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20 Offseason Caps questions: Which veteran do the Caps most need to step up?

20 Offseason Caps questions: Which veteran do the Caps most need to step up?

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.     

From purely a talent standpoint, the 2016-17 Capitals’ roster was arguably the deepest ever assembled in Washington. That, however, won’t be the case next season as the cap-strapped Caps are forced to say goodbye to a few productive players this summer and backfill those holes with younger and less experienced replacements. That, in turn, is going to put more pressure on returning core players to step up in order to compensate for that lost production.

Today’s question: Which veteran do the Caps most need to step up next season?

Sorenson: It’s hard to believe I’m about to call Tom Wilson a veteran, but after four years in the league, this 23-year-old is now a veteran. The right wing had a bit of a coming out party against his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, in the playoffs this season as his move to the third line brought out the best in the young winger. Wilson has had two straight seasons with seven goals, but two years ago he finished with 23 points, this past season he had fewer assists and recorded 19 points. I would like to see Wilson step up and grab hold of that third line right wing position next season. He has the ability and talent to score 15-20 goals a season, and his net front presence is desperately needed for the Capitals to score more goals. Playing on a third line with Lars Eller should at least double Wilson’s goal output, if not increase it even more.  He has established himself as one of the toughest forwards to play against physically, now it’s time to use his physical game to step up offensively.

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Regan:  Does a 22-year-old Andre Burakovsky count as a veteran? The Caps may well lose T.J. Oshie and will almost certainly lose Justin Williams to free agency. That is 57 goals worth of production the team must account for next season. Where are those goals going to come from? This team’s younger players are going to be asked to take more responsibility next season and you can put Burakovsky at the top of that list. He is going to have a top-six role and may even see time on the top line, judging by how Barry Trotz used him at the end of the postseason. Washington needs him to be a 20+ goal scorer and a consistent point producer, something he has struggled with throughout his career. It starts with having the right mentality in the offseason. Burakovsky has struggled with early-season slumps in the past as he does not always come into camp in the greatest shape. That needs to change. He needs to be 100-percent committed at all times from the offseason through the postseason. The Caps may need him to be a top-six player next season, but that is a role that a player ultimately has to earn.

El-Bashir: My answer may seem a bit obvious, but it needs to be said anyway: Alex Ovechkin is, without a doubt, the veteran the Caps most need to step up next season. He wasn’t happy with his production this past season (33 goals, including 16 at even strength—his lowest in a non-lockout year) and neither was GM Brian MacLellan, who said bluntly, “I think he had a down year.” The question now is whether Ovechkin’s goal total will continue to decline or whether he’ll find a way stabilize his production and finish the next few seasons as a top-10 goal scorer. He wasn’t far off this past season; one more goal would have pushed No. 8 into the top-10. For that to happen next winter, he’ll have to lay the groundwork this summer. Ovechkin will be 32 in September and he’s logged a lot of hard miles given his rugged style of play and the additional wear-and-tear from international tournaments. He’ll need to adjust his offseason approach accordingly—he knows it and the Caps know it, too. MacLellan mentioned recently that Ovi needs to adapt to the times and add more speed training to his June and July regimen. Ovechkin, himself, said that he needs to work harder this offseason, seemingly acknowledging that he must compensate for getting older. When I spoke to 35-year-old Justin Williams last summer about maintaining quickness and explosiveness, he told me that he’s worked hard to shed a few pounds and it has helped. It’s unclear if Ovechkin, who is listed at 239-pounds, plans to follow suit but it probably wouldn’t hurt as he attempts to keep up with a game that’s getting younger and faster. As they say, Father Time is undefeated. Will the Caps' most expensive player be proactive and begin fighting back? They had better hope so.

MORE CAPITALS: Ovechkin dresses as Darth Vader for charity

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Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

In what is perhaps the most unexpected Stanley Cup Final pairing in recent memory, the Washington Capitals and the Las Vegas Golden Knights are going to make history this year.

Either it is going to be the first expansion team to win a title in their first season, or it will be a team looking to end a 27-year title drought for one of the biggest cities in the United States.

But what it will not be is the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup.

Going even farther back than the Capitals last Stanley Cup appearance (1998), the Georgetown Hoyas and UNLV Rebels met in the 1991 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Sin City took the first, and up until now, the only postseason bout between these two cities. The Larry Johnson-led University of Las Vegas squad powered right past the Hoyas in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

[D.C. sports and Second Rounds, I know right?]

Coming fresh off the NCAA title in 1990, UNLV waltzed right to the Final Four before meeting their demise against Duke. It also ended up being the last game for Dikembe Mutombo in a Georgetown uniform.

While in all likely-hood this will not be the final game/ series for Alex Ovechkin rocking the red, it may be his last and only chance for him to play this far into a postseason.

In the past two seasons, Vegas has gone from zero professional teams to having a Stanley Cup contender, a WNBA franchise, and lined up to take over the Oakland Raiders in 2020. 

Now time for the Golden Knights' Cinderella story to come up a little bit short. 

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Capitals listed as underdogs in their first Stanley Cup since 1998

Capitals listed as underdogs in their first Stanley Cup since 1998

The odds have never gone the way of the Washington Capitals.

After years of being the common pick to finally break through and win the Stanley Cup, this was most definitely not the year.

Yet, here we are with the Capitals as one of the final two teams standing.

For their upcoming Stanley Cup Final, the Caps are the underdogs against the Las Vegas Golden Knights.  The opening line from OddsShark has the Golden Knights as -135 money line favorites to win the Stanley Cup. The Capitals were listed as +115 underdogs.

Vegas (the betting entity, not the team) has not exactly been the most reliable this year though. After all, the Golden Knights were 100/1 odds to win the whole thing. Now they are four games away.

In their past two series, Washington was not the favorites. The Capitals have not been favorites since the First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

For years in the Alex Ovechkin era, they have been the favorites to not only go on to play for the Stanley Cup but winning it.

In 2018 they started the season tied for the fifth best odds to win the Cup (14/1), one of their lowest opening marks in the past decade. For the full perspective, Washington was tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs and behind the Dallas Stars at the start of the season.

Without question this underdog role has fit them quite well, they shouldn’t want anything to change heading into the biggest postseason series in 20 years for Washington D.C.

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