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20 offseason Caps questions: What can we expect from Ovechkin going forward?

20 offseason Caps questions: What can we expect from Ovechkin going forward?

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.

Alex Ovechkin's 33 goals last season represented a 17-goal decline from the previous campaign and a 20-goal drop from the year before that. An optimist might point out that the Caps' captain has some experience in rebounding from a downturn; he saw a precipitous dip in his goal production between from 2010-2012, then walked off with four straight Rocket Richard trophies. A pressimist, on the other hand, probably would point to the fact that he's not getting any younger and he's logged some hard miles since that last bounce back.

Which brings us to today's question: What can the Caps expect from Ovechkin going forward?

Sorenson: Over the past three years I have seen an Alex Ovechkin who has become increasingly more hungry to win a Stanley Cup and solidify his legacy as one of the best hockey players of all time. This past season was an extreme disappointment, and that’s an understatement. I believe Ovechkin will come back this season with a new sense of focus.  

He has been asked to slim down, to become a leaner, less bulky winger. He will work this summer to do so, and return with an objective of scoring more goals, doing whatever it takes to make that happen. Mike Knuble recently told me if Ovechkin wants to score from the dirty areas, he will have to completely buy into that aspect of the game. I believe Ovechkin will do so, as he sees the window to win a championship get smaller and smaller. He will be desperate, and will help lead by example to see that Washington brings home a Stanley Cup.  

He has repeatedly said how he has talked too much already, it’s time to make it happen. As he reaches his 32nd birthday, the time is now, and I expect a hungry and focused captain to return to DC in September.

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El-Bashir: To me, Ovechkin himself will play the biggest role in determining how much of a force he'll be next season. Of course, time on ice, shot rate, linemates, etc. will be big factors, too. But I'm focusing on the area where I suspect it all begins: how the Caps' captain approaches his training this summer.

The game has evolved; it's gotten younger and faster. Ovechkin can't change the former, but he can control the latter by adapting how he works. GM Brian MacLellan summed up Ovechkin's challenge in a few blunt sentences in late May. "He’s going to have to train in a different way, a more speed way than a power way," Mac said before pointing out that Ovi also needs to find a way to be more effective at even strength. Ovechkin's 16 even strength goals were the fewest he's scored in a non-lockout season.

"You have to be able to forecheck," MacLellan added. "There’s a lot of backside pressure. He’s going to have to evolve into that type of player to play top minutes... Five-on-five goals is going to be the key for him, how much he can create 5-on-5."

Ovechkin, in my opinion, could also benefit from trimming down a bit from 239-pounds the team listed him at last season. It's not a new idea; 30-somethings have always attempted to shed pounds as they age to compensate for the loss of natural explosiveness. My take: If Ovi takes to heart the need to change his offseason approach, busts his butt the next couple of months, slims down a bit and gains a half step, I think 40 goals remains well within his reach for at least the next couple of years. 

Regan: Alex Ovechkin will turn 32 before the start of next season. Let’s face it, the days of 50-goal seasons are behind him. But let’s also not overreact to what that means. Along with T.J. Oshie, he was still tied for the team lead in goals with 33 and part of that had to do with his reduced playing time. I do not expect his production to simply fall off a cliff and I still see him scoring somewhere in the 30-35 goal range.

Age is a factor as well as playing style—he simply can’t bull rush a defense the way he used to—but for the first time in his career, I believe his role will also be a factor. This team is not as deep as it has been and the Caps will need to spread their talent through the lineup to compensate. Both wingers from the second line, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams, are gone and I believe we could see Ovechkin in more of a second-line role next season.

Barry Trotz will continue to monitor his playing time and his time on ice average will remain much closer to the 18:21 he had last season than the over 20 minutes he is used to getting. He will retain his spot as the team’s leading scorer, but it is going to be as a 35-goal scorer rather than a 50-goal scorer.

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Capitals' T.J. Oshie had so much fun golfing, drinking through shirt again at celebrity golf tournament

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Capitals' T.J. Oshie had so much fun golfing, drinking through shirt again at celebrity golf tournament

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo may have won the American Century Championships celebrity golf tournament this weekend, but T.J. Oshie definitely had the most fun.

Using the Modified Stableford scoring format for the tournament — which included several pro and retired athletes, such as Steph Curry, Aaron Rodgers, Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, Charles Barkley and Joe Pavelski — Oshie finished with 11 points, tying for 48th with NFL Hall of Famer Tim Brown and Golf Channel host Lisa Cornwell. 

But the Capitals' winger's score didn't really matter because Oshie was out on the Lake Tahoe golf course in Nevada just having fun with his family and continuing the epic celebration as a new Stanley Cup champion. Obviously, that meant playing and chugging a beer through his t-shirt as 'We Are The Champions' played.

His brother, Taylor, was his caddy, and at one point, Oshie borrowed his brother's beer helmet while putting. He sunk it, and it was amazing.

Yeah, Oshie had a great weekend. Here's a look at some other moments from his weekend on Lake Tahoe.

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Key Caps questions: How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

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Key Caps questions: How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: How will the Caps look different under new head coach Todd Reirden?

Tarik: It’s an important topic, but let’s not overthink this one. Since winning the Stanley Cup on June 7, the organization has pretty much telegraphed EXACTLY what it hopes will occur in 2018-19. Consider:

  • Todd Reirden was promoted after spending four years as Barry Trotz’s assistant, including the last two years as an associate coach with an expanded role. Reirden already knows everyone, from the players to the trainers and other support staff. He knows what buttons to push and when to push them. There’s a built-in comfort level and trust that should allow everyone to hit the ground running in September.
  • Four of Reirden’s assistants are holdovers, too. The one newcomer, Reid Cashman, is joining the group from Hershey and is a Reirden disciple. So, no adjustment period there, either.
  • Assuming restricted free agent Tom Wilson re-ups (and that would seem to be a very safe assumption), the Caps are bringing back 11 of the 12 forwards that were on the ice for Game 5 in Las Vegas. They’re also bringing back five of six defensemen. And the starting goaltender. Chemistry is a hard thing to explain and/or quantify. But you know when a team has it. And the Caps had it at the end of last year.

So if you look at what GM Brian MacLellan has been doing in recent weeks—and have been listening to what Reirden has been saying publicly—you can only come to one conclusion. The decision-makers feel they discovered the right mix of personnel and systems play at the end of the playoffs, from the defensive structure to special teams. In fact, they were first in goals per game, second-best on the power play and the fourth stingiest team in the postseason.

“Many of my [philosophies] were involved in how we were going to play, how our team was going to look, the identity that we had,” Reirden said on The Junkies recently, referring to last year’s game plan. “So, from a systems standpoint, I would say not much is going to change, at least initially, just because it seemed to work. …You’ll see much of the same.”

That doesn’t mean Reirden won’t make adjustments. He will because he’ll have to over the course of an 82-game regular season and, hopefully, another long postseason run. But it does underscore the fact that the foundation upon on which last year’s championship team was built is going to look awfully familiar. And that's clearly by design.

JJ:  The message from the Caps ever since Reirden was promoted to head coach has been one of consistency as they try to make a seamless transition to the new head coach. In that sense, we probably won't see many changes at all to start the season.

The Capitals just won the Stanley Cup and general manager Brian MacLellan worked to bring almost the exact same roster back for next season. Coming into the locker room saying there's a new sheriff in town and making drastic changes is not the way to go here

But that doesn't mean Reirden will do things the same way.

Reirden has coached at the college, AHL and NHL level. He has seen firsthand how Dan Bylsma won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and how Trotz did it in Washington. He also saw what didn't work.

Reirden got to this point by developing relationships with the players. He is much more of a players' coach than Trotz and that will be evident in training camp. I also expect there will be a much greater emphasis on development. Trotz famously said to the media that the NHL was not a development league, but a performance league. I expect Reirden to take a different approach.

After failing to win with veteran-laden teams, the Caps finally hoisted the Cup last season after getting significant contributions from young prospects such as Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey. Like it or not, the Caps' core will not last forever. Every year those players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson get another year older. I do not believe a coach who is as good at reaching players and developing them as Reirden is will be quite as reluctant to reach down onto the farm and sprinkle youth throughout his lineup whenever the team needs a spark.

It should not be lost on anyone that one of Reirden's new assistant coaches this year will be Reid Cashman, promoted from being an assistant with the Hershey Bears in the AHL. This is all good news for players like Lucas Johansen, Jonas Siegenthaler and Connor Hobbs, the team's three best defensive prospects who are hoping to have an impact at the NHL level sooner rather than later. The Caps roster is pretty loaded, but at the very least you can expect Reirden to have a hand in helping those players along at training camp.

Ultimately, the product on the ice is going to look almost exactly the same at the start of the season with the biggest changes coming off the ice. We won't see who Reirden is as an NHL coach, however, until we let the full 82-game season play out.

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