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.
- 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?
- Should the Caps look to the trade market for upgrades?