At long last, hockey is almost back! The Capitals begin the 2020 postseason on Aug. 3, nearly five months after the 2019-20 season was initially paused due to the coronavirus. That’s a long time ago. Let’s take a look back at the biggest stories of the 2019-20 season to refresh our memories before the Caps continue their quest for a second Stanley Cup.
When the Capitals finally take to the ice to open the 2020 postseason, the lineup will feature two (relatively) new players. Defenseman Brenden Dillon and forward Ilya Kovalchuk were both trade deadline additions for Washington before the pause.
Washington was in desperate need of an upgrade on defense and they got one, but the move took many by surprise. The biggest need on the blue line was a top-four right defenseman to play on the second pair. Instead, Brain MacLellan sent a second and a third-round pick to the San Jose Sharks for the lefty Brenden Dillon.
“[Dillon’s] got playoff experience, he's a veteran player, physicality, the ability to play with top-end guys, a good character guy,” MacLellan said in February. “I think he'll add a lot of energy in our room and on the ice. He's a physical presence. He checked a lot of boxes for everything we thought we needed."
Dillon did not plug the obvious hole on the defense, but he was one of the best players available at the deadline. He played on the top pair with John Carlson when Michal Kempny was struggling. Now after some time for Kempny to heal, Dillon moves down to the second pair with Dmitry Orlov on the right side.
After acquiring Dillon, it looked like the Caps would be done. They were close to the cap already even before adding Dillon. What else could they do?
MacLellan pulled off a surprise move, however, with the acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk for a third-round draft pick.
What does Kovalchuk add? Well, the first benefit is his cap hit. He only counted $350,000 against Washington’s cap. His real value though is scoring punch on the bottom-six.
Once one of the top scorers in the NHL, the 37-year-old Kovalchuk may have lost a step, but remains a dangerous offensive player.
“I think you'll probably see glimpses of what he was at that time,” MacLellan said. “I mean, he still has good hands, he still has a good skill level. He'll probably score some good goals and make some good plays.”
The one question for Kovalchuk was would he could provide in a limited role. He could not provide enough offense for the Los Angeles Kings playing 15:25 per game and was bought out of his contract. With the Montreal Canadiens, Kovalchuk was great playing 18:54 per game. With a loaded Capitals roster, he was not going to get that much playing time in Washington.
“Having conversations with Ilya about will he be willing to accept a certain type of role -- I know in Montreal he was playing probably a little bit more than he's going to play here -- and would he be able to accept that role and be OK with it?” MacLellan said. “He's pretty clear in his mind that he'll do whatever's asked of him.”
In seven games with the Caps, Kovalchuk averaged only 14:40 per game, but produced four points showing he can certainly still contribute offensively.
The best thing you can say about Dillon and Kovalchuk is that the Caps are a better team after the trade deadline with those additions. How much better, however, remains to be seen.
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