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What's next for the Caps? There's no real consensus among players or coaches

What's next for the Caps? There's no real consensus among players or coaches

After another early playoff exit, the Capitals find themselves at a bit of a crossroads. With multiple expiring contracts and an aging core that has yet to carry this team past the second round, what direction is this team headed? Do the Caps need to make drastic changes to fix what ails them or makes just a few tweaks to finally get them over the hump?

It’s not an easy question to answer and there was no real consensus from the players at team’s breakdown day.

“I don't know if minor cosmetic changes are going to change anything really,” Matt Niskanen said.” It's pretty clear that this group didn't get it done so what changes and how many or what level of changes, I don't know what the answer is. Talent wise and our potential was clearly there. That's all fluff now. We need results.”

“I think any time you underachieve at what you're trying to do, you know there's going to be changes,” Brooks Orpik said. “That's just part of the business that we're in.”

“Obviously it's not working,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “I'm sure the organization will figure that out and try again.”

ELATED: Caps release key offseason dates

Given this team’s history, especially in the Ovechkin era, it seems hard to argue that something significant needs to change because the formula there does not seem to be working. But not everyone agrees.

“I still think there's a window next year,” Lars Eller said. “I think there will be enough of the core intact that you could still make a play. First thing is you have to get into the playoffs, once you're in the playoffs you have a chance to win.”

“We’re going to be good again,” Tom Wilson said. “There's a lot of great pieces that are here that are core guys that have long contracts still that instill the right things in the group.”

“I think we're in the right position for sure and I think we will be stronger next year for sure,” Evgeny Kuznetsov said.

Then there are the guys who just don’t know, the guys who think the team will try to win but that the team’s chance of winning the Cup may now be in the rearview mirror.

“The nice thing is that we all know the organization does what it takes to put a good product on the ice and try to win," Karl Alzner said. "Whether there's a lot of changes and new faces next year, it's still going to be a team that is trying to win and that's a nice thing. … But yeah, this is a pretty good window that we had here and unfortunately, it's not there anymore.”

For his part, you can put head coach Barry Trotz down as someone who wants to see the team make only minor changes and try again next season.

“I know people talk about the window closing, the window doesn't close, it just changes a little bit because the window of all those pieces that have been here for six, seven years or whatever, they're going to change doesn't mean that you can't add pieces that may even be better. You see that all the time.”

Sure, you could file this down as a “What is he supposed to say?” comment. Major changes can often mean a coaching change so it’s not surprising to see him advocate against rebuilding. But Trotz was also adamant that the team was close to reaching its championship goal and cautioned that now was not the time to turn over the roster.

“This league is so unpredictable and sometimes so random that it's hard to grasp sometimes even as an organization or fans or media, to grasp how close you are from winning and how close you are from losing. You talk about inches, it might be millimeters. That's how close it is. Changes in momentum, a big save here, a fortunate goal here or a timely goal changes a series or momentum swing.”

“We're disappointed that we didn't reach our goal,” Trotz added, “It doesn't mean that we're not going to keep striving for our goal.”

But even if general manager Brian MacLellan agrees, there are going to be several players who will not be returning to Washington next season. Even after advocating minor tweaks, Trotz also acknowledged, “Group's going to change. That's just the financial part of it.”

With 11 free agents on the active roster heading into the offseason, as well as 14 more among their prospects and minor league players, and not enough cap space to pay them all, MacLellan is going to have to make some tough decisions regarding who to bring back and who to let go. Whether he agrees with those advocating for major changes or those who believe only minor tweaks are necessary will determine how he approaches the team’s free agents.

As much disagreement as there is within the team, there seems to be one thing everyone can agree on: The Caps are going to look like a very different team next season.

MORE CAPITALS: How do the Caps overcome their mental block?

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Capitals trim two more from roster, sending pair of goalies to Hershey

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Capitals trim two more from roster, sending pair of goalies to Hershey

Washington made a number of cuts Saturday morning to trim their roster down to 43 players

On Saturday night, they cut it down to 41 as the team announced goalies Parker Milner and Adam Morrison were assigned to AHL Hershey.

Milner and Morrison’s departure leaves Washington with four goalies on the current roster in Braden Holtby, Pheonix Copley, Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov.

The trade of Philipp Grubauer left the backup role in Washington a matter of some question heading into the season, but the team’s top four was never really in doubt. Saturday’s move to send Milner and Morrison to the AHL only confirms what we already knew.

With Hershey’s training camp set to start on Monday, the Bears will obviously need two goalies which explains why the move was made now. 

This will likely only be a temporary move, however, as Vanecek and Samsonov are likely to be Hershey’s goalies heading into the regular season. For now, keeping them on the Capitals roster allows them to continue practicing against better competition and will allow them the opportunity for more work in the preseason.

The Capitals still have another three preseason games left to play, the next of which will take place on Tuesday in St. Louis. 

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Capitals make another round of cuts sending several players to Hershey

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Capitals make another round of cuts sending several players to Hershey

With Hershey Bears training camp set to start on Monday, the Caps have sent a number of players to the AHL in the latest round of roster cuts. Mathias Bau, Hampus Gustafsson, Beck Malenstyn, Mason Mitchell, Brian Pinho, Kristofers Bindulis, Tobias Geisser have all been returned to Hershey. Grant Besse, who was on an AHL contract, has been returned as well. Mark Simpson has been released from his tryout agreement.

Of the players returned, there are no major surprises. The Caps only have room to add a fourth line center and possibly one or two extra forwards as well as a backup goalie and none of the players listed were in serious contention for taking one of those spots.

The moves cut Washington’s roster down to 43. The maximum roster allowed in-season is 23 players, provided the salaries fit under the $79.5 million salary cap ceiling.

The latest round of cuts still leave up for grabs the fourth line center job as Nic Dowd, Travis Boyd and Jayson Megna still remain on the current roster.

After playing four preseason games, the Caps have three more contests remaining before the start of the season. With plenty of prospects still on the roster, you can expect several of those players to be in the lineup for Tuesday’s game in St. Louis.

“For me, it's really important, really important for the overall direction of our organization to have our young players playing games,” head coach Todd Reirden said Friday. “We have to have them playing games. We can easily put out almost our entire roster to play [Friday’s] game, but that is not where we're at. We're about developing players within our organization, seeing where they're at, gauging the success that maybe they've already had in terms of their careers and seeing whether they're ready for this step or not.

“For the first four games you go through for sure a trial and error and you get to really gauge where your prospects are at. I've always felt strongly about that with young players and given them an opportunity to either stay or leave. It is in their hands. They're making the decisions for me.”

 

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