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Grading the Caps' offseason moves: Letting Chimera and Latta go

Grading the Caps' offseason moves: Letting Chimera and Latta go

The quest for the Stanley Cup doesn't begin on the ice, but during the offseason as general managers build their teams for the upcoming campaign.

The Caps have made a number of moves this summer to try to make their team better and get over the playoff hump.

Let's break down and grade each move the team made this offseason to help figure out whether it was the right move for the team.

Today's move: Letting go of Jason Chimera and Michael Latta

It's always sad to see players go, especially one that has been with the team as long as Jason Chimera, but knowing when to walk away is part of the business.

After some struggles in his first season with Barry Trotz, Chimera thrived in the second year, tying a career high in goals with 20. His 40 points in 2015-16 were the second-highest of his career. But at 37 years old, how much could the Caps reasonably expect to get from him next season?

Selling high seems to be a lost art in professional sports. Contracts are supposed to be based on what you believe a player will do, not what he did. Chances are Chimera, a player who's biggest asset is his speed, is not going to hit 40 points again.

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Let's also consider what his role would next season. After trading for Lars Eller, the Caps are set at center on all four lines. That means someone, either Marcus Johansson or Andre Burakovsky, is moving to the third line and bumping Chimera down to the fourth where Daniel Winnik is already set to play. Is Chimera a better fit than Winnik? You could argue that, but Winnik is already under contract and Chimera is not.

Chimera's career year would also mean paying him at least $2 million, money the team no longer had thanks to the Eller deal.

"With the trade for Eller and our RFA guys, Johansson and Orlov, we weren't going to be able get to that two range or above two range," general manager Brian MacLellan said to the media. "You get attached to Chimera, he's been a good player for us, a fun guy to have around, good personality so it's disappointing to see him go, but sometimes you've just got to move on."

The decision to walk away from Michael Latta came early in the offseason when the Caps chose not to offer him a qualifying offer thus making him a free agent.

Latta is a fourth-line player who can play center or wing. With Jay Beagle and Mike Richards playing center, Latta became primarily a wing in the 2015-16 season. He was ultimately bumped out of the lineup as Tom Wilson moved down to right wing on the fourth line and did not appear in a single playoff game in 2016.

Richards is gone, but the trade for Eller will push Beagle to fourth line center. That leaves right wing on the fourth line as the only spot for Latta. Wilson will likely move up to the third line this season, but with the signing of Brett Connolly, the Caps still don't have room for Latta in the lineup. The team could have kept him as a 13th forward to cycle in and out of the lineup, but that appears to be the role Stanislav Galiev will fill again this season.

Grade: A-

With a roster as talented as the Caps, you could tell there was going to be a cap squeeze heading into the offseason. The writing was on the wall for Latta when he did not make an appearance in the playoffs. The only thing the Caps are thinking about now is winning in the postseason and if they don't feel Latta helps them there, it makes perfect sense to move on. If Connolly can remain healthy, his upside is much higher than Latta's.

Chimera ultimately played his way out of Washington with his fantastic season. The Caps could not afford to re-sign him at a price anywhere close to what he would have gotten on the market, as his new two-year, $4.5 million deal shows.

The only thing that bumps this down from an A to an A- is losing Chimera's speed. Speed is becoming more and more valuable in the NHL, as the Pittsburgh Penguins showed, and the Caps just lost their fastest player. This was the only option, however, after the team traded for Winnik at the trade deadline. There's just not room for both. If you think Winnik's cap hit is too high for a fourth line player ($2.25 million) they would have had the exact same problem if they re-signed Chimera.

It's sad to see Chimera, a true locker room personality, and brobean Latta leave, but MacLellan didn't really have any choice.

MORE CAPITALS: WILL JOHANSSON BE TAKEN IN THE EXPANSION DRAFT?

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Grading the champs: How have the Caps fared through 20 games?

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Grading the champs: How have the Caps fared through 20 games?

Monday’s win over the Montreal Canadiens was Game 20 for the Caps meaning we are officially one quarter of the way into the NHL season. That means it’s time to take a step back and look at just how the Caps have performed thus far.

Here are the first quarter grades and awards for the Caps:

Offense: B+

The Caps boasted the top offense in the NHL for a short stretch, but the numbers were being propped up initially by the explosive power play. When it comes to five-on-five play, the offense is a bit weaker than the power play would make it seem. Evgeny Kuznetsov, for example, has six goals and zero have come at even strength.

Not having Tom Wilson in the lineup for the first 16 games due to a suspension clearly hurt the offense and Todd Reirden was forced to shuffle the lines as best he could looking for a spark. Now that he is back, the offense looks much improved and much deeper. Plus, Alex Ovechkin continues to be Ovechkin even at the age of 33.

The offense has had its full lineup for less than two games this season, but even despite that, Washington still ranks seventh in the NHL with 3.35 goals per game. This is already a top-10 offense and it’s trending up.

Defense: C-

In hearing Reirden describe the team’s defense, it involves a lot of commitment. All five players are expected to back check and get into shooting lanes every time the opposition has the puck. Obviously, the defense is more nuanced than that, but at its basic core, this is what the Caps want to do. That sort of commitment is easy to get in the playoffs, but it’s harder to get a team to constantly jump into shooting lanes in November. As a result, this is where the team’s Stanley Cup hangover has been the most glaring.

The defensemen have had their struggles, particularly Dmitry Olrov and Matt Niskanen, which has led to a shuffling of the pairs. The offense also has not been as quick on the back check as you would like to see.

Most critically, however, has been puck management. The biggest defensive breakdowns for this team have been self-inflicted with bad turnovers and lazy passes. As glaring as they may be, however, they also should be correctable.

Goaltending: B

The first month of the season has been a scoring bonanza so Braden Holtby’s numbers are not where you would want them, but in recent weeks he has started to look like the dominant netminder who foiled opponents in the playoffs last season. There is no reason to think he will not continue to get better as the season goes along and he develops more of a rhythm.

The real story here has been Pheonix Copley who was largely an unknown commodity at the NHL level heading into the season.

Copley’s play was shaky to start, but when Holtby suffered an upper-body injury and Copley was forced to start all four games of their current road trip, he played very well for the most part. You can point to Monday’s game in Montreal in which he was pulled in the second period all you want, but in terms of whether this team has a backup it can trust to plug into a game 20-25 times this season, Copley has shown he is capable of providing that.

Special teams: C-

Yes, the power play is great and ranks fourth in the NHL at 29.7-percent, but it has cooled considerably in recent weeks. In the month of November, the Caps have scored on six of 29 opportunities, good for 13th in the league at 20.7-percent.

The real issue for Washington in terms of the special teams is the penalty kill.

Reirden wanted the penalty kill to be more offensively aggressive this season, but so far the Caps have not been able to do that without leaving themselves vulnerable defensively. The result is that their penalty kill now ranks 29th in the NHL at 73.3-percent.

Reirden’s goal here, I believe, is not so much to generate offense at the expense of the defense, but rather to force an opponent’s power play to be aware of Washington’s offensive weapons and to help kill time by keeping and holding possession of the puck in the offensive zone. Thus far, however, it hasn’t worked.

If the Caps are going to keep this philosophy on the penalty kill, then the coaches need to sit down and study film of the Arizona Coyotes who lead the league in both the penalty kill (91.7-percent) and shorthanded goals (10).

Pleasant surprise: Madison Bowey

Bowey has been a highly touted prospect within the organization since he was drafted in 2013. He made his NHL debut last season, but seemed to struggle with the transition from AHL to NHL. This year, he looks like the most improved player on the team and has played well in relief of an injured Brooks Orpik.

What’s more, Bowey is showing a lot more confidence in his play. He is a two-way defenseman, but no one would have been able to tell that from how conservative he was last season. This year, he is being more assertive in the offensive zone and it should translate into more points.

Needs improvement: Andre Burakovsky

Burakovsky has just four points this season in 20 games. Tom Wilson, by comparison, has five points in four games since returning to the lineup.

Burakovsky has tremendous skill, but he remains an incredibly streaky player. It was thought that confidence was the major issue for him and he saw a sports psychologist over the summer. The results? Both he and Reirden say they see a difference and say he is a more confident player, but it has not translated into more production.

Burakovsky is not a shutdown forward, he is not a physical grinder, he is not a penalty killer. If he is not producing, he just doesn’t add that much to the lineup.

MVP: Alex Ovechkin

At times it looked like John Carlson or Kuznetsov would be the MVP, but through 20 games just about every player on this roster has had the ups and downs typical of a season and especially of a Stanley Cup championship team that is realizing playing in October is not nearly as fun as it is playing in June. The only player who is consistently great on a night in, night out basis is the Great 8 who shows no signs of slowing down even at the age of 33.

With 15 goals, Ovechkin sits second in the NHL behind only David Pastrnak’s 17.

Overall: B

Let’s consider everything Reirden has had to deal with in his first season as an NHL head coach: Wilson’s 20-game suspension, injuries to Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Travis Boyd, Braden Holtby, Michal Kempny and Brooks Orpik, a backup goalie making the jump to the NHL and a Stanley Cup hangover.

Yes, the Caps have played below the lofty standards we have come to expect and do not yet have a win streak of over two games this season. But considering everything, the fact that this team still sits in third place in the Metropolitan Division and appears to be trending upward is a good sign for the direction this season is going.

This team has another level it has not yet reached, but they are getting there, slowly but surely.

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Brooks Orpik undergoes arthroscopic surgery on his knee, will miss another 4 to 6 weeks

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Brooks Orpik undergoes arthroscopic surgery on his knee, will miss another 4 to 6 weeks

Brooks Orpik underwent an arthroscopic surgical procedure on his right knee and is expected to miss four-to-six weeks, the Capitals announced Tuesday. Orpik last played on Oct. 27 against the Calgary Flames, but has not participated in practice since due to what the team has called a lower-body injury.

Why did it take so long to have the surgery when he could have been recovering and nearing a return at this point? The specific nature of the injury is not known, but what typically happens in cases such as these is that the player and the team will wait to see if surgery is necessary. No professional athlete likes going under the knife and most will try to avoid it at all costs.

It could also be a case in which the severity of the injury was not known as is evidenced by the fact that he was initially labeled “day-to-day.”

With Orpik out, that will likely mean more time for Madison Bowey who has looked like one of the most improved players overall on the roster this season. It also likely gives an opportunity for Jonas Siegenthaler to get more games at the NHL level.

Siegenthaler has been with the Caps since getting recalled from the Hershey Bears on Nov. 9. He has played in two games. Originally, it looked like the young Swiss defenseman would make the Caps’ roster out of training camp with Michal Kempny dealing with a concussion, but the team had to get creative with the salary cap after Tom Wilson was suspended and the acquisition of Dmitrij Jaskin forced Siegenthaler to the AHL.

In his two NHL games, Siegenthaler has not looked out of place at all at the NHL level.

If he remains with the team, it seems likely he will get into the lineup again sooner rather than later. As a young prospect the team hopes can be an NHL player, they will be loath to keep him in Washington another four to six weeks just to sit up in the press box and not play. Young players like him need the playing time.

With Orpik out possibly until the calendar turns to 2019, however, do not be surprised if the Caps elect to recall a player like Aaron Ness and send Siegenthaler back to Hershey. Ness is a veteran AHLer who the team can be more comfortable scratching from the lineup for a long period of time. If they don’t, then expect to see Siegenthaler crack the lineup again in the coming days.

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