The Capitals' 2010s All-Decade Team
Capitals' 2010s All-Decade Team
The Capitals have the most wins, points and goals of any NHL team since 2010. Oh, and there’s that Stanley Cup, too. Putting together a list of the very best players is tricky once you get past the obvious choices.
Instead of going with a true four-line team where the best fits at each position get the nod, NBC Sports Washington instead went primarily with the all-around top players. Extra points for longevity, but that only goes so far. Two or three high-end years will trump seven years of solid play. We expect there to be some arguments made for players left off.
We went with four centers who primarily played that position during their time in Washington, but wingers got flipped, if necessary. It’s assumed players this good could have – and in some cases did – play on either side of the ice. The Capitals were pretty balanced defensively throughout the decade so there was no need to do the same for the blue line.
What else is there to say? The captain, the face of the franchise, a Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe winner. Ovechkin has scored 435 goals this decade with 341 assists. Total points: 776. He won the Hart Trophy in 2013 as NHL MVP for the third time. In 2010 he earned the Lindsay Award as the players’ choice for MOP. He also won the Rocket Richard as the league’s top goal scorer six times. The greatest goal scorer of his generation keeps on rolling.
Ovechkin’s running mate has 509 assists to lead all NHL players this decade. Goals: 170. Points: 697. A durable, reliable presence who led the league in assists in 2014-15 (60). Always overshadowed with just one NHL All-Star game on his resume, Backstrom has carved out a Hall-of-Fame career of his own.
Many right wings rotated through Washington over the years. Oshie played his fair share with Nicklas Backsrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, but no matter where he slotted there’s no question his arrival helped boost a very good team to a great one. Acquired in a trade with St. Louis in the summer of 2015. Oshie’s 116 goals rank third this decade despite being here just four-and-a-half seasons. An absolute two-way demon during the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2018. A shootout specialist.
The Young Guns era seems so long ago. Semin hasn’t played a game for the Capitals since 2012. That’s only two-and-a-half seasons this decade. And yet Semin would rank fourth in points per game (.76) if we limit it to players with at least 50 games in D.C. (Sorry Mike Ribeiro). “Mercurial” is often coded and unfair when talking about Russian players, but it fit here. Semin was also a much better playoff performer than credited. He had an insane 44 shots against Montreal in 2010. Long Ovechkin’s running mate on the top line, we’ll put him on the left side of our second line.
The Capitals searched so long for another top center to pair with Backstrom. He was in the organization all along. Drafted in 2010, Kuznetsov didn’t come to the NHL until the end of the 2013-14 season. He needed another year to find his bearings and then took off with 77 points in 2015-16. Kuznetsov has 113 goals in 450 games and it feels like he could have double that. That’s also why he has 257 assists, though. Only Ovechkin and Backstrom have more points per game (.86). Great postseason numbers. He scored a Game 7 winner against the Islanders in 2015 and will always be beloved for his Game 6 OT winner/celebration against the Penguins during the 2018 Stanley Cup run.
Is second-line right wing too high? Maybe. Physicality will always define his game and he will always be the most hated man in any road rink. But Wilson has improved almost every single year and we haven’t seen any major incidents since his long suspension last season. He returned with a career-high 40 points in 63 games and should set career highs in all categories this year. A big, intimidating presence who helps Ovechkin set the Caps’ identity. Wilson gets the nod for ascending from a fourth liner just trying to keep his head above water as an 18-year-old rookie to playing on the top line and keeping up.
Always an underrated presence much like his fellow Swede Nicklas Backstrom. Once the Capitals stopped trying to make him a center, Johansson found his game. Excelled at getting the puck into the offensive zone, was a staple on the power play as his career advanced and was fifth in the decade in goals (102) and points (290). The Capitals only gave Johansson away to New Jersey in a 2017 trade for draft picks because they didn’t have the salary-cap space to keep him.
Always on the lookout for a top-six center, the Capitals generally were fine with their third-line options early in the decade. But Eller gave them a player capable of anchoring the third line while bouncing up when needed. That’s what he did when Nicklas Backstrom was hurt in the middle of the 2018 Stanley Cup playoff run. Eller has missed three games in three-and-a-half seasons. He contributes offensively in goals (50) and points (93) while keeping his line responsible in its own zone (50.6 % shots-for). Oh, and he scored the Cup-clinching goal late in the third period against Vegas.
We get it. Other wingers were here longer than Williams, who was signed to help win a Stanley Cup and was on two teams that came up short. Then he departed for Carolina in the post-2017 salary-cap purge. But he was simply a better player than other options. Williams had 100 points in two seasons (46 goals, 54 assists). Over 80% of that production came at even strength. No Caps player during Williams’ time in D.C. was even close to Williams’ shots-for percentage (54.93%). The idea that he was some sort of Stanley Cup-winning talisman was always silly. He was a very good player on back-to-back Presidents’ Trophy winners. Falling short of a title made him no different than everyone else who played before 2017-18.
Too soon? Respectfully disagree. Vrana is only halfway through his third season and the decade is about to end. But he will have played the exact same number of games (217) this decade as a winger option like Brett Connolly with more goals (55), assists (55) and points (110). Vrana also has done it with almost no power-play time. He was also on the Stanley Cup title team and scored the first goal in the Game 5 clincher against Vegas and a huge goal late in Game 5 against Pittsburgh that spring. He’s become a shot machine and a staple on the second line.
This is where longevity and role come into play. Beagle centered third and fourth lines for 461 games in Washington. He was a regular on every team from 2010-11 on until leaving for Vancouver after winning the Stanley Cup in 2018. Beagle had a specific role. He did it well. That he willed himself into a contributing offensive player (20 goals, 32 assists, 52 points from 2016-2018) was a bonus. In eight seasons this decade, Beagle had 50 goals and 64 assists. Beagle was really dominant in the faceoff circle. There were 116 NHL players who took more than 4,000 draws this decade. Beagle ranked seventh in winning percentage (56.5%).
A four-year run in Washington with 83 goals and 69 assists for Brouwer, who was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks two years after he helped them win a Stanley Cup. Brouwer had a role as the big body who found space and scored goals. He excelled at late power-play goals. One of them won Game 5 of the 2012 series against Boston, a 4-3 victory with just 1:27 to go. Another came in the dying seconds of the 2015 Winter Classic at National Park against the Blackhawks. There are other potential choices here. Andre Burakovsky, Brooks Laich, Joel Ward, Jason Chimera. All had their moments, especially Burakovsky. But Brouwer’s consistent four years before being traded to the Blues for T.J. Oshie win him the final spot.
No other choice for one of the spots on the top pair. Carlson played more games than anyone other than Alex Ovechkin this decade (722). He morphed from a complementary second-pair defenseman as a young player to a true No. 1. He runs the power play. He kills penalties. He’ll head into the next decade as the favorite to win this year’s Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman. That’s what he is for the Capitals. Carlson ranks fifth among franchise defenseman in goals (103), second in assists (347) and points (450). All of that happened this decade since he only played three games early in the 2009-10 season and had no points until a January recall.
Orlov doesn’t get the attention, but he’s been with the Capitals since 2011-12 and a mainstay in the lineup on the left side for five years running. Put him next to John Carlson – even if they don’t play together much. A broken wrist playing for Russia at the IIHF world championships in 2014 cost him the entire 2014-15 NHL season. He hasn’t missed a game since. Orlov’s shots-for percentage was 52.0% the three seasons after his return. He’s never reached his offensive ceiling because of limited power-play time, but has 29 points or more four years in a row. He scored 10 goals during the 2017-18 Stanley Cup season. Only six players appeared in more games for the Capitals than Orlov (484) this decade.
No one helped change the culture in Washington more than the one player who had previously won the Stanley Cup. Orpik signed a five-year contract in the summer of 2014 after a long stint with the Penguins. He helped fill leadership gaps, displayed a consistent level of professionalism and played pretty good hockey, too. Orpik was never going to be an analytics darling. But he was a tough, physical player and beloved by his teammates. They even hit him with a Russian nickname "Batya" – essentially dad. Orpik appeared in 352 games over five seasons and did what he was brought her to do: Stabilize the left side of the blueline and win a Cup. Done and done. A solid choice on the second pair.
Brought in with Orpik from Pittsburgh during that free agent summer of 2014 with the same mission. GM Brian MacLellan needed to upgrade his blueline if the Capitals were going to rebound from missing the playoffs and win a Stanley Cup. Unlike Orpik, Niskanen was still just 27 when he signed a seven-year contract with Washington. He logged heavy minutes on the right side behind Carlson, a steady, professional player who could skate the puck out of trouble and topped 30 points his first three seasons in D.C. with 29 goals total in five years before he was traded last summer. He left town a champion.
The game changed on Alzner, a stay-at-home defenseman who wasn’t the same player later in the decade. But for years he was always the Capitals’ Mr. Reliable. He never missed a game in his seven seasons as a full-time regular beginning in 2010-11. He was asked to shoulder a heavy load with long-time partner John Carlson because even in their early 20s they were the best options on a thin blueline. Alzner and Carlson logged over 3,700 minutes of ice time together across 504 games. He also spent time with Matt Niskanen later during his time in Washington. Alzner was another salary-cap casualty in 2017 and signed a big contract with Montreal where his consecutive games played streak ended at 622.
An original Young Gun. No one epitomized the go-go Capitals of the early Ovechkin era better than Green, who had 31 goals in 2008-09 and was as good an offensive defenseman as there was in the league. He should have won a Norris Trophy late last decade. But in this decade, injuries took a toll. Green appeared in just 116 of 212 games between 2010-11 and 2013. He was still a good player. His final two seasons in Washington Green had 19 goals and 64 assists and he was an even possession player. But in this decade he never reached those majestic heights again and left via free agency in 2015 for Detroit. In 294 games with the Capitals this decade alone Green had 52 goals, 126 assists and 178 points.
Holtby rose from a fourth-round pick to a Stanley Cup champion. He looked like he belonged from the moment he started the 2012 first-round playoff series against Boston. That was the first of eight playoff series victories. There aren’t many NHL goalies who can say that. Holtby made The Save against Vegas in Game 2 of the Cup Final. He is tied with Olie Kolzig for career shutouts (35) with the Capitals. His save percentage has slipped some in recent seasons, but is still .918 over 446 games. Unclear where the next decade will take Holtby, who is a free agent at the end of the season. But his body of work is unquestioned. Tied for most wins in a single season by a goalie (48) in 2015-16, a Vezina Trophy winner, the backbone of two Presidents’ Trophy winners and a Stanley Cup champion.
The No. 2 goalie was a tough one. Michal Neuvirth started 108 games early this decade just before Braden Holtby took over for good. Neuvirth won a playoff series in 2011 in five games against the New York Rangers. But injuries kept him from ever grabbing the job. Grubauer, while he faltered in his one chance to start a playoff series in 2018, just posted better numbers. He became Holtby’s primary backup in 2015-16 and did the job admirably. His save percentage was .923 in 101 games, 79 starts. Grubauer grew each year and his play in 2017-18 kept the Capitals afloat when Holtby struggled. That gave Grubauer a chance to be a No. 1 goalie in Colorado after a post-Cup trade.