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Projecting the Caps' lineup: Offensive lines


Projecting the Caps' lineup: Offensive lines

On Monday, we looked at the possible lineup for the Caps on defense and in net but, let's be honest, that was the easy part. The top four is going to be the same, Braden Holtby is going to start, and the rest is pretty easy to figure out.

Today, we get to the fun part: projecting the offense.

First line: Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Obviously Ovechkin and Backstrom will remain on the top line. The question is whether Oshie or Justin Williams will be on the right. Though there are some from the St. Louis media who are dismissing Oshie as overrated, you cannot look at this in a vacuum, it's about who the player will be lined up with. Oshie had 19 goals and 36 assists last season. He has only cracked 20 goals once in his career, but you don't have to watch him too long to realize the amount of skill he has. Backstrom is a playmaker. He's one of the best in the business at creating opportunities and lead the NHL in assists last season with 60. Adding a player like Oshie to the mix gives him another player to setup. Plus, Oshie will have plenty of room to work with as opposing defenses will be primarily focused on the Great 8. Chris Clark scored 30 goals on a line with Ovechkin and he was not your typical 30-goal scorer. Oshie will thrive on this top line. The team may experiment with Williams as well as they try to get the right fit, especially if Backstrom is out to start the season. As Kuznetsov will likely move up to the top line, the young center may benefit from having a veteran like Williams on the line, but if everyone's healthy, expect to see Oshie on the right.

Second line: Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Kuznetsov had a breakout performance in the playoffs that puts his place in the Caps' lineup in little doubt. With Oshie taking the top spot, that bumps Williams down to the second line. The real question is on the left where I have Marcus Johansson instead of Andre Burakovsky. Johansson finally learned to shoot last season with a career-high 138 shots that not surprisingly resulted in him setting career highs in goals and points. Burakovsky played well in the playoffs, but not well enough to supplant a player Barry Trotz had on the top line by the end of the postseason. General manager Brian MacLellan also hinted that he has more in mind for Burakovsky than playing on the wing. More on that later.

RELATED: Capitals' backup goalie undergoes knee surgery

Third line: Stanislav Galiev - Andre Burakovsky - Tom Wilson

We know essentially five of the six players who will be in the top two lines. The only real debate is between Johansson and Burakovsky for the second line. From the third line on down, things are much less clear. Let's start with Burakovsky. My gut reaction was to put him on the second line, but that changed based on what MacLellan said in a conference call with the media at the beginning of August.

"I’ve always thought Burakovsky would be a really good center just because of the skillset he has. We’ve only done it a little bit. To me he could play any position, right wing, center, left wing. He’s just that good."

Granted, MacLellan is not Trotz and it is ultimately up to the head coach to set the lines, but it just goes to show you how the organization sees Burakovsky as a player. Remember that he was a center originally. The team tried to develop both Kuznetsov and Burakovsky at center last year, but it was too much of a strain on the team and Burakovsky moved back to wing. It would not be surprising if he returns to the center this season now with Eric Fehr gone. Based on what Trotz had to say about Wilson, you can pencil him in to the right of Burarkovsky.

"I don’t see [Wilson] as a fourth-line winger for the Washington Capitals. To me he’s better than that."

It's hard to imagine Wilson playing above either Oshie or Williams and if he's not on the fourth line, that only leaves one place for him. Wilson has more skill than we have seen thus far and he needs to get away from the fourth line, agitator mentality. More goals, fewer fights. That means the third line should not be a 'traditional' checking line which, as you can read here in this fantastic article by Stars and Sticks, is ok. The team's offensive depth means that a skilled player is going to fall to this line, better to make it more of a skill line than forcing players not suited for it into a checking line. And, if you're going for pure skill, then a player like Galiev would fit in nicely. After playing two games for the Caps last season, Galiev is expected to challenge for a roster spot this fall. If Burakovsky is indeed moved to the third line, the Caps will need to put players who can score around him. Putting him next to Jay Beagle and Brooks Laich doesn't really help him develop into a playmaking center.

Fourth line: Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Brooks Laich

Until MacLellan talked about Burakovsky as a center, I had Beagle pencilled in as the third line center given how well he played last season. He may start the season there with Backstrom's injury, but if Burakovsky moves to the third, that will push Beagle back to the fourth. The wings are largely interchangeable so don't read too far into this, but I anticipate this will be the team's regular lineup. Chimera slid to fourth line last season and he's not getting any younger, he won't be climbing the depth chart anytime soon. He still has enough speed and leadership to contribute so he should be in the lineup more often than not. Laich's position will depend on what happen's at left wing on the third line. If Galiev does not make the roster, that's where I see Laich playing this season. Otherwise he will be relegated to the fourth.

Scratches: Michael Latta, Zach Sill

Latta is someone the Caps will want to get into the lineup fairly frequently, but it's hard to see Trotz putting him in over players like Beagle and Laich. He played in 53 games last season and my guess is that he will play a similar amount this year. Sill was a depth addition this summer and will be ready to step in whenever an injury creeps up or someone moves into Trotz's doghouse.

MORE CAPITALS: Projecting the Caps' lineup: Defense and goaltending

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Now the Islanders' coach, Barry Trotz explains why he left the Capitals

Now the Islanders' coach, Barry Trotz explains why he left the Capitals

DALLAS — Hours after being named head coach of the New York Islanders on Thursday, Barry Trotz made his first public comments since stepping down in Washington earlier in the week.

And, from the sounds of it, his departure was mostly a business decision.

“Yeah, obviously, I love the D.C. area,” he told reporters on a conference call. “But when it came to the business aspect, from my standpoint, I felt that it wasn’t really sincere [given] what we did together. So I decided that it was better to just move on.”

“I thank the fans,” he added. “I’m glad we could get it done. I said we could get it done in four years, and we did.”

Although the value of his contract with the Islanders has not been publicly disclosed, Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Trotz is set to earn “at least $4 million” per year—or more than twice what he was earning in Washington.

A source told NBC Sports Washington earlier this week that Trotz, who directed the Caps to their first Stanley Cup two weeks ago, sought $5 million per season for five seasons. The five-year term, that source said, was a non-starter as far as the Caps were concerned, given the relatively short shelf life of NHL coaches and the fact that Trotz had already been in Washington for four seasons.

When it became clear that the sides weren’t going to close the considerable gap between their positions, Trotz offered to step down and the resignation was accepted, making the 55-year-old a free agent.

When “I got the [counteroffer], I guess I knew it was time to go in a different direction,” he said.

In New York, Trotz replaces Doug Weight, who was fired earlier this month along with GM Garth Snow. Lou Lamoriello, a longtime NHL executive, took over for Snow and immediately started a search for a new head coach.

Once Trotz became available, it didn’t take Lamoriello to zero in on the NHL's fifth all-time winningest coach. The two met, exchanged ideas and quickly realized that they had found a good fit in one another. Trotz said he's already reached out to the Islanders' star captain, John Tavares, who could become the biggest prize on the free agent market on July 1. 

And, like that, Trotz now is the coach of a Metropolitan Division foe. The Caps and Isles will face off four times next season, beginning with a Nov. 26meeting in New York.

It’ll be weird, for sure. But professional sports is a business. And all sides involved in the Trotz saga were served a painful reminder of that this week.

Asked if he felt wanted in Washington, Trotz said: “Well, I’ll leave that up to the Caps to answer that. I think, absolutely. We just won a cup together and so I don't think that was an issue. I think it was more principle.”

In the end, Trotz wanted to be compensated like one of the top coaches in the game. And now he will, settling in behind big market coaches such as Toronto’s Mike Babcock ($6.25 million per year), Chicago’s Joel Quenneville ($6 million) and Montreal’s Claude Julien ($5 million).

“It’s good to be wanted,” he said. “It happened really quickly because you go from one emotion of winning the cup to the next emotion of leaving the team that you just won the Cup with, and you have to make some quick decisions. I know the timing of it—end of the season, the draft coming up, free agency [and] all that—there was some urgency on that. Both parties knew that, so we went to work at it and got it done.”


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The NHL salary cap numbers are in, what does it mean for the Caps?


The NHL salary cap numbers are in, what does it mean for the Caps?

The NHL released the salary cap range for the 2018-19 season on Thursday. That sound you hear is the general managers frantically typing numbers into adding machines to figure out which of their players they can afford and which they are going to have to let walk.

The cap ceiling will rise from last year's $75 million all the way up to $79.5 million with the cap floor set at $58.8 million.

So what does this mean for the Capitals?

Here's a look at the team's pending free agents:

Unrestricted free agents: Jay Beagle, John Carlson, Alex Chiasson, Tyler Graovac, Jakub Jerabek, Michal Kempny, Anthony Peluso, Zach Sill, Wayne Simpson

Restricted free agents: Riley Barber, Madison Bowey, Travis Boyd, Adam Carlson, Philipp Grubauer, Tim McGauley, Liam O'Brien, Devante Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson

We will not know exactly who will make the roster, so to project how much money the Caps will have to work with, let's assume Nathan Walker makes the team and Shane Gersich goes to the AHL. That will give the Caps a little less than $14.8 million with which to work.

Considering the team will need to use about half of that number if not more to re-sign Carlson, that's not a whole lot to work with.

Is $7 million enough to re-sign Beagle, Kempny, Bowey, Smith-Pelly and Wilson? Probably not and that does not even account for prospects who will try to compete for the NHL roster such as Barber and Boyd.

Here's what the cap ceiling tells us:

  • The team's entire offseason will depend on if the team can re-sign Carlson and for how much.
  • Carlson's cap hit last season was just under $4 million. A $4.5 million increase in the salary cap ceiling doesn't mean much when Carlson is going to get a raise of $3 million or more.
  • Grubauer will almost certainly be traded because he is an asset and because there won't be enough money for the team to commit $1.5 million or more to the backup goalie like they did last season.
  • If Carlson returns, fan favorite Beagle has almost certainly played his last game as a Cap. Everyone wants him back, but he would have to take a severe discount for the Caps to fit him and even then, he would be taking away a roster spot from a young prospect ready to make the jump to the NHL.

Free agency opens July 1.