When the 2016-17 season ended, the Capitals knew big changes would be coming after three straight losses in the second round of the playoffs. The team had 11 pending free agents, including arguably the four biggest unrestricted free agents on the market. General manager Brian MacLellan ended up signing TJ Oshie, but could not strike deals with Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, and Justin Williams. He called the team’s woes a championship hangover without the championship.
Combined with the expansion draft loss of Nate Schmidt and a salary-dump trade of Marcus Johansson, the Presidents’ Trophy winning Capitals will likely take a step back next season as a contingent of talented prospects and unproven minor leaguers join the roster. And that step back could be large, according to The Hockey News’ Dom Luszczyszyn.
— 🌊 dom ☀️ (@domluszczyszyn) July 7, 2017
These numbers are tabulated based on each player’s last three seasons of Game Score. It’s done to see which teams added and lost the most value. Only players signed and traded during the offseason make the list. No expansion draft picks are included.
Using the game score stat, which is Dom’s version of Bill James’ catch-all baseball stat WAR (wins above replacement), the Capitals suffered a negative -4.8 win differential during the offseason, the worst of any NHL team.
Even the one new player the Caps did sign, Devante Smith-Pelly, makes the team worse. Smith-Pelly produces less than a replacement level player (-0.3 wins) according to game score. Dom describes the gritty forward as “among the worst possession players in the league” and points out that “he can’t score either.”
Then there’s the humangous big eight-year deals the Caps gave to Evgeny Kuznetsov and 30-year-old TJ Oshie.
Still, things might only get worse. They committed a lot of future money over the next eight seasons, signing T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov to big money deals.
Those deals were the reason they lost so many players and while signing Kuznetsov was obviously necessary, if a little rich, I’m not sure you could say the same thing for Oshie. He’s a very good player, but he had a career high shooting percentage (nearly 10 percent above his career average) at age 30 – that’s exactly the kind of player you walk away from, not give eight years to.
That’s easier said than done, losing Oshie would’ve created a big hole in the lineup, but it also would’ve given the team more flexibility and allowed Washington to not lose as many key pieces. The combined loss of Johansson/Williams is bigger than if it was just Oshie.
They earned their deals and Washington made their choice, but it only makes the cap tougher to maneuver over the next few seasons, with a wide open window slowly closing every year. This team couldn’t beat Pittsburgh last year or the year before that. The job is going to be even harder next season.
While that is a gloomy outlook, the Capitals do have several good-skating young defensemen in their system (Jonas Siegenthaler, Lucas Johansen) and several forward prospects (Jakub Vrana, Nathan Walker, and Travis Boyd) that could surprise. And while five wins and 10 standings points is a big step downward, the Capitals would have still finished third in the Eastern Conference if they accumulated 108 standings points last season.
Regardless of how well the Caps weather the storm next year, no one should expect the same level of dominance that the team has exhibited over the last two years.
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