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.
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.
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- 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?