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Capitals vs. Maple Leafs Playoffs 2017: Three reasons to be confident in the Caps against the Maple Leafs

Capitals vs. Maple Leafs Playoffs 2017: Three reasons to be confident in the Caps against the Maple Leafs

Earlier I wrote 3 reasons why the Toronto Maple Leafs could do the unthinkable and pull off the upset over the Washington Capitals. As Game 1 draws closer (7 p.m., CSN), let's take a more positive look. Here are three reasons why you should feel confident that Washington will be able to get the job done in the first round.

1. Braden Holtby

One thing Washington did not have in the infamous Montreal series of 2010 was a dependable goalie. Jose Theodore started the first two games of the series but was pulled in Game 2 with a .875 save percentage and 3.70 GAA. That’s bad. Semyon Varlamov took over for Theodore and was better, but still not great with a .908 save percentage and 2.41 GAA. Braden Holtby currently has the best save playoff save percentage ever at .938. Varlamov was not the ultimate downfall of the Caps in 2010, but Washington led the series 3-1 after four games. How different would that series have been with better goaltending through those first four games?

RELATED: Who Trotz believes can be an x-factor for the Caps

2. Toronto’s defense

The Maple Leafs seem to have an aversion to two-goal leads given how often they seemed to give them away. Of all 16 playoff teams, no one allowed more goals per game in the regular season (2.85) than Toronto. That defense also took a hit with the news that Nikita Zaitsev will miss Game 1, Washington’s offense should be able to make short work of the Maple Leafs’ blue line.

3. Toronto’s Inexperience

The Caps may have struggled to go deep into the postseason the last few years, but over time they still have accumulated a good amount of playoff experience. Coming into this series, Washington has 1,017 games of combined playoff experience. Toronto? Only 292. Experience matters in the postseason. Inexperience is why things spiraled out of Columbus’ control Wednesday against Pittsburgh. Inexperience is why Edmonton gave up a 2-0 lead at home against San Jose on Wednesday. Inexperience is a big reason why no one is giving Toronto much of a chance in this series.

MORE CAPITALS: Trotz mum on Carlson's status for Game 1

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Barry Trotz finds contract he was looking for, officially named New York Islanders new head coach

Barry Trotz finds contract he was looking for, officially named New York Islanders new head coach

Barry Trotz did not remain unemployed for very long.

Trotz, who led the Capitals to the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup title, resigned from his post less than a week after the team's championship parade in Washington, D.C.

But on Thursday, the Capitals' now former bench boss was officially named the head coach of the New York Islanders.

Trotz's contract was expected to expire at the end of the 2017-18 season, but upon winning the Stanley Cup, an automatic two-year extension was triggered, raising his $1.5 million yearly salary by $300,000. But Trotz wanted to be compensated as one of the top five coaches in the NHL.

While the terms of his deal have yet to be finalized, according to Elliotte Friedman, Trotz's deal could be in the 5-year, $20 million range.

With the Islanders, Trotz inherits a team that finished 35-37-10 last season under head coach Doug Weight, despite having John Tavares, one of the best centers in the NHL, and several young studs like Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle, and Josh Ho-Sang. But Tavares enters the offseason as a free agent, and many teams will be looking to pay top-dollar for his services. 

Trotz will report to Lou Lamoriello, who was named the Islanders' president and general manager in May after spending three seasons in the same role with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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The Caps' Cup-winning roster is a lesson in building through the draft

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USA TODAY Sports

The Caps' Cup-winning roster is a lesson in building through the draft

Every year, the Stanley Cup-winning team shows the importance of building through the draft. This year, that team is the Washington Capitals.

With the NHL Draft starting on Friday, let’s break down the Capitals roster from the playoffs to see just how it was put together.

Acquired by the draft: Nicklas Backstrom, Madison Bowey, Travis Boy, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Shane Gersich, Philipp Grubauer, Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Alex Ovechkin, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Nathan Walker, Tom Wilson

Acquired as a free agent: Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson, Brett Connolly, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Devante Smith-Pelly

Acquired by trade: Lars Eller, Jakub Jerabek, Michal Kempny, T.J. Oshie

The first thing to note is that the vast majority of Washington’s roster is made up of draft picks. Specifically, the majority of the Caps’ top six on offense, three of its top six defensemen and both goalies were drafted by the team.

Of the free agent signings, only two were big money players in Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. In 2014, defense was a major question mark for the Caps and Brian MacLellan made a splash as the new general manager by signing both blue liners to big deals. The majority of the signings, however, are cheap, low risk and high reward players.

Finally, the trades include players who filled obvious needs. The Caps needed Oshie to shore up the top six, Eller was brought in to be the third line center, Kempny stepped in as a top-four defenseman and Jerabek was brought in for defensive depth.

So what does this show us?

First, the draft is absolutely critical to building a team’s core. True superstar players are hard to come by. Once a team gets one, they do everything they can to keep them. The draft is a team's first opportunity to acquire a certain player and, if they have superstar potential, sign them long-term. John Tavares this season looks headed to free agency and the buzz around him stems from the fact that he is very much the exception, not the rule. The base of the Caps’ Stanley Cup team was built by drafting star players like Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Carlson, Holtby, etc.

This also shows the importance of the draft for depth. In the salary cap era, teams need to find enough cap room for their stars and their depth players. Having young players is absolutely critical because their low cap hit allows for the team to sign the expensive stars and make the important addition in free agency  or by trade. This is a formula that only works if those young players are productive as well.

Players like Vrana and Burakovsky, for example, played big roles in the playoff run, but also carried low cap hits.

So the Caps built a core through the draft and filled key roles with trades and mostly cheap free agent signings.

There is no formula for how to win a Stanley Cup, if there was everyone would do it, but this is about as close as you can come to one. A team has to draft very well and then build around those draft picks to be successful. You cannot hope to build simply through trades and free agency because of the cost. Trades always require sending an asset the other way and very often that asset turns out to be prospects or draft picks. Free agency, meanwhile, requires team overpay for top targets leading to serious cap trouble down the line.

There are always trades and free agent signings that prove to be important, but those are only pieces to a much large puzzle. To win a Stanley Cup, you have to build through the draft.

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