When hockey finally returns in 2021, the Capitals will have their sights set on the Stanley Cup. Every team enters each season with questions that need to be answered. We are looking at the biggest questions facing the Capitals in 2021.
Today's question: Do the Capitals have the depth to withstand injuries and the coronavirus?
Depth is going to be tested on every team in the NHL this year. It's inevitable. The wear-and-tear of a condensed season and the ever-looming threat of a COVID-19 outbreak in a locker room is going to mean we see teams dig deep into their depth over the course of the season.
Though depth scoring was certainly an issue for Washington in 2019-20, actual depth was not thought to be...until they got to the playoffs. When Nicklas Backstrom suffered an injury in Game 1 against the New York Islanders we all found out the Caps were not nearly as deep as we thought they were.
In net, Washington is suddenly pretty thin after the loss of Henrik Lundqvist. It's Ilya Samsonov or bust now for the Caps, regardless of whether Craig Anderson, Vitek Vanecek or Pheonix Copley wins the backup job.
Surprisingly, Washington looks very deep on defense. The team was thinnest at the blue line in 2019-20, but several key additions have filled up the depth chart. On the left there is Brenden Dillon, Dmitry Orlov and Jonas Siegenthaler, plus prospects Martin Fehervary and Alex Alexeyev. On the right is John Carlson, Justin Schultz, Nick Jensen and Trevor van Riemsdyk, plus Paul LaDue who I have penciled in for the taxi squad.
There are newcomers like Schultz, van Riemsdyk and LaDue who we have not yet seen in Washington and don't know exactly how good they will be. But on paper at least, the blue line looks very deep.
The forwards also look deeper thanks to the addition of Conor Sheary. His addition gives the team some flexibility as he can play on either wing and is seen by Brian MacLellan to be a middle-six forward.
Washington's top six was good for most of the season last year, but there was no clear fit from the bottom-six who could be plugged into the top-six if needed. Sheary could possibly be that player and plugin for Jakub Vrana or T.J. Oshie if they struggle or if Peter Laviolette wants to shuffle the lineup. There is also prospect Daniel Sprong who will be vying for playing time on the roster as well and who has proven productive in his limited NHL experience.
The biggest question, for me, is down the middle. Since the 2018 Cup run, most fans don't think of center as a thin position for Washington. If Nicklas Backstrom or Evgeny Kuznetsov go down, you just move Lars Eller up and call it a day, right?
Sure, that's what you do in the top-six, but what about behind Eller? Travis Boyd left in free agency and, let's face it, if the Caps need a long-term center Brian Pinho simply is not the answer.
It is hard to say definitively just how Washington will manage its taxi squad given the uncertainty surrounding the seasons of various minor and junior leagues, but I have to think Connor McMichael will be in play if the team is in need of a center. The Caps' center depth was exposed in the 2020 postseason when they had no answer at all for when Backstrom went down. If that happens again, I think fans will get their wish and see McMichael suit up for the Caps.