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.
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
Healthy scratches: Chandler Stephenson, Taylor Chorney
- 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?
- What can the Caps expect from Ovechkin going forward?