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20 offseason Caps questions: Which D prospects will make an impact for the Caps?

20 offseason Caps questions: Which D prospects will make an impact for the Caps?

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.     

As GM Brian MacLellan goes about reshaping the Caps’ roster this summer, fans can be relatively certain of one thing: cap considerations will ensure that youth will be served in Washington next season. Young players already on the team are going to get more responsibility. And prospects that have been frozen out by veterans and good overall team health the past couple of years are finally going to get their turn. Over the next two days, we’re going to discuss some of the youngsters and where they might fit in.    

Today’s question: Which blue line prospect (s) will make an impact next year in Washington?

Sorenson: I think Washington’s future is very bright in Hershey and the Capitals would be wise to give more than a few of its Bears players 10-15 games each in the NHL this season. One of the blueliners I expect we’ll see on a regular basis is Madison Bowey. I thought we would see more of the Winnipeg native last season, after he turned in a few strong preseason performances with the Capitals before suffering an upper body injury. Things got worse for the young defenseman during the regular season while in Hershey as he missed two and a half months after having surgery to repair a partially severed tendon in his ankle. Bowey did manage to put up 14 points in 34 regular season games. When he returned in March, Bowey found his game in the postseason, scoring two goals and recording two assists in ten playoff games. At  6’2” 206 pounds, his size will serve him well as the Capitals want to see heavy play from speedy defensemen.

RELATED: Projecting the Caps' protected list for the expansion draft

Regan: Not only will Madison Bowey have an impact next year, I have him penciled in as Brooks Orpik’s partner on the third pair on opening night. With Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk expected to leave in free agency, the Caps have an opening on the third pair and I believe the hope is for a prospect to seize that role and not for there to be a constant rotation. I expect Bowey will stick with the NHL squad for most if not all of the season and be a regular in the lineup. Christian Djoos also has a chance. There’s no denying his talent, but at 6 feet, 161 pounds, he needs to bulk up. There is some excitement over 2016 first-round pick Lucas Johansen, but he has not yet played in an AHL game and is still someone who needs more time to develop. Jonas Siegenthaler needs more time as well to adjust to the North American game before we even begin to talk about him getting time in the NHL. There is a chance Tyler Lewington makes his NHL debut this season, but I think the ceiling is pretty low for him and I don’t have high expectations. To summarize, I expect Bowey to definitely have an impact and possibly Djoos.

El-Bashir: I expect a few blue line prospects to get a shot in Washington next winter, but I’m less bullish on the situation than JJ. I mean, there’s a chance Niskanen, Orlov, Schmidt, Carlson, Orpik and Chorney all return, giving the Caps at least six veteran options at a position where experience matters. If something were to change (ahem, Vegas, I’m looking at you) then, of course, things could open up considerably. And, based on how things unfolded in Hershey last season and a couple of conversations I’ve had with folks who watched the Bears closely, I suspect Christian Djoos, a smallish but dynamic puck-mover, will get a really good look in September. Listed at 6-foot, 161-pounds, he’s definitely on the light side, but his offensive game flourished in Hershey as he racked up 58 points (13 goals, 45 assists) in 66 games. Right-shooting Madison Bowey also figures to get strong consideration for a significant role with the Caps, though the 2013 second rounder’s development was stunted a bit by the injury Jill mentioned. My sleeper pick to see time in Washington next season is Tyler Lewington, who is tough, reliable in his own end and solid on the penalty kill. Jonas Siegenthaler is well-regarded but, as JJ said, he needs time in Hershey to adapt to the North American game. I suspect Aaron Ness is viewed as more of a call-up guy. So the bottom line for me is this: I don’t necessarily consider any of the defensive prospects as a lock to be in the opening night lineup. If it does happen, though, I’d expect Djoos and/or Bowey to be the guy (s) suiting up.

MORE CAPITALS: 20 questions: What should the Caps do about their No. 2 goalie?

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MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

Will Todd Reirden replace Barry Trotz as head coach of the Washington Capitals?

Based on what GM Brian MacLellan said Monday, it certainly sounds like it’s Reirden’s job to lose.

“We’re going to start with Todd here,” MacLellan said. “I think we’ve been grooming him to be a head coach, whether for us or someone else.”

“We’ll see how the talk goes with him and we’ll make a decision based on that,” MacLellan added. “If it goes well, we’ll pursue Todd. And if it doesn’t, we’ll open it up a little bit.”

MacLellan said he isn’t sure exactly when the interview with Reirden will take place. The front office needs a few days to regroup. It’s also a busy stretch in hockey’s offseason. In the coming two weeks, MacLellan will direct the NHL draft in Dallas, monitor development camp in Arlington and then call the shots when free agency begins on July 1.  

“We need to take a breather here but I think Todd is a good candidate for it,” MacLellan said. “I’d like to sit down with Todd and have a normal interview, head coaching interview. I think most of our discussions are just casual. It’s about hockey in general. But I’d like to do a formal interview with him and just see if there’s differences or how we’re seeing things the same and if he’s a possibility for the head coach.”

Reirden, 46, spent the past four seasons on Trotz’s bench. He was elevated to associate coach prior to the 2016-17 season after coming up just short in his pursuit of the head coaching position in Calgary.

Reirden’s primary responsibility on Trotz’s staff was overseeing the defense and Washington’s perennially potent power play.

Prior to joining the Capitals in 2014, he was an assistant coach for four seasons with the Penguins. And before that, he spent a couple of seasons as the head coach of AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins’ top minor league affiliate.

A native of Deerfield, Ill., Reirden also had a lengthy professional career that included 183 NHL games with the Oilers, Blues, Thrashers and Coyotes.

Asked what he’s looking for in the Caps’ next head coach, MacLellan said he’s looking for a forward-thinker, a strong communicator and a players’ coach.

Reirden is all of those things.

“Someone that's up to date on the modern game,” MacLellan said. “Someone that's progressive, looking to try different things. Someone that has a good relationship with players. They communicate, can teach, make players better. It's becoming a developmental league where guys are coming in not fully developed products and we need a guy that can bring young players along because more and more we're going to use young players as the higher end guys make more money.”

One of the side benefits of elevating Reirden is the fact he already has a strong relationship with many of the current players, meaning there won’t be much upheaval as the Caps look to defend their championship.

“It could be a natural transition,” MacLellan said. “But once we sit down and talk face to face about all the little small details in the team, I'll have a better feel for it.”

MacLellan said a decision on the other assistant coaches—Lane Lambert, Blaine Forsythe, Scott Murray, Brett Leonhardt and Tim Ohashi—will be made after the next head coach is named.

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Brian MacLellan explains the reasoning behind not extending Trotz before the 2017-18 season

Brian MacLellan explains the reasoning behind not extending Trotz before the 2017-18 season

As shocking as the news of Barry Trotz’s resignation on Monday felt, it probably shouldn’t have given that whether or not he would return to Washington after the 2017-18 season was a storyline all year long.

Trotz entered the 2017-18 season on the last year of his initial four-year deal leading to speculation over whether the team was dissatisfied with his results and ready to move on from the head coach when his contract expired. Teams typically do not allow a head coach to enter the final year of a contract so that they do not appear to the players to be a lame duck coach.

Ultimately, that turned out to not be a problem as Trotz led the organization to its first Stanley Cup in his contract year. While there was interest from both sides in an extension in the wake of winning the Cup, ultimately a new deal could not be agreed upon and now the defending champs are without a head coach.

This begs the question, could things have been different had the team worked out a new contract with Trotz before the 2017-18 season? The answer is almost certainly yes, so how did things get to the point where Trotz was allowed to go into 2017-18 without an extension?

During a press conference with the media on Monday, general manager Brian MacLellan explained the team’s reasoning in not extending Trotz in the summer of 2017.

“We were struggling at the time to get over the hump,” MacLellan said. “We couldn't get over the second round and Barry hadn't been able to coach out of the second round yet either.”

In 15 seasons with the Nashville Predators, Trotz was not able to coach his team past the second round in the playoffs. In his three seasons with Washington leading up to the 2017-18 campaign, he had led the Caps to two division titles and two Presidents’ Trophies, but again could not get past the second-round hump that had plagued both him and the team.

Based on MacLellan’s comments, another early playoff exit would have likely led to the team choosing to allow Trotz's contract to expire.

“I think from the organization's perspective, some changes would've had to be made if we lost in the second round again,” MacLellan said.

But what if instead the unthinkable happened? What if the Caps forced Trotz into a “prove it” contract year and he was able to lead the team to the Stanley Cup? Didn’t they risk losing him all along?

Yes and no.

MacLellan confirmed reports on Monday that Trotz’s contract included an automatic two-year extension “at an increased rate” if he won the Cup. So while both sides were negotiating an extension, technically Trotz was already under contract through the 2019-20 season.

In the summer of 2017, MacLellan had a choice to make. At the end of the two-year championship window, he could choose to extend a head coach who had not brought the team the type of postseason success he was hoping for, he could fire a coach who had just won two consecutive division titles, two Presidents’ Trophies and whose team was eliminated in the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, or he could ride out the final year of Trotz’s deal and, in the off chance the team won the Stanley Cup, still rest easy in the notion that Trotz would automatically remain under contract.

MacLellan went with option C. It almost worked.

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