Only a few hours remain until the puck drops for the Capitals’ first game of the regular season. After their most recent second-round playoff exit, a summer of speculation ensued. The most nebulous question: How does this team
finally make a deep playoff run?
While there’s no definite answer, RMNB’s own Pat Holden, Elyse Bailey, Spenser Smallwood, and Chris Cerullo sought to answer a few questions I posed about the Caps’ chances at a Cup. See what they have to say, and, as always, feel free to argue with them in the comments.
Which offseason move–whether signing a new player or redefining a current player’s role–bolsters the Capitals’ roster most?
Pat: While I’m most excited and intrigued by Dmitry Orlov starting the season in the top-four, I’m not convinced the Caps will stick with it for the entire season, so I’m not confident say that will have the biggest impact. My vote is for the trade that brought in Lars Eller. No disrespect to Jay Beagle, who was the Caps third-line center on opening night last season, but Eller provides a major upgrade given the Caps stated goal of making the third line a line with more offensive upside. Having Eller also allows Marcus Johansson to move back to the wing, where he’s seemed more comfortable during his career.
Chris: The player that I am looking forward to seeing progress the most this season is Andre Burakovsky. By the looks of it he’s locked in the Caps top-6 forwards, playing with an elite centerman in either Nicklas Backstrom or Evgeny Kuznetsov every night and will be receiving the power play time that went to New York with Jason Chimera. I think Burakovsky has the chance to shatter his career marks in both goals and points this season.
Spenser: Evgeny Kuznetsov beginning the season on the first line may not be a change from last year’s starting lineup, but it is different than how the Caps were arranged for the majority of last season and the playoffs. This may allow Barry Trotz to keep Alex Ovechkin and TJ Oshie away from the other teams’ top line at home and give bigger defensive responsibilities to Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams and Burakovsky. If that stays, the Caps could be a more offensive team.
Elyse: I can barely remember what I had for dinner last night, so there is probably a better move that happened. But, it’s definitely been interesting to see the recent developments with waiving Galiev and bringing Sanford on. I think in terms of bolstering the roster, it will be fun to see what improvements and on ice production new kids, like Sanford, can create.
Which player/team/possible catastrophe presents the biggest roadblock for the Capitals securing a top playoff position?
Pat: A possible catastrophe that prevents the biggest roadblock for the team? Well, an injury to a star player or a season of terrible luck could throw a wrench in the team’s plans, but nothing would be a roadblock quite like the end of the world. I’d imagine it would be pretty tough to secure a top playoff position if the world ended.
Chris: Biggest roadblock? The second round. Again. In all seriousness, an injury to Braden Holtby a la Carey Price last season would probably be the least recoverable “catastrophe” the Caps could face.
Spenser: I am going to have to say an extensive injury to two of Matt Niskanen, John Carlson and Karl Alzner. I think they would be able to withstand an injury to any one player and still be able to make the playoffs, but an injury to two key defensemen might be too much. We saw what happened in the decisive game against Pittsburgh. When Alzner was injured and Brooks Orpik sat in the box for four minutes, the Capitals could not kill either power play off, and the game was lost. Orlov would have to be huge in that scenario with help from a call-up.
Elyse: A casual mid-season lockout. That could definitely present a roadblock situation. In all seriousness, I agree with pretty much all the boys on this one. Anything bad to Holtby or a star player would suck, especially if said player had developed into becoming a big leader on the team or has a huge hot streak.
Given the volume of pending free agents and the team’s limited cap space, it’s unlikely that Capitals management will re-sign every eligible player. The popular narrative says that this season is the Capitals’ last shot to contend for a Cup (in the foreseeable future.) By your definition, what constitutes success for the 2016-17 Capitals?
Pat: The team, and many fans, will tell you it’s Stanley Cup or bust. And, for the team, this should be the goal.
But, for me, and likely all the cognitive behavioral therapists out there, this all-or-nothing thinking seems misguided. So much of what goes into winning a championship comes down to getting the breaks and the right bounces and calls at the right time of year.
If the Caps aren’t a top team and one of the top Cup contenders, I’ll consider the season a failure for the organization. But to say that the season is a failure without winning the cup fails to appreciate that the favorite to win the cup is always “the field” or over any one team.
Chris: It’s gotta be at least a Stanley Cup Finals appearance. I am still not recovered from our last playoff exit. However, we do have other stuff to look forward to like Alex Ovechkin’s 1000th NHL point that he should score this year (knocks on wood), so I’m not exactly ready to just fast forward to April.
Spenser: First off. I don’t buy that the Capitals Cup window is closing. They have enough young players that will continue to get better, and Ovechkin and Backstrom do not look like they are slowing down quite yet. But anyway…every season should begin with the goal of winning the ultimate prize. For this team, coming off a President’s Trophy season where they lost in the Playoffs to the eventual Champion, the goal should 100 pecent be that prize, and it is no different for the fans.
Every fan, at this moment, should expect to not be happy at the end of the year if the Capitals do not win their last game of the Playoffs. Then we have to start adjusting our expectations. Well, it is DC sports. They haven’t been passed the second round since Esa Tikkanen missed that wide open goal. I’ll take a Prince of Wales Trophy.
Elyse: Popular narrative, popular schmarrative. I don’t think our window is closing quite yet. In my mind, getting past the second round would be a success mainly to break that barrier for superstitious/ghost DC sports team reasons. We’re a talented team and I honestly believe we can make it to the end, but I think we need some confidence and some lucky moments. But don’t get me wrong, I want the damn cup.
Featured Photo: Drew Hallowell
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