Next up is the Brian MacLellan led Washington Capitals. MacLellan, despite having a Stanley Cup ring on his resume, has yet to enjoy any playoff success as a GM since he chased Barry Trotz out town after winning the Stanley Cup in 2018. The Capitals have qualified for and exited the playoffs in the first round every year since winning the Cup.
Traded G Vitek Vanecek and a 2nd round pick to the New Jersey Devils for 2nd and 3rd round picks
Signed G Darcy Kuemper to a five-year $26.5 million UFA contract
Signed G Charlie Lindgren to a three-year $3.3 million UFA contract
Signed F Dylan Strome to a one-year $3.5 million RFA contract
Signed D Erik Gustafsson to a one-year $800,000.00 UFA contract
Signed D Matt Irwin to a one-year two-way contract worth $750,000.00
Acquired F Connor Brown from Ottawa for a 2024 second rounder
Remaining cap space: ($6,321,666.00)
The Capitals were fairly busy over the off-season having completely revamped their crease and brought in replacements to help backfill the losses of Nicklas Backstrom (hip) and Tom Wilson (ACL) for what could be the entire season.
Backstrom remains hopeful of a return at some point this season. However, the team had to take steps to put a contingency plan in place. ACL injuries normally take 9-12 months to heal post-operation, speaking from personal experience, though the Capitals are saying a return for Wilson is projected sometime within six to eight months.
Given their current cap situation, my guess is that the Capitals will try to replicate the Tampa Bay Lightning template of 2020-21 where they will attempt to qualify for the playoffs and bring Backstrom and Wilson back to start in round one. If their playoff qualification is in doubt, more drastic measures may be taken.
Here is the roster for the Capitals heading into training camp.
Left Wing Center Right Wing
Alex Ovechkin Evgeny Kuznetsov T.J. Oshie
Anthony Mantha Lars Eller Connor Brown
Conor Sheary Dylan Strome Garnet Hathaway
Carl Hagelin (inj.) Nic Dowd Marcus Johansson
Left Defense Right Defense
Dmitry Orlov John Carlson
Erik Gustafsson Nick Jensen
Martin Fehervary Trevor Van Riemsdyk
Here is the S.W.O.T. analysis for the Capitals.
When healthy, the Capitals have all the pieces of a seven-player profile. As we have already stated, they are not healthy and two of their components of that profile are looking at missing most, if not all, of the season.
Normally I would refer to the Capitals as a power play that the Senators would like to emulate. However, with Backstrom on the sidelines, it will be interesting to see how the Capitals will adapt to the loss of their best playmaker.
John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov fit the prototypical criteria of an All-Star Offensive Defenseman/Defensive Shutdown Defenseman tandem. Their overall defensive depth isn’t what others in the conference have but they are on par with the Senators pending any more moves.
Darcy Kuemper is an upgrade over both Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek. With a Stanley Cup on his resume, MacLellan committed nothing short of grand larceny inking Kuemper at the AAV and term he got. Charlie Lindgren has league experience but has never really established himself. If it comes to him, the Caps will fall. Still, they have a number one goalie who can haul the mail.
Peter Laviolette is an experienced and proven coach with a Stanley Cup on his resume from back in 2006. He did return to the finals with the Predators in 2017 which shows he has remained relevant as the game has evolved. This is an advantage over DJ Smith. He has also been behind the Capitals bench for the past two first rounds. I am not certain that this is a reflection of him or where his team is at.
Despite having an elite #1 and #2 defense pairing, like the Senators, I view the Capitals defense as an opportunity to exploit for most teams. They don’t have a lot of depth and with the exception of Martin Fehervary, they are all 30 years of age or older. Experience counts in the NHL.
However, more and more it has been shown that the wily veteran is not able to hang on as long as he once could with the speed of the game and focus on cutting down on obstruction. There isn’t a lot of secondary scoring after John Carlson. That said, they have more than the Senators do.
Sens Nation has seen how playing 30 minutes a night affects Thomas Chabot. I suspect that Carlson and Orlov will both be chewing up a lot of ice time and this can lead to injury and diminished performance.
The injuries to Backstrom and Wilson are not opportunities per se. However, based on their moves this offseason, clearly the Capitals are still going for it. If they can get to the playoffs with their depleted lineup using the LTIR relief, bringing Backstrom and Wilson back 100% healthy for round one could be a real game changer.
The Capitals have 10 pending UFA contracts (five forward and five defensemen) and two pending RFAs. Having more than half of your contracts to renegotiate next off season may not hurt this season if things go according to Hoyle. However, if things backfire, the Capitals will surely be sellers at the deadline.
With Alex Ovechkin under contract for another three years after this one, Kuznetsov, Backstrom and Oshie for two and now Kuemper for the next five, the expectation from Ted Leonsis and Monumental Sports & Entertainment is surely going to be to wring the towel dry.
This could be the biggest threat of them all. The Capitals moves this off-season clearly are to get them through this season where they can get to the playoffs and play their real lineup while remaining cap compliant.
Their last four seasons were, in my humble opinion, validation that their window is all but shut. I think the Capitals are in their greatest hits era now and the season will end up largely being about having Ovechkin pass Gordie Howe for second place on the all-time NHL goal scorers list.
In addition to Backstrom and Wilson being out for most, if not all, of the season, there is the uncertainty surrounding Carl Hagelin and his recovery from a serious eye injury that sidelined him last March.
By the time either Backstrom or Wilson could return to game action, I think the Capitals will have dug themselves a hole that they can’t get out of. Darcy Kuemper may have won the Stanley Cup, but he played behind the best team in the league. He is a very capable number one goalie. However, I think he miscalculated his destination in the off season and could be in for a rude awakening.
The Capitals do have a seven-player profile in place and that can attract free agents and keep you relevant year after year.
However, with just over $50 million committed to their profile on a cap of $82.5 million and large contracts for TJ Oshie and Anthony Mantha on top of that, MacLellan was forced to go to Value Village to try to fill holes in his roster.
The Senators are not a shoo-in to make the playoffs by any means. I don’t see the Capitals as the primary threat to their playoff ambitions. The Capitals need to be respected and you can’t buy the experience they have.
The Senators will have two power play units to draw on this year and I expect them to put too much offensive pressure on the Capitals. Ovechkin should easily eclipse Gordie Howe this season. Having said that, I do think he will miss Backstrom a great deal and Dylan Strome is not a legal substitute.
I think the Capitals will draft in the top ten for the first time since 2007. MacLellan will be a seller at the deadline and perhaps the Senators could profit from that to bolster their line up.
In terms of analysis of the Senators’ potential playoff threats, I saved the Capitals for last as they qualified in the second wildcard in 2022.
Much like Montreal, I am not going to evaluate the Flyers as I don’t believe them to be a threat to the Senators playoff aspirations. John Tortorella could be in for Tortur-Ella this season. It would seem he has already come to grips with the toxicity in the room. The Flyers are a threat to get Connor Bedard.
I believe the Metropolitan Division will shake out like this:
New York Rangers
New York Islanders
This exercise has really given me an opportunity to look, not only at what other teams have, but what they have in relation to the Senators. Here’s what I have come to realize.
Every team that is a threat to oust the Senators from a wildcard position has a more established top four or even top five defense than they do. Pierre Dorion had a great offseason and has put the team in a position to legitimately compete for the first time since 2017.
The one area that was not addressed, top four defenseman, will need to be in order to get over that hump. Early signs are that Jake Sanderson is ready to make the transition to the NHL. Is he ready to eat top four minutes? I am not entirely convinced. Even if he is, I am not convinced that Travis Hamonic is anymore than a five.
If the Senators address that need either before the start of the season or at some point before American Thanksgiving, I like their chances of getting into the wildcard.
If they don’t, I think the Islanders and Blue Jackets are the primary threats and the Sens will need their unknown commodities to get them to the dance.
I don’t mean to underestimate the Bruins and Capitals. However, Father Time is undefeated, and I believe both are ripe to be picked given their injury situations and the miles on their odometers.
As it stands today, I see the playoffs in the Eastern Conference lining up like this in round one:
Toronto (1) vs Columbus (8)
Carolina (2) vs New York Islanders (7)
Tampa Bay Lightning (3) vs Florida Panthers (5)
Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs New York Rangers (6)
I am holding out hope that Jake Sanderson lives up to and even surpasses expectations and that the elusive top four defenseman is brought in. If that happens, Sens Army could be looking at a first-round match up against the buds for the first time since 2004.
Man can dream, can’t he?
By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey