The Capitals will gather for the start of training camp on Sunday and take to the ice for the first time on Monday. Here are the biggest storylines surrounding the team heading into camp.
The biggest question mark on the team right now is who will play backup to Ilya Samsonov? There will be a goalie battle between veteran Craig Anderson and prospects Vitek Vanecek and Pheonix Copley. Adding to the intrigue is the fact that the team will have to carry three goalies this year because of the taxi squad.
While roster competitions are always intriguing, the more important issue is whether or not Samsonov can handle the No. 1 role which now rests squarely on his shoulders. This is the first camp where he will enter as the starter and not just the starter of the future.
A new coach and a new system
Peter Laviolette will take over as the head coach and he has his work cut out for him in trying to instill his system in an abbreviated training camp. He spoke over the week about how difficult it has been in terms of connecting with the players just because he has not been able to have those face-to-face interactions leading into his first season with the team. With no preseason, we really will have no idea just what the team will look like in a game situation until the opener on Jan. 14.Download and subscribe to the Capitals Talk Podcast
The defensive pairings
The Caps have a lot of new faces on defense with four of the 12 defensemen at camp being newcomers to the organization. Laviolette is going to have to figure out who to play with whom and just how he wants to set up his defense. The team is deep enough now that some pretty decent players are going to be parked in the press box every night. Just how he manages the blue line will be a major storyline.
McMichael was not on the initial training camp roster because he is playing for Team Canada in the World Junior Championship. He is expected to join the team at camp after the tournament is over. The championship is scheduled for Jan. 5.
McMichael is a very intriguing player to watch and not just because he was a first-round draft pick in 2019. In the offseason, the Caps addressed their need at the blue line with several new defensemen. They addressed their need for a backup goalie with Henrik Lundqvist and then Craig Anderson. They addressed the need for depth scoring with Conor Sheary along with Daniel Sprong who was acquired at last season's trade deadline. The one area the team did not add to its depth is center
Travis Boyd left in free agency and I don't see players like Brian Pinho, Mike Sgarbossa or Philippe Maillet being realistic long-term options. Sure, the team could plug one of them in for a few games, but if Washington loses one of its centers for a long term, then McMichael may not just be the best option, he may be the only option the Caps can turn to at that point. Could he be ready if that happened?
How do the veterans look?
The Caps have managed to outrun Father Time for a few years now, but at some point, that is going to catch up to them. Will Alex Ovechkin still look like one of the best goal-scorers in the NHL? Are Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie still top-six forwards? Do any of the team's 30+-year-old veterans start to look their age?
Managing the taxi squad
We have never had a taxi squad before so it will be fascinating just how teams manage this.
Every team will carry a minimum of four players and a maximum of six. Those players will not count against the salary cap, but can practice with the team. They cannot play unless they are "recalled" to the roster in which case they will count against the cap.
Do we see top-level prospects in the taxi squad or veteran minor leaguers who Laviolette will not feel forced to insert into the lineup? How much shuffling will there be between the roster and taxi squad? We won't really learn the answer to many of these questions until the season starts, but it makes camp competitions more intriguing because there are more spots to fill. Players who otherwise would not have had a chance to make the 23-man squad will be vying for a spot on the taxi squad.