The 2017-18 Caps are not as talented as the 2016-17 Caps. Gone are Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Daniel Winnik, Kevin Shattenkirk, Nate Schmidt, and Karl Alzner. Although some of the weaknesses on the current roster are a result of poor decision-making, it was inevitable that the Caps were going to return this season with a weaker roster than last season.
But not all bad offseasons are created equal. Yes, the Caps had arguably the worst offseason of any team, but they started the offseason with probably the most talented roster in the league. So, while the team is certainly weaker, there’s still plenty of reasons to believe this team is among the best in the league.
Let’s talk about some of the reasons we should be optimistic about the Caps.
Projection models show that while the Caps are not head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league as they were last season, they are still among the top teams.
Micah McCurdy projects the Caps to finish third in the league, behind only Pittsburgh and San Jose. His model gives the Caps a 74 percent chance of making the playoffs, also third behind Pittsburgh and San Jose. The Caps are projected to finish in the top five in both goals for and goals against according to McCurdy’s model.
Dom Luszczyszyn’s model thinks even higher of the Caps, as the team is projected to finish second in the NHL 100.5 points. Further, the Caps have an 83 percent chance of making the playoffs, 27 percent chance of winning the division, a 13 percent chance of making the finals, and an 8 percent chance of winning the cup.
Here’s a brief excerpt from Luszczyszyn’s full evaluation of the team, which I highly recommend checking out (The Athletic is worth the subscription).
The Capitals lost some quality players, but they should be able to fill positions internally without missing much of a beat. It won’t be easy and there may be growing pains initially, but the core is still intact and there’s enough here that they’re still one of the few bona fide contenders. Despite all their losses, they still have incredible balance and are the only team that are top-10 at every position.
Holtby wasn’t at his best in the playoffs last season. But a goalie’s entire body of work doesn’t get erased just because he had a bad couple of weeks at the worst time. Sure, we could always end up looking back on the spring of 2017 as when Holtby suddenly became human, but he’s still one of the best goalies in the world until proven otherwise.
Over the last two seasons, Holtby’s 92.5 percent save percentage at 5-on-5 is third in the NHL, behind only Carey Price and James Reimer. On a team that is not as deep as recent seasons, including a blue line that could have some glaring deficiencies, Holtby has the ability to be the great equalizer.
Last season, 74 defensive pairs skated 400-plus minutes of 5-on-5 hockey together. Of those 74, the Orlov-Niskanen pair ranked first in shot attempt percentage (56.7 percent), third in relative shot attempt percentage (plus-6.2 percent), and tenth in goals for percentage (62.7 percent).
With a weaker blue line than last season, this pair will need to carry even more of the defensive load. They should be called upon to face the opponent’s top line and be on the ice for a bulk of the defensive zone faceoffs. Whether or not this duo is again in top form will play a huge role in how the season goes for the Caps.
The 2017-18 season likely won’t be a smooth one for the Caps. The team lacks the depth, experience, and skill they had last season. But, this is still a very good team and one that will likely finish towards the top of the standings.
Headline image: Patrick Smith
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