Capitals

Capitals

The NHL season is almost here. Part of what makes hockey great is how unpredictable the sport can be over the course of the season. As the Capitals begin another quest for the Stanley Cup, just what will the new campaign have in store?

Here are six bold predictions for the upcoming season from Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals coorespondent J.J. Regan.

Tarik El-Bashir

Braden Holtby will become the first goalie since Martin Brodeur in 2006-07 and 2007-08 to win the Vezina Trophy in back-to-back seasons. I got to admit, I was among those who thought the lack of game action at the World Cup would hurt his mental and physical sharpness, at least to start to the season. Then he posted a 1.11 goals against average, a .957 save percentage and a shutout in four exhibition appearances. Sure, it was just the preseason but Holts is on point.

Dmitry Orlov will thrive in a top-four role. Orlov gambled on himself when he agreed to a one-year, $2.57 million contract on the eve of training camp. And it’s already starting to look like a shrewd bet. The proverbial light bulb came on for the talented 25-year-old while playing big minutes for Russia at the World Cup. I suspect that upward trajectory will continue over the next seven-plus months as his role grows in Washington.  

Evgeny Kuznetsov is going to flirt with 100 points. Yeah, I stopped short of saying Kuzy will get there after he led the Capitals with 77 points a year ago. But he’s going to play with Alex Ovechkin. He's also going to get off to a hot start thanks to playing in the World Cup. As a result, he’s going to be within striking distance of triple digits in the final week of the regular season.

 

RELATED: Caps make final cuts on Monday

J.J. Regan

The Capitals will trade for a defenseman. It wasn’t just the Capitals’ offensive depth that was exposed in the playoffs, it was their defensive depth as well. Brooks Orpik struggled tremendously and players cycled in and out of the third pairing. Apart from promoting Orlov to the top four, the team did little to address the defense in the offseason. Orlov has shown defensive improvement already in the World Cup and I think he can handle a larger role with the team, but I have questions as to whether John Carlson is the right partner for him, just like I have questions about Orpik’s durability and Chorney if he has a larger role than just spot duty. I have a hard time believing the team will ultimately feel comfortable with the same defensive core in the playoffs as they had vs. Pittsburgh.

Lars Eller will register 40+ points. When you watch video of Eller playing in Montreal and look at his stats, something just doesn’t add up. Eller’s talent jumps off the screen, but despite his skill, he has never scored more than 16 goals in a season and has reached 30 points only once. That shows you just how badly he was mismanaged by Michel Therrien in Montreal. Eller will thrive in his role in Washington and will easily surpass his career mark for points.

Philipp Grubauer will start at least 20 games. What exactly do the Caps have to play for in the regular season? The NHL’s new playoff format mitigates the benefit of playoff seeding as we saw last year when the Caps and Penguins met in the second round. That’s not to say Washington won’t try to win each and every night, but it does mean preparing for a playoff push is more important than cementing their spot atop the standings. With no wins record to pursue this year, the Caps will take greater care to make sure Braden Holtby is fresh for the playoffs. The Caps are not going to give him such a big work load this season and that will mean more starts for Grubauer.

MORE HOCKEY: CROSBY DIAGNOSED WITH A CONCUSSION