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As the Caps prepare to defend the Stanley Cup for the first time, it’s hard to know how to feel

As the Caps prepare to defend the Stanley Cup for the first time, it’s hard to know how to feel

Well everyone, they did it. The Capitals won the Stanley Cup. They reached the top of the mountain. It took 44 long years, but all the disappointing finishes, all the heartbreak, it was all worth it. Because in the end, they finally got the Cup.

If this were a movie, it would have ended by now. After the on-ice celebrations and maybe even the parade, the screen would have faded to black. The happy ending achieved, the story over.

But that’s not the way it works in real life.

In real life, the story doesn’t actually end when a team wins the championship. Time inevitably rolls along and brings with it a new season. It seems like just yesterday the team was on the ice hoisting the Cup and celebrating, but in reality the Caps have already gone from champion to defending champion. They no longer stand alone atop the league. The standings are back to zero and everyone must start over.

The challenge is different now for the Capitals who are no longer seeking their first title. This year, the task will be to defend it and win a second.

And as a fan, it’s hard to know how to feel.

For many years, it was Stanley Cup or bust in Washington. They had the talent to go all the way and that made every loss feel all the more gut-wrenching. A lot of fans out there, myself included, began to doubt. The best years of Alex Ovechkin had come and gone. If the Caps couldn’t win with one of the greatest to ever play the game, would we ever see the Cup in Washington? Would we have to sit through another lengthy rebuild just to get another shot?

Now that’s all changed.

This is new territory for the Capitals who, for the first time, will be defending a championship. And this is new for the fans too.

For fans of a certain age, you’ve been waiting 26 years to see a championship come to D.C. Now there’s an entire generation of Washington fans who have never seen this city win a championship before.

When the banner is raised to the rafters on Wednesday, the celebration will finally be over and the prevailing feeling among many fans will be, now what?

Let’s be clear, we all want Washington to win another Cup this year. No one is going into this season thinking, “It’s OK if the Caps miss the playoffs. Who cares? They already won!”

But while we all want to see Washington go all the way, this season still feels different.

You know what I felt the most when the clock finally hit 00:00 in Game 5? Relief.

Sure, I was happy. Ecstatic, actually. As someone who has followed this team my entire life, winning the Cup and watching the celebrations all summer has been everything I hoped it would be. But in all those past years with every heartbreaking loss, that the voice in the back of your head just kept getting louder and louder ever year and kept asking are they ever going to do it? Will they ever win the Cup?

That voice has finally been silenced.

Winning the Cup is hard. Thirty teams are going to walk away from this season disappointed and only one will come out on top. I would love for it to be the Capitals again and there are a lot of reasons to believe that they could actually pull off the repeat.

If they don’t, I’ll be disappointed, but it won’t feel like before. Gone is that cloud that forever hung above the franchise. They won a Cup. The names have been engraved on it and the banner will be raised at Wednesday’s opener. There are going to be years in which the Caps come up short, but instead of assuming the worst and wondering when this team will ever win a Cup, now we can just cheer on the Caps knowing they‘ve done it before and in the hopes they we can see them hoist it again.

They did it. They brought the Cup to Washington and no one can ever take it away from us.


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Capitals center Lars Eller is busy working on his shot this summer

lars_eller_captials_practice_usat.jpg
Instagram @LarsEllerOfficial

Capitals center Lars Eller is busy working on his shot this summer

With the Washington Capitals season ending in April and training camp beginning in September, players are on their own to get their summer work in.

Center Lars Eller took to Instagram on Wednesday to show his followers that he's been working on his shot in the offseason.

The 6-foot-2 Dane scored 13 goals for the Caps last season, adding one more in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With three months to go before the first puck drops in the 2019-2020 season, Eller will hope his extra work this summer will translate to the ice in the fall.

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Did the Caps address all of their weaknesses?

Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Did the Caps address all of their weaknesses?

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

Have a Caps question you want 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.

John F. writes: Can Alex Ovechkin break Wayne Gretzky's career goals record? What will it take?

It will take 237 more goals.

OK, but what does that mean exactly? Ovechkin will turn 34 before the start of the season. Let’s say he plays seven more seasons and retires when he is 40. He would have to average 34 goals per year to do that.

That seems doable for Ovechkin, but you have to remember that Father Time is undefeated. At some point the production will decrease. You also have to wonder if he will even play that long. That’s no guarantee. If he does, it would be hard for him to return to Russia to play in the KHL, which many believe he would want to do given his outspoken pride for his home country.

For this to be a realistic possibility, it is going to require at least one more 45-50 goal season and probably another 40 goal season on top of that. He is going to have to get a good chunk of goals this year while he is still productive because eventually he is not going to be able to score 50 goals anymore. Then he won’t be able to score 40, and so on.

I can’t sit here and tell you that it is impossible because Ovechkin keeps redefining what is possible for a goal scorer over 30. Having said that, I still am not willing to say I think he will do it. Considering we all marvel at what he has been able to do the last two seasons and he still sits over 200 goals away, I still have my money on the Great One keeping his record.

Blake B. writes: The Capitals appear to have addressed all of their necessities this offseason (i.e. filling their 3rd and 4th lines, unloading salary and making tough but necessary trades). What are the biggest question marks, uncertainties and holes entering the 2019-2020 season?

There are a few and some of your fellow readers asked about them as well this week. For me, depth offense is a concern. The Caps got only five goals from their bottom-six in seven playoff games against the Carolina Hurricanes. One goal was an empty-netter, one was a penalty shot and the remaining three came from Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky, who are both gone. Offensively, the team did not get better, so where are those goals going to come from? More on this later.

Players like Connolly and Burakovsky provided injury insurance. Both players could plug into the top-six in case of injury. Hagelin and Panik now look like those players, but both look like offensive downgrades in that respect.

On defense, the team looks pretty set assuming Nick Jensen can handle a top-four role. I wrote about this as part of our “Burning Questions" series we are currently running. The team’s defense truly hinges on Jensen. If he plays well, you have a clear top-four with an upgraded bottom pair thanks to the acquisition of Gudas. If Jensen does not play well, you have a major hole on the blue line and no clear candidate to fill it, plus a defenseman with three more years on his contract after this season.

And then there is the power play. Brian MacLellan focused on defense in the offseason, so the team should be improved in that area and on the penalty kill. The sacrifice was losing some offensive depth, but you can potentially make that up if the team rebounds on the power play. More on this later too.

Ben C. writes: Our bottom-six seems to be better defensively now. How do you think they will contribute offensively?

I also wrote about this very subject for our “Burning Questions” series. 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 years. Eller has 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.

Simply put, there is no way a third line of Hagelin, Eller and Panik will produce as much offensively as the third line did last year. The good news, however, is that If the team improved defensively as much as they hope, they shouldn’t need to.

Brian R. writes: Do you anticipate any changes to how the PP gets run this year considering how inconsistent it was last year either a new scheme or different personnel?

The obvious glaring issue with the power play last season was zone entry, so fingers crossed that this will lead the team to scrap the horrendous slingshot which doesn’t work and is ugly to watch. Considering so many other teams utilize it as well, however, I am doubtful they will, but one can hope.

I wonder if Tom Wilson will see more time in T.J. Oshie’s spot in the slot. Wilson does not play that spot as well as Oshie does, but if the team does move on from the slingshot, then the dump-in may be more common and you need that bigger body to fight for the pucks in the corners and behind the goal line to keep possession.

Really, everything depends on how the team decides to fix its zone entry problem. If it remains status quo, then I do not see any changes. If they finally realize how awful the slingshot truly is, then you have to work on a new method for zone entry and put together the best personnel to operate it.

Chas L. writes: With T.J. Oshie possibly looking at less playing time on the third line, is it time for the Caps to bring up a prospect or two? With all the new free agent additions, the Caps all together have gotten a lot older age wise. Would it hurt to maybe push down players like Lars Eller and Oshie and bring up some young prospects?

A few things. First, moving Oshie down to the third line was more realistic before they lost so much offensive depth. I have written on this topic before about how I believe reducing Oshie’s minutes would be beneficial given his playing style, but I am not sure how realistic an option this is when the two candidates to replace him would be Hagelin and Panik.

Hagelin’s offense is a bit too limited for me to put him in the top-six when the team is at full strength. He is a solid replacement player if there is an injury in the top-six, but otherwise that is not ideal. Panik, on the other hand, is an unknown coming in as a free agent.

Second, bringing in prospects is a great option if you have prospects ready to make the jump. The Caps do not think they do and they showed that with all the depth signings they made in the offseason. You do not sign Panik or Garnet Hathaway for four years if you think Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and Shane Gersich are going to be taking their jobs at the start of the season.

MacLellan was probably hoping more prospects would be ready for the NHL as they would have been cheap replacements for the players lost, but I am not sure anyone is ready to make that jump yet.

Third, part of the appeal of pushing Oshie to the third line, if that was still a realistic possibility, would be to play him with Eller. They have great chemistry together and this would be a formidable third line. Pushing Eller to the fourth not only would push Nic Dowd out of the lineup, but it would also waste Eller’s skill. There comes a point where a team can have too much depth and it becomes a waste. If Washington had several home-grown centers knocking on the door, trading Eller would be a more realistic possibility. As of now, however, that is not the case.

John F. writes: Not to go full-Don Cherry, but is the lack of "good Canadian boys" on the team a concern? (For the record: I don't think it is).

No. Where players are from is completely irrelevant. It is foolish and I would argue racist to think having one specific nationality is the key to winning. I can take Don Cherry’s “old man yelling at clouds” takes because those are harmless. His blind support of all things Canadian while downplaying players of other nationalities, however, is infuriating to me.

Cherry may want to believe the Caps won the Stanley Cup because of Tom Wilson and Braden Holtby, but this completely ignores the all-time great Russian who won the Conn Smythe, a Russian who led the team in scoring, a future Hall of Fame Swedish center, a top defensive pairing with an American and a Czech and a Dane who scored the Cup clinching goal.

This is a ridiculous sentiment that for some reason lingers in Canada, where no team has won a Stanley Cup since 1993, but I am sure that is just because none of those teams had enough Canadian players.

Thanks for all your questions! Part 2 of the mailbag will be coming on Thursday. If you have a question you want to be answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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