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20 offseason Caps questions: Who'll be on the Caps' opening night roster?

20 offseason Caps questions: Who'll be on the Caps' opening night roster?

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.

In 85 days, the puck will drop on the Capitals' 2017-18 season. And while the lineup on Oct. 5 will have a familiar feel to it, there will be some significant changes. Gone are Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Daniel Winnik, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk. Who'll serve as the replacements? That's a good question. Below, Jill, J.J. and Tarik make their opening night lineup predictions using players who are currently under contract. 

Sorenson: Wow. Well when I lay it all out on the screen in front of me, those lines sure look weird! It becomes so apparent how much the Caps actually lost. The Marcus Johansson trade leaves a big hole in that top six, and on my second line, I will be looking for Brett Connolly to really step up. I chose Connolly in that second right wing spot over Wilson, because at this point, I’m looking for more speed with Ovechkin on the other side. I would change that in a second if Ovechkin comes to training camp 15-20 pounds lighter (and thus faster) and put Wilson on the other side of Kuznetsov as the net-front presence and protector on that line. Troy Mann has called on Jakub Vrana to up his mental game, and I’m confident he will do that. But the most exciting addition from a forward perspective is to see Nathan Walker make his historic NHL debut! I predict that opening night he will become the first Australian to play in an NHL regular season game. As for the defense, Taylor Chorney is a no brainer to start the year- a steadying presence that will allow John Carlson to add on the offensive side. And I really look forward to Madison Bowey’s NHL debut.

Vrana -Eller-Wilson



El-Bashir: Not only have the names changed, so has the makeup and structure of the Caps' capped-out roster. Basically, there's going to be a bunch of vets who count $5 million or more against the cap (Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Oshie, Niskanen, Orpik, Orlov and Holtby) and, well, everyone else. It's not ideal, but it's what you end up with after going "all in" for a few years. Now, on to my lineup. The key for the forwards, in my opinion, is going to be Vrana. If he can lock down a spot in the top-six, things kinda fall into line. If he doesn't, that'll cause some problems as Coach Barry Trotz will need to move up someone who is probably better served playing in the bottom-six. As you can see, I've got Walker and Stephenson securing roles (think waivers), but I also don't think DSP (266 NHL games) will go to the pressbox quietly. On the backend, I suspect Ness' experience (39 NHL games) could give him an edge over the kids, at least to start. Ditto for Chorney, who has appeared in 73 games for the Capitals the past two seasons. Djoos sticks (again, waivers) and sees his role grow as he gains experience. Overall, I think there's going to be a decent amount of tinkering along the blue line. At various points, whether it's due to injury or someone struggling, I'd also expect to see Bowey, Lewington and potentially Johansen and Siegenthaler, too, in Washington's lineup. Is that a Presidents' Trophy winning lineup? Probably not. But it should be good enough to get the Caps into the tournament. 




Extras: Djoos (D), Smith-Pelly (RW) 

Regan: To do this, I went back and reread the transcript from Brian MacLellan’s conference call with the media following the Marcus Johansson trade. MacLellan always says a lot if you read between the lines. He praised the Burakovsky-Backstrom-Oshie line, said Vrana has “a legitimate ability to play in the top-six level” and basically spelled out that Connolly-Eller-Wilson would be the third line. He also talked about the need to have good penalty killers like Walker and Stephenson. Ultimately Barry Trotz and not MacLellan will pick the lines, but Trotz is entering the last year of his contract and has not gotten an extension yet so perhaps MacLellan’s words will carry more weight. Since Djoos would have to clear through waivers, I see him spending most if not all of the NHL season with the Caps. Let’s also remember that the opening night lineup is often a reward for good work in training camp and the preseason. If I had to guess, I would say Chorney plays more games this season than Djoos, but I could see the young prospect getting the early reward with a spot on opening night.

Andre Burakovsky –Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Jakub Vrana
Brett Connolly – Lars Eller – Tom Wilson
Nathan Walker – Jay Beagle – Devante Smith-Pelly

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Christian Djoos – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Madison Bowey

Braden Holtby
Philipp Grubauer

Healthy scratches: Chandler Stephenson, Taylor Chorney

Previous questions:

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Brooks Orpik's time in Washington may not be over after all

Brooks Orpik's time in Washington may not be over after all

Friday's trade with the Colorado Avalanche seemed to mark the end of Brooks Orpik's time with the Washington Capitals. But that may not actually be the case.

Trading away Orpik also meant trading away his $5.5 million cap hit. That is not an insignificant amount of money especially for a team trying to re-sign defenseman John Carlson to a big-money contract.

But Orpik will not be playing out the final year of his contract in Colorado. The Avalanche placed Orpik on unconditional waivers Saturday for the purpose of a buyout, according to Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.

CapFriendly has the details of the buyout. The Avalanche will pay Orpik $3 million and take a cap hit of $2.5 million in the 2018-19 season and $1.5 million in the 2019-20 season.

So why would Colorado agree to take Orpik just to buy him out and take on dead cap space? Because by acquiring him, it lowered the cost of the Grubauer trade.

What this means for Brooks Orpik is that he will become a free agent, free to sign with anyone for the upcoming season. Including Washington.

For a 37-year-old defenseman who does not boast great mobility or speed, a $5.5 million cap hit was a bit too steep for the Caps who were very close to the cap ceiling last season and who need that extra money to re-sign their free agents. But the team did value Orpik's leadership and that could be especially important as young defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos continue developing plus prospects Jonas Siegenthaler, Lucas Johansen and Connor Hobbs all try to work themselves into contention for a spot on the NHL roster.

If Orpik does return, it will be a masterstroke for general manager Brian MacLellan. MacLellan freed up a lot of cap space to re-sign Carlson without having to buy out Orpik's contract, but could still possibly keep him on the roster at a much-reduced cost.

After a strong playoff performance, there may be other teams vying for Orpik's services next season. Getting traded to get bought out likely isn't a good feeling, but considering he just won a Stanley Cup in Washington, the defensive guru Todd Reirden is expected to be promoted to head coach and that re-signing with the Caps would mean not moving his family for what could very possibly and will very likely be the last contract of his NHL career, there are a lot of reasons why it would make sense for both the team and the player if Orpik stayed with the Caps.


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2018 NHL Draft: Caps add 7 prospects, 4 from WHL


2018 NHL Draft: Caps add 7 prospects, 4 from WHL

The Caps made seven selections in the 2018 Draft this weekend. The group featured three defensemen, three forwards and a goalie. Interestingly, a couple of the picks have fathers who enjoyed lengthy NHL careers.

Meet the newest prospects:

1st round, 31st overall: D Alexander Alexeyev, WHL, 6'4", 196 pounds

The Caps' first first-round pick sine 2016, Alexeyev is a smart two-way defenseman with good size.

Read more on him here.

2nd round, 46th overall (from Florida, via New Jersey): D Martin Fehervary, Allsvenskan (Sweden), 6'2", 194 pounds

A physical style defenseman who is very strong in his own end, but does not have much offensive upside. Sort of a throwback style of play which makes him a surprise pick this high.

2nd round, 47th overall (From Colorado): F Kody Clark, OHL, 6'1", 179 pounds

Kody Clark boasts an NHL pedigree as the son of Wendel Clark, a first-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs who recorded 330 goals and 564 career points in 763 NHL games.

3rd round, 93rd overall: F Riley Sutter, WHL, 6'3", 203 pounds

Riley Sutter also boasts a strong NHL pedigree as the son of Run Sutter and nephew of Darryl Sutter.

Riley is a power forward who played alongside Caps prospect Garrett Pilon on the Everett Silvertips in the WHL and recorded 53 points in 68 games last season.

4th round, 124th overall: G Mitchell Gibson, NAHL, 6'1", 187 pounds

A Harvard commit, Gibson posted a 1.59 GAA and .935 save percentage in the NAHL last season.

6th round, 161st overall (from Vancouver): D Alex Kannok-Leipert, WHL, 5'11", 194 pounds

The Caps certainly saw something they liked in Kannok-Leipert as they traded up from 186 to get him. That pick, along with a sixth-round pick in 2019, went to Vancouver.

7th round, 217th overall: F Eric Florchuk, WHL, 6'2", 174 pounds

Florchuk was taken with the last pick of the draft.