Pat wrote a very good article calibrating expectations for the 2016-17 Washington Capitals. There are a lot of reasons to be hopeful for this team, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t pee on the parade just a little bit.
The Capitals should be just fine this season. Should. But if it all goes wrong, here are seven ways it could happen.
The Caps were red hot on offense last season, scoring the third most goals in the league (261, behind only Minnesota and Pittsburgh). Their all-strength shooting was 10.5 percent, 18th highest among all teams since 2008-09 (behind the 2010 and 2013 Capitals).
The expected-goals metric models a team’s scoring based on the volume and quality of their shot attempts. The Capitals were expected to score 223 goals last season. In surpassing that expectation by 38, the Caps led the league and earned the 13th highest difference in expectations vs actuality for any team in the last decade.
As exhilarating as last season’s offense was, the Capitals are not likely to repeat it. Probability suggests that a hard regression is coming – in shooting percentage, in expected goals overrun, and in just plain old goals. Goals may become more precious, and wins too.
This summer, head athletics trainer Greg “Smitty” Smith retired from the Capitals after 18 years. He takes with him the distinction of running the healthiest team in the NHL last season. The Capitals lost just 49 man-games to injury (most belonging to Oshie, Burakovsky, and Carlson), the lowest in the league.
NHL Injury Viz has a great chart to illustrate just how healthy the Caps were, measured by the cap hit of injured players (CHIP).
Whether by a turnover in the training staff or by the vicissitudes of fate, the Capitals are unlikely to get this lucky again. They will lose more players this season, and with a weaker roster those losses may hurt more than they did in seasons past.
Braden Holtby finished second in Vezina voting last season, narrowly missing back-to-back titles as the best goalie in hockey. His backup, Philipp Grubauer, was even better, pushing the Caps to a William M. Jennings Trophy win even if he didn’t get formal recognition for it. There’s a strong case to be made that both Capitals goalies are somewhere between really good and elite, but maybe that can’t be relied upon forever.
Holtby has been eerily consistent in his career, but can he keep it up? Could his dismal postseason be prelude for a bad campaign this time around? And was Grubauer’s 2016-17 a mirage? What will it mean that goalie coach Mitch Korn has semi-retired and lost his special assistant goalie coach, Nate Schmidt? The Caps should not take best-in-breed backstopping for granted this season.
This is the same as the item 1, but in miniature. Based on the profile of TJ Oshie’s individual shot attempts, we might expect him to score 20 goals last season. Instead, with 33 actual goals, Oshie surpassed expectations by 65 percent and earned himself a monster paycheck.
His 23 percent shooting led the league. Individual shooting percentage can be finicky – thought we might be tempted to trust Oshie’s 360 no-scope skills after two seasons of elite accuracy, that’s very risky. A hard regression towards league average should be expected, and that might nearly halve Oshie’s totals.
Pile on top of that Oshie’s propensity for injury, and there’s reason to fear a big correction this season. He’s never played a full season and missed nearly a fifth of last year to a shoulder injury. If Oshie misses time and stops scoring like Auston Matthews, all of a sudden the Caps will be missing a lot of goals.
Over the summer the Washington Capitals parted ways with vaunted veterans Justin Williams (35); Daniel Winnik (31); Karl Alzner (28); Kevin Shattenkirk (28); and even Marcus Johansson, who, while technically a baby, had played 501 games in a Capitals uniform.
The Capitals’ best chance at a championship this season depends on the team hitting an exacta on their young talent. If all or nearly all of their prospects pan out and become excellent NHLers, the team will prove a lot of doubters wrong. But if Djoos, Bowey, Vrana, Walker, Stephenson, and whoever else do not blossom into butterflies, the Washington roster will be exposed as thin. Watch the young ones closely. A lot depends on them – unless Barry Trotz refuses to play young players, in which case, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The line of Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams, and Evgeny Kuznetsov was fantastic last year – especially in the postseason. They outperformed the top line in shots and goals, but now they’re 66.7 percent gone. Williams left for Carolina in free agency and Johansson was dumped to New Jersey for salary after the TJ Oshie deal.
In one sense, those exits give younger studs like Andre Burakovsky the opportunity to shine, but the Caps might grow to regret losing two-thirds of their best line last season. As good as Evgeny Kuznetsov is offensively, it’s less clear that he’s capable of strong two-way play when he’s not flanked by two reliable players in Johansson and Williams.
I can see how the last couple years were encouraging for Kuznetsov, but if that reliability turns out to have been a function of his linemates, the Caps might want for a two-way forward in their top six.
hey guys What if Ovi just totally ditches out and goes to the KHL so he can play in the Olympics that’d be wiiild, oh man
One of these will definitely happen, though I don’t know which. Maybe two will happen (not number 7 though, that one is crazy). And honestly, the Caps will be fine if just one or two of these nightmares come to pass.
But if it’s 4 or 5 or even 6, this will be the darkest timeline. The Caps will struggle to make the playoffs, people will get fired, and Voldemort will return to RMNB.
— Good Tweet Pete 🌮 (@peterhassett) October 4, 2017
RMNB is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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