Another playoff disappointment—as well as a host of expiring player contracts—has left the Capitals with a ton of questions to answer this offseason. Over the next month, Jill Sorenson, JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir will take a close look at the 20 biggest issues facing the team as the business of hockey kicks into high gear.
The Caps have 17 players under contract for next season and are currently about $4.1 million under the $75 million salary cap ceiling, according to CapFriendly.com. Although that's enough room to flesh out the roster, it virtually assures an influx of rookies and other low-cost players in 2017-18, particularly on the blue line. Which brings us to today's question: With cap space tight and the first wave of free agency already over, should the Caps look to the trade market to find upgrades?
Sorenson: At this point, I don’t want the Caps to go to the trade market to find a defenseman. I realize everyone will think I’m crazy for this thought because they have been left short on the blue line with Nate Schmidt being selected by Las Vegas, but I want to see some young blueliners get a chance before they look to fill what they think is a need right now. Teams don’t develop and grow without throwing young players into the fire. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen the Caps be forced to do that. John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Schmidt didn’t develop into the players they are because they were seasoned when they played their first NHL games. They worked their way into the lineup. Brooks Orpik was signed for his leadership and now he will be captain of the blueline along with Matt Niskanen. Taylor Chorney is perfectly capable of playing while the Caps find out which defensemen can make it in the NHL. I think it will be necessary for Caps fans to watch young players make mistakes, learn from them, and move on. The Capitals didn’t succeed in bringing a championship home in their two-year window and now it’s time to build and develop young talent. If they need to add a veteran during the season or at the deadline, do it then. But I want to see the Caps give their young guys a shot. And who knows what will happen, there’s another team in the Metro who just won a Cup doing just that.
El-Bashir: In a word, no. Completing a trade that would benefit this year's roster would likely involve moving another big piece, and I'm not sure filling one hole while potentially creating another is what this team needs right now. When I look at the roster as currently constructed, I see a forward lineup that's strong down the middle (Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle) with a couple of high-end wings (Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie) as well as a couple of youngsters that could blossom with more responsibility (Andre Burakovsky and Tom Wilson). The blue line is where my main concern lies. Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson? No problem. But I suspect integrating a rookie (or perhaps two, depending on how things shake out) could put a lot of strain on a lineup that allowed the fewest goals per game (2.16) last season. In fact, it probably means the Caps will need both Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer to be as good, if not a tiny bit better, than they were last season to compensate for that increase in inexperience. I'm with Jill on this one. It's time to find out what Jakub Vrana, Christian Djoos, Madison Bowey, Nathan Walker and the other prospects who've been stuck in Hershey the past couple of years can do.
Regan: There are a few problems with the team looking to the trade market. First, everyone knows the Caps’ current cap situation and no one is going to do them any favors. That means they lose a bit of their leverage. Second, the Caps no longer are negotiating with the same depth they enjoyed last season. Washington doesn’t have forwards, defensemen, prospects or draft picks really to spare. If you dip into one of those assets, you are making the team weaker which defeats the purpose of the trade. The only real expendable piece the Caps have is Philipp Grubauer and the problem there, as we have seen, is that there is no market for goalies at this point. If there is a trade to be made in which the Caps can exchange Grubauer to upgrade the blue line then, by all means, pull the trigger. And for those of you pointing to the Pittsburgh Penguins as a reason why the Caps should keep both netminders for next season, that was true last year, but the Caps' are not in the same position of strength as they have been. They simply do not have enough depth on defense to scoff at the notion of trading Grubauer...if there was a market for him. Their best bet would be to wait for a team to suffer a goalie injury or somebody to underachieve. Once the phone calls start coming in, the Caps can name their price.
- What direction should the Caps take this summer?
- Should the Caps re-sign T.J. Oshie?
- Should the Caps re-sign Justin Williams?
- Should the Caps re-sign Karl Alzner?
- Should the Caps re-sign Brett Connolly?
- Can Andre Burakovsky take the next step?
- Is Schmidt ready for a top-four role?
- Which bottom-six forwards should the Caps protect from Vegas?
- What one area must Caps address for next season?
- Which veteran do the Caps need to step up?
- What should the Caps do about their No. 2 goalie?
- Which D prospects will make an impact next season?
- Which forward prospects will make an impact next season?
- Can the Caps count on Holtby to rebound from a shaky spring?
- Who should be the No. 1 center next season?
- Which free agent forwards should the Caps target?
- Which free agent defensemen should the Caps target?
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