Lets assume, for the sake of argument, that the Capitals are not on Shane Doans list of potential free-agent destinations and that the asking price for Anaheim right wing Bobby Ryan is too steep for general manager George McPhee.
Are the Caps, as currently constructed, good enough to reclaim the Southeast Division for the fifth time in six years? Are they good enough to make the playoffs for the sixth straight season?
First, lets examine how they look at forward, defense and goaltending with a possible depth chart for 2012-13:
Alex Ovechkin Nicklas Backstrom Troy Brouwer
Wojtek Wolski Mike Ribeiro Brooks Laich
Jason Chimera Jay Beagle Marcus Johansson
Matt Hendricks Mathieu Perreault Joel Ward
Stanislav Galiev Mattias Sjogren - Joey Crabb
Karl Alzner John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik Mike Green
Jeff Schultz Dmitry Orlov
Jack Hillen John Erskine
Cam Schilling Tomas Kundratek
Braden Holtby Michal Neuvirth
Dany Sabourin Philipp Grubauer
Forwards: Up front, the Caps got deeper down the middle with the acquisition of Ribeiro, but may be weaker on the wing with the departure of Alex Semin. Last year, the Caps forwards produced 188 goals. This years group of forwards combined to score 183 goals last season. That includes 18 from Ribeiro, 11 from Crabb and four from Wolski.
In other words, the three new additions up from combined for 33 goals last season, one less than Semin 21, Mike Knuble 6, Jeff Halpern 4 and Keith Aucoin 3 totaled last season.
The Caps have to assume that Backstrom will have a bounce-back season after the 24-year-old center missed 40 games with concussion issues and finished with 14 goals and 30 assists in 42 games. Backstrom should benefit from having Hall of Fame center Adam Oates as his coach and veteran playmaker Ribeiro as his mentor.
Johansson, who netted 14 goals and 32 points in his second full season in the NHL, is entering a make-or-break season in Washington and could also benefit from Oates and Ribeiro. With the depth at center, Johansson is likely to be used on the wing, where hell be encouraged to shoot more.
The Caps can also expect increased offense from Brouwer, who is entering a contract year and should be capable of scoring between 25 and 30 goals after netting 18 last season.
Laich might also find himself moving from center to wing, where he could be the defensive safety valve on a line with Ribeiro and Wolski. Wolski, of course, is the Capitals wild card next season. If he plays on a second line with Ribeiro, he could return to the career highs he set 22 goals, 50 points as a rookie in 2006-07.
Defense: Much like the Caps offense revolves around Backstrom, their defense is anchored by Green. McPhee made a strong statement by giving Green a three-year, 18.25 million contract extension and the 26-year-old defenseman will need to reward the Caps by returning to the standards he set in 2009-10, when he posted a career-high 76 points.
Under Oates system Green is unlikely to match those numbers, but he will need to drastically improve on the seven points he produced in 32 games last season. If he can hit the 15-goal and 45-assist marks the Capitals likely will be in the hunt for the Southeast title. If his offensive regression continues, the Caps will struggle to score goals.
Green seemed to play best last season when paired with Hamrlik and the two will likely begin next season as the Caps second pair, behind Karl Alzner and John Carlson. Alzner has quietly become one of the NHLs top defensive blue liners and with a big raise coming, Carlson will be expected to improve on his nine goals and 23 assists.
The wild card on the Caps blue line will be the development of Orlov and Schilling. Orlov is coming off a promising rookie season in which he established himself as a big hitter and reliable presence at both ends of the ice. If he has a strong camp, he could challenge Hamrlik for a spot on the Caps second defense pairing.
If not, Orlov will find himself on a third unit with veteran Jeff Schultz or Jack Hillen. Schilling will also be given a long look at training camp and if Orlov looks capable of playing on a second unit, Schilling could be broken into the NHL with Hamrlik as his partner.
Goaltending: A year ago the Caps rolled the dice by giving Tomas Vokoun a risk-free one-year contract. Ironically, injuries to Vokoun and Neuvirth led to the coronation of Holtby, who became the third Caps goalie in as many seasons to tantalize fans in the post-season, joining Semyon Varlamov and Neuvirth.
For Holtby to prove he is the real deal, Oates will need to commit to him as the Caps No. 1 goalie and that means allowing him to experiences the peaks and valleys of a full NHL season. In other words, Holtby will have his share of growing pains next season and the Caps will need to endure them if they believe in the 22-year-olds potential as an everyday starter.
Just as importantly, Neuvirth, 24, will need to stay sharp and prove to himself, the Caps and the rest of the NHL that he is capable of carrying the load. If Neuvirth can do that, the Caps could be in a similar position as the Kings, who managed to win the Stanley Cup with Jonathan Quick beating out Jonathan Bernier between the pipes.
So what is your take? If the Caps enter next season with their current roster, are they better than last years club? Worse? About the same?And are they good enough to make the playoffs, let alone win the Southeast? Join the conversation below.