This is the first in a series of posts looking at moves I think the Caps need to make to have a legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup in 2015-16. Shout out to the Orioles blog Camden Depot, as their “Building a Champion” series was the inspiration for these posts. These are not what I think the Caps will do; these are what I think the Caps should do, within the realm of what’s realistic.
The Capitals’ lack of shot-generating, skill forwards is one of the primary reasons why they weren’t playing hockey in June, something we touched on here at RMNB back in March. Having Alex Ovechkin, whose shot-generating abilities are other-worldly, is really helpful. But hockey is too much of a team game for Ovechkin to carry this current group of Caps’ forwards through four rounds of playoff hockey.
Brian MacLellan knows this. While he’s said adding a top-line right wing is the priority, we’ll avoid the splitting of hairs here between a top-six forward and a top-line winger. When I say top-six forward and MacLallan says top-line right wing, we’re likely talking about the same type of players.
First, here’s a look at my current Caps’ top six.
Green means the spot is acceptably filled for a serious Cup contender. Red means there is improvement needed or a hole at that spot.
The Caps need more scoring depth overall, including in their top six. These are guys who would be the first to fill in if injuries or performance left a hole. I’ll look at possible upgrades here in another post.
While the Caps may be able to fill the top-line RW position internally with Andre Burakovsky, there is not enough of a sure thing internally to round out the top six. Tom Wilson may end up getting some top-six minutes this season, and he could do very well. But a championship team doesn’t enter the season with a player of Wilson’s merits as the plan when it comes to the top six. It’s like when deciding how warm to dress: it’s always better to bring an extra layer, because you can always take one off. But, if you’re a layer short, you’re going to be cold. Having Tom Wilson penciled into the top-six to start the season would be like not having enough layers of clothes on.
The same goes for other players in the organization such as Stanislav Galiev. Like Wilson, there’s a chance he could contribute meaningful minutes to the Caps this season, possibly even in the top-six. But that’s not a good enough Plan A for a championship team.
Honoring my promise to keep this series realistic, the Caps are very unlikely to add a top-six forward via free agency. Brian MacLellan has already said as much.
Without internal or free agents options, we turn to the trade market. There’s been no shortage of top-six forwards mentioned as available on the trade market this offseason.
Cap hit: $5.9 million, two years remaining
2014-15 Stats: 68 games, 16 goals, 27 assists, plus-2.49 relative shot attempt percentage
Sharp’s cap hit is steep, he’s past his prime, and he saw a major decline in production in 2014-15. Yet, he’s an attractive trade target. There’s reason to believe that, even if age is causing a decline in skills, he’s due for some better puck luck in 2015-16. Sharp is a career 11.41 percent shooter, yet shot just 6.96 percent in 2014-15. Here’s a look at just how drastic Sharp’s shooting percentage was at 5v5 this past season:
While a number of factors are likely at play in his drop in shooting percentage, it’s unlikely Sharp suddenly forgot how to score goals.
The most enticing thing about Sharp is his ability to generate shot attempts. I touched on this earlier in the season, but Alex Ovechkin was the only Caps forward to rank in the 120 in individual shot attempts per 60 among the 359 forwards who played 500-plus minutes in 2014-15. Sharp’s 18.7 shot attempts per 60 ranked 13th among the same group. Adding Sharp would give the Caps a second forward who generates individual shot attempts at an elite level.
The Caps need a top-six forward and more shot generation from their forwards. Sharp is a top-six forward who generates a lot of shots.
Cap hit: $4.175 million, two years remaining
2014-15 Stats: 72 games, 19 goals, 36 assists, plus-0.13 relative shot attempt percentage
The Blues are apparently contemplating a shakeup after another disappointingly early playoff exit and Oshie has been one of the names rumored to be available. Oshie set career highs in goals (21), assists (39) and points (60) in 2013-14, and followed it up with solid production in 2014-15. He production is at a top-six level, but well below Sharp’s production level, save for 2014-15.
Oshie’s 2.27 points per 60 ranked 23rd among all NHL forwards and is far better than any Caps forward, who were led by Nick Backstrom at 1.91.
While he’d very likely cost less than Sharp in a trade, he doesn’t provide the same individual shot generation. Oshie’s 12.37 shots per 60 ranked 169th among NHL forwards. So, while he’d bring top-six talent, his strengths make him less of a fit than Sharp in terms of the type of top-six forward the Caps would ideally acquire.
Cap Hit: $4.25 million, one year remaining
2014-15 Stats: 81 games, 22 goals, 25 assists, plus-1.68 relative shot attempt percentage
With the Boston Bruins in a bit of a cap crunch, Loui Eriksson could be available. If he is, the Caps should inquire. Eriksson’s production has dropped since getting traded to Boston, but he’s still a viable option as a top-six winger. He’s also on an affordable contract with only one year remaining, and his trade value is likely as low as it has been since he established himself as a top-six winger in the NHL.
Eriksson’s drop in production could be in part to being deployed in tougher situations. His 49.2 zone start percentage was the second lowest of his career, and down drastically from his 60.5 zone start percentage in 2013-14.
Much like Oshie, acquiring Eriksson would give the Caps a legitimate top-six forward, but he isn’t an ideal fit. His shot generation ranked 290th among NHL forwards. In fact, he’s never been much of an individual shot generator, as his career high is just 13.09 shot attempts per 60. His skill would be an upgrade over the likes of Troy Brouwer who played a top-six role with the club this season, but his style of play is not exactly what the Caps need.
HERO Charts (via Own the Puck)
Assuming the asking price comes somewhere back in this stratosphere, the Caps should trade for Patrick Sharp. Is it a bold move and the cost likely to be risky? Yes. But the Ovechkin-era Caps, largely under the watch of George McPhee, have never gone for it. With Backstrom and Ovechkin closing in on 30, and many other important pieces still on affordable contracts, the time to go for it is now.
In terms of what it would cost, I’d imagine picks and prospects would go the other way. This is an area of the armchair GM universe where we are all really in the dark as to what names would be on the table or demanded. In terms of the Caps young players, I think Burakovksy, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Madison Bowey should be off the table. Other than that, the Caps should be open to giving up young assets for Sharp.
Salary cap wise, I’ll dig into that further down the road as the Stanley Cup roster takes shape.
I often prefer a deliberate, pragmatic style of player management. But, like I said, if ever there was a time to throw caution to the wind a bit, the time is now for the Caps. Patrick Sharp should be the first priority in filling the hole in the Caps top-six forwards.
The Caps Cup contending top-six now looks like this:
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