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Eastern Conference preview: How far can the Caps go?

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Eastern Conference preview: How far can the Caps go?

We are just one day away from Capitals hockey which means it's time for the most sacred of all preseason traditions: predictions. Today, we'll tackle the Eastern Conference. Saturday, we will take a look at the West and come up with a Stanley Cup winner.

Chuck Gormley previewed where teams would finish in both the Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions. Here's how that looks in terms of the playoffs:

Atlantic Divison

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning
  2. Montreal Canadiens
  3. Detroit Red Wings

In the playoffs we saw a breakout performance from the Tampa Bay Lightning that should translate into a strong regular season. Not only do I believe they will finish first in the division, I believe they will finish first in the conference. The only quibble I have with Gormley's prediction is Detroit. Mike Babcock is gone and Pavel Datsyuk can't stay healthy. I think there is a real chance the Red Wings snap their postseason streak and are passed by Florida, a team with a lot of young talent and a strong supporting cast of veterans such as Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo.

Metropolitan Division

  1. Washington Capitals
  2. Pittsburgh Penguins
  3. New York Rangers

Most predictions have these teams as the top three in some order. I would not have the Caps in the top spot, but I also wouldn't be surprised if they finished the season there.

Wild cards

  1. Columbus Blue Jackets
  2. New York Islanders

The Blue Jackets had a roster good enough to reach the playoffs last season, but they were destroyed by injuries. Now that roster is even better with the addition of Brandon Saad and, most importantly, they are healthy. They should be a playoff team this season. Based on Gormley's predicted order of finish, the second team will either be the Islanders or the Panthers. I know I just got done saying Florida would make it in over Detroit, but that's not the question now. If given the choice between the Islanders and Panthers, I think the Islanders are the better team so I will give John Tavares' squad the nod.

RELATED: Troy Brouwer scores in first game with the Blues

Conference Quarterfinals

1. Tampa Bay vs. 4. New York Islanders (2nd wild card)

Can Jaroslav Halak survive the offensvie onslaught of the Lighting in a best of seven series? I doubt it.

Winner: Tampa Bay

2. Montreal vs. 3. Detroit

Considering I don't think the Red Wings will even make it this far, it may seem odd that I could think they can beat Montreal, but the Canadiens are vulnerable. With Price having a historic season last year, Montreal still only made it to the second round. The Canadiens are bound to take a step back because they did not do enough to address their offensive woes and because Price will be hard-pressed to replicate last season's numbers. I like an upset here.

Winner: Detroit

1. Washington vs. 4. Columbus (2nd wild card)

This is a scary matchup for the Caps, especially with Sergei Bobrovsky in net and the Stanley Cup winning Saad. Let's give the Caps credit, however. Their roster is loaded and full of experience. The Blue Jackets, meanwhile, have made the playoffs once in the past six seasons and failed to advance out of the first round.

Winner: Washington

2. Pittsburgh vs. New York

The Penguins got the top-line forward they were so desperately seeking last season in Phil Kessel. With Kessel, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, how could this team lose? The Penguins will be great...in the regular season, but I have questions about their defense and their head coach. Mike Johnston bungled his way into the playoffs last season as the Penguins did everything they could to try and miss out on the playoffs altogether. They did eventually make it as a wild card team, only to be dispatched in five games by the Rangers. In this rematch, I have to go with New York.

Winners: New York Rangers

Conference Semifinals

Tampa Bay vs. Detroit

The best team in the conference against a Detroit team I do not think will make the playoffs. Hmm, tough choice. It's Tampa and it's not close.

Winner: Tampa Bay

Washington vs. New York Rangers

Because of course these two teams would meet again in the playoffs. It's almost required at this point. The Rangers peaked in 2014 when they reached the Stanley Cup Finals whereas the Caps have an even stronger team than the one that had the Blueshirts on the ropes with a 3-1 series lead last season. This is the year the Rangers realize they can't keep giving away first-round draft picks for mid-season trades and this is the year the Caps beat New York.

Winner: Washington

Conference Finals

Tampa Bay vs. Washington

The Caps will make the Conference Finals for the first time since the magical 1998 season, but they will have to face a potential juggernaut in Tampa Bay. We all know how important it is for teams to build through the draft and focus on their young talent. When a team scouts and drafts really well, they can develop a superstar team of young stars who fit under the cap because of their cheap contracts. That is what has happened in Tampa. It can be hard to keep those rosters intact in the long-term as those superstar players all want to get paid, so Tampa's championship window may be smaller than many believe. In the short term, however, this team is loaded. The Caps have one of the best rosters in team history, but I'm not sure they have enough to beat Tampa in a best of seven series.

Winner: Tampa Bay

So no, I do not have the Caps going all the way this year, but fear not Caps fans. These are preseason predictions which means I am bound to be wrong.

Be sure to check back on Saturday for a look at the Western Conference and a Cup prediction.

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Who are the Caps' award winners this season?

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Who are the Caps' award winners this season?

There won't be any suspense for the Capitals on Wednesday night during the NHL Awards show (8 p.m., NBCSN). Alex Ovechkin will receive the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's top goal scorer, but no other Caps are up for any other hardware.

Instead, let's give out some of our own.

If the NHL awards were reserved just for the Capitals, here's who would be getting each trophy for the 2017-18 season:

Calder Memorial Trophy (best rookie): Jakub Vrana

The Caps had nine players play for the team this season who qualified as rookies according to the NHL: Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek, Nathan Walker, Shane Gersich, Travis Boyd and Liam O'Brien. Each of the first four were certainly worthy of consideration.

Vrana gets the nod with his 13 goals and 27 points. His game did suffer some inconsistencies throughout the season, but each rookie experienced that as well. Djoos and Bowey played major roles for the Caps this season as both were called upon to be regular blue liners, but they were largely protected by how they were utilized by Barry Trotz.

The deciding factor for me was this: Who was a better fit this season, Vrana when he played in the top six or Djoos when he played in the top four? The answer for me was Vrana.

Lady Byng  Memorial Trophy (sportsmanship combined with high standard of play): Chandler Stephenson

Stephenson recorded 18 points and proved to be a valuable member of the bottom six, but what really stood out was how clean his game was.

Here's a look at the players with the fewest PIM for the Caps this season: Jerabek (0 PIM), Gersich (0), Boyd (2), Tyler Graovac (2), Walker (4), Anthony Peluso (4), O'Brien (5), Stephenson (8), Taylor Chorney (8), Aaron Ness (8).

Excluding Stephenson, Chorney played the most with 24 games. Everyone else played in 11 games or fewer. Stephenson played in 67.

Bill Masteron Memorial Trophy (perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey): Devante Smith-Pelly

This award is unique in that every team gets a nominee as voted on by each local chapter of the Pro Hockey Writer's Association (of which I am a member). All 31 candidates are then voted on by the PHWA at large. I will go with the Capitals' nominee from this season, Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly was bought out of his contract last season by the New Jersey Devils and came to the Caps on a two-way contract. He filled a key role for the Caps on the bottom-six all season despite a shaky training camp and played in 75 games with 16 points.

When faced with racial taunts from fans in Chicago, Smith-Pelly reacted with class and grace in the wake of the incident. The way he handled the situation allowed for a negative to turn into a positive as Chicago fans raised and donated $23,000 to Fort Dupont.

Frank J. Selke Trophy (best defensive forward): Jay Beagle

No Caps forward had a lower percentage of offensive zone starts than Beagle. His 58.5-percent faceoff win percentage was among the league's best. He also blocked 44 shots per game over the course of the season, sixth among the team's forwards, but he had less ice time than all but one of the five forwards ahead of him.

James Norris Memorial Trophy (best defenseman): John Carlson

This one's a slam dunk. Before Michal Kempny was brought on, defensive depth was the obvious weakness of the Caps even before an injury forced Matt Niskanen out of the lineup for 14 games. Carlson was called upon to play nearly 30 minutes a night and he proved himself capable of playing strong, hard minutes on both ends of the ice.

Carlson's 68 points led all defensemen in the league. In a contract year, he earned himself a lot of money with how he played this season.

Vezina Trophy (best goalie): Philipp Grubauer

This one was tough, but considering this is a regular season award, the nod has to go to Grubauer.

Yes, Braden Holtby played in 54 games, 19 more than Grubauer, and he earned 34 wins, 19 more than Grubauer managed. But Grubauer's superiority when it comes to the stats is undeniable.

Holtby: 54 GP, 34-16-4, .907 save percentage, 2.99 GAA, 0 shutouts
Grubauer: 35 GP, 15-10-3, .923 save percentage, 2.35 GAA, 3 shutouts

From Nov. 1 through the rest of the regular season, no goalie who appeared in at least 20 games had a better GAA than Grubauer and only two netminders recorded a better save percentage.

Grubauer stepped in to stabilize the Caps in net when Holtby was in the midst of the worst slump of his career and he helped Washington win the Metropolitan Division with a strong finish to the season, especially in a brilliant performance in Pittsburgh.

There is no doubt Holtby remains the Caps' No. 1 given what he did in the postseason and revisionist history will have many questioning why Grubauer started for the Caps at the beginning of the postseason. If you followed the team all year, however, there was no question who the stronger netminder was at the end of the regular season.

Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP): Alex Ovechkin

Who else?

Carlson comes in at a close second because of what he was tasked to do on defense, but Ovechkin was the MVP for this team.

Not only did he lead the team in points with 87, the Great 8 once again found the fountain of youth scoring 49 goals to lead the NHL after tallying just 33 the season before. His 49 goals accounted for over 19-percent of the Caps' goals this season. Had Ovechkin scored the same number of goals as he did last season, that would have knocked the Caps from 9th in goals all the way down to 15th. That's how important his resurgent offensive performance was to the team.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: Suddenly the Caps are in need of a head coach

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: Suddenly the Caps are in need of a head coach

Less than two weeks after winning the Stanley Cup, the Caps are in need of a new head coach.

Barry Trotz resigned as the Caps coach on Monday after he and the team failed to reach an agreement on a new contract. How did we get here and where do both parties go from here? JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir break it all down.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.