Believe it or not, summer is winding down and it is time to think about the 2021-22 hockey season. Andrew Gillis and JJ Regan will discuss the biggest questions surrounding the Caps heading into the new season.
Today's topic: Will the Capitals' veterans avoid a drop-off?
Andrew: I think the basic, and simple answer, is that they cannot.
Alex Ovechkin, as talented as he is, will be 36 once the regular season begins. John Carlson will be 31. Nicklas Backstrom will be 34 one month into the season. T.J. Oshie will be 35 just before Christmas. They are great players, but age comes for us all.
The Capitals have long been able to avoid severe drop-offs due to talented shooting and goaltending ability, but at some point, age will catch up to the team’s top players — even the generational ones.
The way to mitigate that is to put some of their most talented players in advantageous positions on the ice, with players that can drive play. Anthony Mantha, who will be 27 at the season’s open, is a strong possession player and can be used on a line to play anywhere in the lineup. Daniel Sprong, still just 24, is a talented player that can benefit any line he plays on.
The simple answer is that the Capitals will need their veteran players to hang on for a few more years as useful players to a lineup — and there’s no indication they won’t be at least that. But in the meantime, they’ll need younger players to help them out on each line/defensive pairing.
There is generational talent on the Capitals’ roster, but it’s hard to imagine age won’t catch up to them in some way, shape or form this season.
JJ: Father Time is undefeated and the 2020-21 season was the first time we saw the dramatic impact of age on this roster, as Washington just could not stay healthy. In terms of production, however, all the top veterans were great again. The top three goal scorers and the top four leaders in points on the team were all over the age of 30.
There are reasons to think those players will remain productive. They remain the top players on the team so all of them should continue to get heavy workloads and ice time. There is not a younger generation taking over for Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and John Carlson. Those four players are also four of the five players on the top power play unit. As long as that unit remains productive, those players will continue to rack up points.
But again, Father Time is undefeated.
It's not that I expect a dramatic drop-off in production from Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie and Carlson, it's just that I have a hard time believing that none of them will start to show their age.
Considering how incredible it is that Ovechkin is doing what he's doing at his age, what are the odds that three of his teammates are also able to defy the odds as long as he has?
In addition to the top players, Carl Hagelin is 33, Lars Eller is 32, Nic Dowd is 31, Justin Schultz is 31, Dmitry Orlov is 30, Nick Jensen is 30 and Michal Kempny is 30. Surely some of those players are going to start to look their age.
So while I do not expect the Caps' veterans to go from elite NHL playmakers to invalid over the course of a single offseason, I also do not expect the entire roster to remain impervious to age. Maybe it's injury, maybe it's production, but we are going to see some kind of a drop-off somewhere in the lineup.