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Worlds collide: Brooks Laich scores OT winner off of Nate Schmidt turnover

Worlds collide: Brooks Laich scores OT winner off of Nate Schmidt turnover

A game in Las Vegas on Tuesday had a very Washington feel to it. A preseason game between the Los Angeles Kings and Vegas Golden Knights featured three former Caps who all featured prominently in the outcome.

Cody Eakin scored a goal for the Golden Knights, but the game-winning came off the sticks of Nate Schmidt and Brooks Laich.

With the game tied at 2, Schmidt took the puck off the opening faceoff in overtime. He was pressured by Kings forward Alex Iafallo who forced Schmidt into a turnover and set up Laich for the overtime winner.

Hearts all across Washington were broken over the summer when Schmidt was selected from Washington in the Vegas expansion draft. Laich is with the Kings on a professional tryout and is fighting to keep his NHL career alive. He did not play in an NHL game last season for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they sent him to the AHL. Tuesday was Laich's first game of the preseason.

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The Caps' Cup-winning roster is a lesson in building through the draft

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The Caps' Cup-winning roster is a lesson in building through the draft

Every year, the Stanley Cup-winning team shows the importance of building through the draft. This year, that team is the Washington Capitals.

With the NHL Draft starting on Friday, let’s break down the Capitals roster from the playoffs to see just how it was put together.

Acquired by the draft: Nicklas Backstrom, Madison Bowey, Travis Boy, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Shane Gersich, Philipp Grubauer, Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Alex Ovechkin, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Nathan Walker, Tom Wilson

Acquired as a free agent: Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson, Brett Connolly, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Devante Smith-Pelly

Acquired by trade: Lars Eller, Jakub Jerabek, Michal Kempny, T.J. Oshie

The first thing to note is that the vast majority of Washington’s roster is made up of draft picks. Specifically, the majority of the Caps’ top six on offense, three of its top six defensemen and both goalies were drafted by the team.

Of the free agent signings, only two were big money players in Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. In 2014, defense was a major question mark for the Caps and Brian MacLellan made a splash as the new general manager by signing both blue liners to big deals. The majority of the signings, however, are cheap, low risk and high reward players.

Finally, the trades include players who filled obvious needs. The Caps needed Oshie to shore up the top six, Eller was brought in to be the third line center, Kempny stepped in as a top-four defenseman and Jerabek was brought in for defensive depth.

So what does this show us?

First, the draft is absolutely critical to building a team’s core. True superstar players are hard to come by. Once a team gets one, they do everything they can to keep them. The draft is a team's first opportunity to acquire a certain player and, if they have superstar potential, sign them long-term. John Tavares this season looks headed to free agency and the buzz around him stems from the fact that he is very much the exception, not the rule. The base of the Caps’ Stanley Cup team was built by drafting star players like Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Carlson, Holtby, etc.

This also shows the importance of the draft for depth. In the salary cap era, teams need to find enough cap room for their stars and their depth players. Having young players is absolutely critical because their low cap hit allows for the team to sign the expensive stars and make the important addition in free agency  or by trade. This is a formula that only works if those young players are productive as well.

Players like Vrana and Burakovsky, for example, played big roles in the playoff run, but also carried low cap hits.

So the Caps built a core through the draft and filled key roles with trades and mostly cheap free agent signings.

There is no formula for how to win a Stanley Cup, if there was everyone would do it, but this is about as close as you can come to one. A team has to draft very well and then build around those draft picks to be successful. You cannot hope to build simply through trades and free agency because of the cost. Trades always require sending an asset the other way and very often that asset turns out to be prospects or draft picks. Free agency, meanwhile, requires team overpay for top targets leading to serious cap trouble down the line.

There are always trades and free agent signings that prove to be important, but those are only pieces to a much large puzzle. To win a Stanley Cup, you have to build through the draft.

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John Carlson once again an All-Star snub

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John Carlson once again an All-Star snub

The Capitals' Stanley Cup run may be even more remarkable than we thought considering there were zero all-stars on Washington's roster apparently.

As part of Wednesday's NHL Awards, the First and Second-Team All-Star rosters were released and not a single Capital made either team.

Here is a look at both teams:

In the interest of full disclosure, the All-Star Teams are voted on by members of the Pro Hockey Writers Association of which I am a member. I did not, however, have a vote for the All-Star rosters.

The first thought most Caps fans will have when looking at these teams is what about Alex Ovechkin?

I'm actually OK with Taylor Hall and Claude Giroux getting the nods at left wing.

Hall won the Hart Trophy for what he was able to accomplish in New Jersey in leading a team that looked like a trash heap before the season to a playoff berth. Compare the Devils' roster to the Caps' and there's no question Hall had a lot less to work with than Ovechkin and tallied 93 points as compared to Ovechkin's 87. Giroux finished second in the NHL with 102 points, one of only three players this season to finish in the triple digits. He very narrowly beat out Ovechkin for Second Team honors.

It was a coin flip and Ovechkin lost. That's not what Caps fans should be crying foul over. The fact that John Carlson was not among the four defensive all-stars is a far more egregious omission for which there is no excuse.

After inexplicably being excluded from the NHL All-Star Game in January, Carlson was snubbed once again as he came in fifth in the voting.

Just what does Carlson have to do to get some recognition?

No defenseman in the entire NHL had more points than Carlson's 68 this season. That's not just because of increased minutes as Carlson finished 13th among defensemen in ice time per game.

But being a good defenseman is not about the offensive stats.

That's right. Now go ahead and show me which of the four who finished ahead of Carlson was partnered with a rookie for most of the season. I'll wait.

The answer is none of them.

It's very easy now to look at the Capitals as a team that had all the pieces in place and managed to put it all together at the right time to go on a Cup run, but that's not what happened this season. Carlson was very heavily relied upon by the Capitals during the regular season when the blue line was an obvious weakness, especially after an injury forced Matt Niskanen out of the lineup for 14 games. Carlson was averaging nearly 30 minutes per game in Niskanen's absence. Carlson also spent the majority of the season with his primary partner being a rookie in Christian Djoos.

Charlie McAvoy was a rookie too. Does that mean Zdeno Chara should have been named an all-star?

A player like McAvoy is very much the exception, not the rule. Djoos has a bright future ahead of him, but his career is not yet at the same level as a player like McAvoy.

With all due respect to the voters, it seems like not enough attention was paid to what the Capitals asked of Carlson this season. His strong play on both ends of the ice made up for a weak defense that was only bolstered by a late trade for Michal Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks just prior to the trade deadline.

If you looked at Carlson's stats and saw just an offensive specialist who was not strong enough in his own end to warrant an all-star spot, then you were not paying close enough attention to the role he played in Washington this season.

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