Everyone has their own ideas on how the Washington Capitals should handle their offseason. Questions of who should get traded, what positions needs help, who deserves a bigger role – they’re all sorta nebulous.
Or at least they were up until now. I have solved the problem of all your inscrutable hot takes that cannot be reconciled with one another, and I have done it by doing what I always do: making a cute little color-coded spreadsheet.
Here comes a data-driven approach to identifying the needs of the Washington Capitals this summer.
I asked my fellow RMNBers to score each position-player in the Caps lineup. I wanted to know, from a scale of 1 to 5, how worried they were about that player/that position. A low number indicates little worry, everything’s fine. A high number indicates that that player and that position gives us anxiety, and maybe suggesting that the Caps should do something about it this summer.
In order to do this exercise, I had to build a sort of platonic lineup. I used a bunch of games before and after the trade deadline to create the list of players, which you see below. The color of the cell for each player indicates the average worry score for them (red is bad, green is good, yes, I know I need to do better with accessibility for the colorblind).
Take a glance. Let your eyes blur out for a moment and you’ll get the gist.
Now, using our anxiety data as a jumping-off point, let’s identify Washington’s weaknesses and therefore their offseason priorities. We’ll go line by line.
Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Wilson
With another 50-goal season for Ovechkin and Kuznetsov’s comeback securely in the rearview, we’re feeling good about top-level scoring, though Ovechkin would have been higher if not for the specter of age growing around him.
But Tom Wilson‘s ACL injury is scary. We know Wilson will miss the start of next season, and we saw from the Florida series how much his impact can be missed. More on that in a moment.
WORRY LEVEL: 2.0 – NOT GREAT, NOT TERRIBLE
Mantha – Backstrom – Oshie
Nicklas Backstrom has the worst worry score of any Caps player, as – given his ominous exit interview – it’s not certain that he’ll be available for the start of next season. We saw from the 2021-22 that Backstrom still has excellent handling skills, but his mobility has really dropped off (and it wasn’t ever much to sing about).
Meanwhile, TJ Oshie was divisive for us – with a mix of fours and twos averaging out at three. We know he’s got the gift of goal-scoring, but durability is a growing concern; he missed 38 games last season.
The first and most important priority of the offseason is figuring out what the future holds for Nicklas Backstrom. Will he need more surgery? If yes, how long will he be out? If not, can he even pass a physical? Some degree of long-term injured reserve seems likely, but the amount of it will determine how aggressive the Caps can and should be in a search for a replacement, either short- or long-term.
We know the Caps front office adores both Tom Wilson and TJ Oshie, but we have good reason to worry about the right wing on both of the top lines. But I’m not confident the team will be aggressive in trying to mitigate those weaknesses.
WORRY LEVEL: 3.5 – CHRONIC HEARTBURN
McMichael – Eller – Sheary
The outlook gets murkier once we leave the top six. Connor McMichael’s placement here in the lineup is itself dubious, though my impression from RMNBers is that anxiety over him is more about opportunity than talent.
There’s more disagreement over Lars Eller, who doesn’t worry everyone, so I guess I’m the alarmist there. I don’t think Eller, 33, can carry the third line anymore, driving play and hopefully goals in Washington’s favor.
All of a sudden, there’s possibly a big hole in Washington’s lineup – both the second-line center and third-line center are covered in doubt. This is a major problem, but it also presents an opportunity: Washington needs reinforcements at the center position, and they could justify perhaps overspending for the 3C role if they could sometimes play up in the top six.
Lastly, everyone else seems to feel good about Conor Sheary. Except Ian, who is a hater.
WORRY LEVEL: 2.9 – FEELING KINDA IFFY
Larsson – Dowd – Hathaway
Flawless. No notes.
But Johan Larsson is an expiring free agent. Given how successful his iteration of the fourth line was, I hope Washington will seek an extension.
Overall, this is a great line and it gives us good vibes.
WORRY LEVEL: 1.4 – GOOD VIBES CONFIRMED
Fehervary – Carlson
There’s a lot of dissent about Martin Fehervary (an equal number of fours and twos), who had a good start and terrible finish to his rookie season. I know he drives you bonkers sometimes, but John Carlson is more trusted player in the pairing.
Personally, I think the Caps should try a different partner for Carlson, and they should be far more willing to make evidence-based adjustments overall.
WORRY LEVEL: 2.9 – SOME SUS-NESS DETECTED
Orlov – Jensen
Everyone loves Dmitry Orlov and Nick Jensen. They didn’t quite have the same smoke in the postseason, and I suppose Jensen doesn’t exactly light anyone’s world on fire, but there’s no anxiety here.
WORRY LEVEL: 1.6 – JUST WOKE UP FROM A NAP
Schultz – van Riemsdyk
This one’s tricky, as Justin Schultz is an expiring free agent, and one the Capitals seem to have little interest in re-signing. Schultz’s votes seemed to bake in his imminent exit into his scores. His position on the third pairing will need to be filled, either from free agency or from the farm. Knowing Brian MacLellan, I suspect he’ll try both.
WORRY LEVEL: 2.9 – UH GUYS COME LOOK AT THIS
Despite Ilya Samsonov’s better playoff performance, both goalies earned an identical score: 4.4, mega anxiety. After two full seasons operating under the delusion that one of these players will step up and seize the starting position, neither did. Both goalies’ contracts are up, both under restricted status, and I have no idea what the team will do. I do know that our biggest fear is a third year of the same tedious dance between two not-good-enough goalies.
So I bet Washington’s going to pick up a goalie this offseason. Maybe they’ll get two.
WORRY LEVEL: 4.4 – REPUBLICAN PRESIDENT
So the Capitals’ big needs, in order, are:
That’s a tall order and one made harder to fill with the team’s salary-cap situation unknowable until Backstrom’s decision and prognosis are clear. Free agency begins on July 13. I hope the team is doing their homework.
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