physicality is still highly valued by the organization.

Ferland turned 27 in April and is entering his prime. The projected price tag may be a bit much for him, but his injury-plagued postseason may help bring that price down.

Donskoi has good skill, but that has earned him career-highs of 14 goals and 37 points, both of which he scored last season so the Caps could end up paying a bit more than they should to obtain him. If you are frustrated by Andre Burakovsky, does it make sense to bring in another player with similar numbers to play on the third line?

The case for Joonas Donskoi

Donskoi will be a much cheaper option than Ferland and with Washington against the cap and given the fact that the salary cap could actually be lower than the $83 million originally projected, money talks.

Comparing Donskoi to Burakovsky may not be entirely fair. When Burakovsky is having a bad game, he is invisible. Donskoi, on the other hand, made the offense better in San Jose in whatever role he was asked to play. His stats may not always reflect that, but making his teammates around him better is a valuable asset.

The ultimate case against Ferland is the fact that his first name is Micheal – but he spells it "ea" instead of "ae" – making him the sworn enemy of every hockey writer.

Who’s your pick? Vote here:

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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Are the Caps good enough to go on another deep run?

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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Are the Caps good enough to go on another deep run?

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! You can read Wednesday’s Part 1 here.

Check out Part 2 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.

I don’t know why Wilson and Gudas’ relationship would be any different from anyone else on the team. From what I have heard, Gudas is a very nice guy off the ice and there are few players, if anyone, who is as nice as Wilson. If you are asking because they fought once before, that does not matter. It was years ago, back when Gudas was in Tampa Bay. It is not like either player has been holding a grudge ever since. Don’t forget, Dmitrij Jaskin’s last fight was against Wilson in 2017 and he was still welcomed into Washington. This won’t be an issue.

As for their relationship on the ice, let’s just say there are a lot of teams that are going to be looking over their shoulders for 60 minutes every single game when they play the Caps.

Mike K. writes: Dmitrij Jaskin hasn’t point produced but he’s strong on the puck and tough on the boards and has been able to create his own shot in tight spaces. I’m puzzled by the shunning when he’s been a difference maker on the ice. Brian MacLellan clearly sees talent which is why they kept him. Does he have a chance to earn a bottom 6 role? Do you have a projected top 9? Can we make a deep run with this roster?

When it comes to Jaskin they have to sign him first.

Like you, I was puzzled with how Jaskin was used over the season. He seemed to play well every time he got into the lineup, but for whatever reason, Todd Reirden did not appear to be a fan. Now as a restricted free agent, his future with the team is up in the air.

For most restricted free agents, it is an easy decision to bring them back. With Washington tight up against the salary cap, however, they may not be enough cap space to commit to him if he is not going to have a more regular role in the lineup.

It is clear the fourth line needs an upgrade. Is Jaskin good enough that he represents an upgrade or is the team better off letting him walk and saving as much cap space as possible to pursue more productive options? If he does sign, his role would be on the fourth line.

My projected top-nine as of now:

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin – Lars Eller – free agent or trade

I ultimately do not think Connolly or Andre Burakovsky end up back with the team so they will need to find someone to plug into that third line who is not yet on the roster. This is where the salary cap not being determined yet or potentially being lower than that projected $83 million really hurts.

Can they make a deep run? It depends on who they get. I am not going to overreact to last season. The roster is roughly the same as the one that won the Cup and there was no reason to dismantle it just because they ran out of gas in the playoffs. Having said that, it is a fair question to ask when you could potentially lose Connolly, Burakovsky, Devante Smith-Pelly, Matt NIskanen and Brooks Orpik and replace them with Radko Gudas whoever they can afford through trades and free agency.

I will say yes, the team can still go on a deep run with the caveat that I want to see what the roster looks like after free agency. If they completely whiff and fail to address their need for depth offense, then I will change my opinion.

Nathan S. writes: Why is NHL behind the trend set by MLB and NFL where managing and coaching trends are toward younger and more innovative leaders (Alex Cora and Sean McVay come to mind)?

Be careful what you wish for. The trend for younger managers in the MLB largely stems from the analytics movement that, in my opinion, completely undervalues managers. If you are managing just based on analytics, you can go cheaper and younger and it won’t matter. But those managers do not know how to manage players and personalities. I am not a dinosaur, I recognize the value of analytics and I am not arguing for the antiquated notion that numbers can’t tell us anything because the game is played on the field and not on the spreadsheet. But you cannot pretend that managing players and a team is just about the numbers.

Having said that, I see what you’re saying. Hockey very much as an “old guard” problem. Whenever a head coaching vacancy opens up, it always seems like the same candidates and coaches are recycled over and over again. There is just a different mentality in hockey that says you have to have the experienced coach in order to succeed. In the NFL and MLB, however, a lot of teams are starting to take the exact opposite approach believing that you have to find someone willing to be different in order to succeed.

This is changing a bit in the NHL as we have seen a few more general managers venture into the college ranks to find head coaches. Hopefully that will lead to other general managers looking outside the box to find their next bench boss. Really all it takes is for one coach to find success, then everyone will follow.

Rodney O. writes: Has a team ever won a Stanley Cup and their affiliate (ECHL, AHL) won the league championship as well in the same year?

The Stanley Cup winners have seen their AHL affiliates go on the win the Calder Cup in the same year three times. Both the Montreal Canadiens and affiliate Nova Scotia Voyageurs won in 1976 and 1977 as did the New Jersey Devils and Albany River Rats in 1995. Those two Montreal wins came before the ECHL was founded and the 1995 winner of the Kelly Cup was the Richmond Renegades who, at the time, was the affiliate of the Hartford Whalers so no, it does not appear an organization has ever been able to pull off the triple NHL, AHL, ECHL championship.

Nathan S. writes: How much of the fact that no Canadian team has won the SC since 93 and many Canadian teams struggle to even make the playoffs consistently because so many players are reluctant to play in Canada (even Canadians) because of taxes, media/fan pressure, weather, and lack of endorsement opportunities?

Taxes are something analysts love to talk about, but I truly believe that is more of a talking point than a factor in players not going to Canada. I am not saying it doesn’t matter, I’m just saying I do not believe it matters as much as we think it does. There are still big-money players in Canada and let’s not forget that Toronto won the John Tavares sweepstakes, the biggest free agency extravaganza in years. Before you say, Tavares doesn’t count because he grew up a Toronto fan, that is exactly my point. Of all the factors that went into his decision, the positives outweighed the negatives such as taxes.

Also, it’s not as if every team in the U.S. is tax-free. Only two states with NHL teams, Florida and Texas, do not have any income tax while California has the highest income tax in the country. And yet both Anaheim and Los Angeles have won the Cup since 1993 and San Jose is seemingly always in contention.

I would also quibble with your idea that there are limited endorsement opportunities. I think there are plenty of those in Canadian markets especially Toronto and Montreal.

As for your other factors, media and fan pressure is real and I think definitely a factor. You hear a lot of relief from players who leave Toronto and are able to walk down the street without getting harassed by fans and media. Weather can be a factor and you hear a lot of players list Winnipeg and Edmonton on their no trade lists because of this and because there is a perception that there is nothing to do there. Then again, the weather is nice in Arizona and you do not exactly see players lining up to be a Coyote.

For me, the two biggest factors are the league’s efforts to expand to more American markets and the salary cap. Since 1990, the NHL has added 10 teams, 11 if you count Seattle in 2021. Only two of those new teams were in Canada, eventually three when the Atlanta Thrashers eventually moved to Winnipeg. In 1990, seven of 21 teams were in Canada, or one-third of the league. As of 2021, seven out of 32 teams will be in Canada. That’s less than a quarter. Simple math says those teams will not win as much.

Second, while the salary cap was not instituted until 2005, it mitigated one of the biggest advantages teams like Montreal and Toronto had. Those teams are held in high regard because of history and tradition, but in terms of money they are just like everyone else, beholden to the same salary cap.

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

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