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Projecting the Caps' lineup: Defense and goaltending

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Projecting the Caps' lineup: Defense and goaltending

Barring some late summer moves, the Capitals' roster for next season is set. That means it's time for everyone's offseason activity: projecting the lineup.

Today we will look at the defense and goaltending.

Top pair: Brooks Orpik - John Carlson

Year two of the Orpik contract begins and while he may be another year older, there were no signs of his game declining last season. He needs to generate more points (78 games without a goal? Really?) and fewer penalties (third on the team with 66 minutes), but otherwise he brought exactly what the Caps expected him to. He did undergo wrist surgery this summer, but he is expected to be ready for the start of the season. Carlson meanwhile had the best professional season of his career. Orpik and Carlson played well together last season and there's no reason to go away from it now.

RELATED: Capitals' free agents: Who stayed and who is moving on

Second pair: Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

No surprise here either. Alzner thrived under head coach Barry Trotz and actually contributed offensively for a change with five goals and 21 points, both career highs. After posting 46 points in his final season with Pittsburgh, Niskanen came back down to Earth with 31 points in his first season with the Caps. Chances are that's more in the range of what we can expect from him points wise and that's OK. The only real concern for Caps fans is the fact that he looked a bit exposed defensively in the playoffs. Still, he's good enough both offensively and defensively to remain on the second pair.

Third pair: Dmitry Orlov - Nate Schmidt

This is where things get interesting. With Mike Green, Tim Gleason and Jack Hillen gone, the third pair will consist of one player who did not play a single game last season and another who spent the majority of the season in Hershey. Lingering wrist issues kept Orlov out for the entire season meaning he will have to both get back into game shape and adjust to Barry Trotz. There was some growing frustration regarding Orlov even before the injury as he had failed to establish himself as a top four defenseman. Now at 24 years old, he needs to show that he's ready to take the next step and he needs to do it now as he enters the final year of his contract. There are fewer questions over his partner, Schmidt, who has proven he is ready to be a full-time NHL defenseman with his stellar play in Hershey.

Seventh defenseman: Taylor Chorney

At 28, Chorney is not a player who needs to go back down to the AHL to further develop. While everyone would rather play than sit in the press box, he is primarily an AHL player. The chance to stay full-time with an NHL team is a good deal for him even if he only ends up playing in a handful of games this season. Someone like Connor Carrick, meanwhile, is better served by staying in the AHL and being called up if the team needs him. Even if Chorney remains with the team, someone like Carrick may end up with more NHL games this season even as a call-up.

Goalies: Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer

Obviously Holtby is the starter, the real question is who will back him up. That question was answered in Game 2 of the conference quarterfinals against the Islanders last season. With Holtby out sick, Grubauer was an emergency call-up from Hershey and started over Justin Peters. Holtby playing in 73 games last season had as much to do with Trotz's lack of faith in Justin Peters as it did with his trust in Holtby. While Holtby was able to handle it last year, you do not want to get into the habit of having your starter play 70+ games a season. The only issue with bringing Grubauer up is the fact that he will not play nearly as much as the team would probably like. At 23, Grubauer is still a young, developing goalie while Peters is a career backup. If Peters really wows Trotz at camp, he could justify sending Grubauer back to the AHL to get more playing time, but there's a very slim chance that happens. Peters played his way into the AHL last season while Grubauer played his way to the NHL.

MORE CAPS: Bruins walk away from Caps' ECHL affiliate

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Capitals hint at their plans for Shane Gersich next season with new contract

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Capitals hint at their plans for Shane Gersich next season with new contract

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan began tackling the items on his very long to-do list with the signing of prospect forward Shane Gersich. The team announced Monday that Gersich was re-signed to a one-year, two-way contract that carries a cap hit of $700,000.

Gersich will remain a restricted free agent at the end of the deal but will still be one year away from becoming arbitration eligible.

Gersich, who will turn 23 in July, just finished his first full professional season with the Hershey Bears, recording eight goals and 16 assists in 66 games.

“I learned a ton,” Gersich told NBC Sports Washington about his first AHL season. “I think our staff here is unbelievable. They've taught me so much, whether it's [showing] me video or doing skills or whatever. Can't say enough good things about them. And just my overall game, playing 200 feet and being aware of little details in the game. I think my game's grown a ton.”

Gersich’s original contract was for two seasons, but the first year was burned at the end of the 2017-18 season when he signed out of college at the end of the season and joined the Caps’ roster.

That transition from Stanley Cup champion to AHL the following season was a tough one for Gersich initially.

“Obviously, you were making your NHL debut and stuff like that, then it's kind of back to work and square one,” Gersich said. “For me, I know [I'm] definitely not the kid that's going to shy away from working or anything like that. So obviously, you've got to earn everything you get, and then that's how it is at every level.”

The speedy forward played in five games for Washington, three in the regular season and two in the playoffs during the Stanley Cup run. His speed was evident and has led many fans to wonder if the future is now for the young forward. His first year in Hershey showed, however, he still has a lot to learn before he reaches the NHL.

Gersich is still very much learning the game at the professional level. There was a little too much reaction in his game as opposed to action, which mitigated his speed. That is something he knows he needs to refine.

“I think just always being aware out there,” he said when talking about aspects of his game he wants to improve on. “Keeping my head on a swivel and making little plays. Just using my strengths too, I think. I've got to realize that I can use my speed out there a lot.”

The Caps will have a few roster spots open next season and not much money under the cap to fill those spots. Using young prospects is always an intriguing option. Gersich’s new contract, however, seems to indicate the Caps anticipate him spending the season in the AHL.

Gersich’s new contract carries an NHL salary of $700,000, which is actually lower than his first contract with a $925,000 salary. His minor-league salary, however, went up from $70,000 to $115,000. It may look like Gerisch is getting a pay cut based on the NHL numbers, but he actually is getting a raise because, barring a dazzling training camp, he will be spending most if not all of next season in Hershey. And if he does surprise, well now he has a lower NHL cap hit which is very important for a Washington team that will likely be very close to the salary cap.

While the implications of the contract seem clear, Gersich is excited for the opportunity to show he belongs in the NHL at training camp in the fall.

“Obviously, I want to play in the NHL,” he said. “It's been my goal my whole life, and that's the reason I left North Dakota. I think I'm ready for it, but you've got to wait and see until the time comes.”

The Caps also announced Monday the re-signing of forward Brian Pinho to a one-year, two-way contract. His contract carries a $700,000 NHL salary and a $100,000 AHL salary.

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In an offseason full of questions, Jonas Siegenthaler isn’t one of them

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In an offseason full of questions, Jonas Siegenthaler isn’t one of them

The Capitals will have a lot of roster spots open and not much money to fill them with this offseason. Adding a young, cheap defensive prospect to the NHL roster will certainly help and that appears to be the plan for Jonas Siegenthaler.

Siegenthaler’s first NHL season began with him in the AHL, but it finished with him playing on the top defensive pairing of the defending Stanley Cup champions in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The season did not get off to a great start for Siegenthaler as he became a cap casualty despite a strong training camp. Heading into the start of the NHL season, he looked poised to make the Caps roster.

“I came to camp here with the mindset to make the team and come to camp in good shape and everything,” Siegenthaler said at the team’s breakdown day.

The suspension to Tom Wilson and subsequent acquisition of Dmitrij Jaskin off waivers forced Washington to shuffle money to get under the salary cap. Siegenthaler, who was waiver exempt, was sent to the Hershey Bears as a result.

Siegenthaler would have to wait until Nov. 9 to finally make his NHL debut. He would go on to play 26 games his rookie season.

“I think a guy like Siegenthaler came up and played really well,” Lars Eller said.

““I tried to play my best game,” Siegenthaler said. “Of course it wasn’t always easy but I think like I did my best and tried to help the team.”

With a deep blue line, Siegenthaler was sent back to Hershey in February, but was recalled late in the season after Michal Kempny suffered a season-ending injury. The call-up, however, was just to have an extra body. As Todd Reirden experimented with the defensive pairs heading into the playoffs, it did not appear he viewed the rookie defenseman as a real option for the playoffs. Despite all the shuffling, Siegenthaler did not get into the lineup until the season finale after Washington had already wrapped up the division crown.

The Caps struggled in the first round against the Carolina Hurricanes, however, prompting changes to the lineup. The defense still struggled with the constant in-game adjustments and a change was clearly needed. Siegenthaler got into the lineup for Game 4. By Game 5, he was playing in Kempny’s spot on the top pair alongside John Carlson.

“He really just seemed very poised,” Eller said. “There wasn't any panic in his game. It's hard to be thrown into a series like that where the stakes are high and I thought he did that really well.”

Still just 22 years old and with a contract that remains waiver exempt for another year, Siegenthaler could enter the 2019-20 season in a position to again have to compete just to make the NHL roster. The possible retirement of Brooks Orpik and speculation over whether Matt Niskanen could be traded, however, leaves the team with spots open on the blue line.

The fact that Siegenthaler was able to go from the AHL to the top pair of the Caps during the playoffs reflects his growth as a player over the course of the year. To expect him to come into next season in a top-pair role would be unfair. Even a top-four role seems unlikely with Kempny likely returning and Nick Jensen taking Niskanen’s spot if he does in fact get traded.

But if the coaches trusted Siegenthaler as a rookie when it mattered most and with him still on an entry-level deal at a time when the team will need to pinch every penny, Siegenthaler will almost certainly be in Washington and not in Hershey for the 2019-20 campaign.

“Next season’s going to be huge,” he said. “I’ll do my best in the summer to keep myself in shape, in even better shape. My goal is to be here a long time and for rest of my career and yeah, just got to work for it.”

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