Caps and Their Defense Gap

Now that we know Nate Schmidt won’t be on the Caps roster next season, we are left wondering what the defense might look like. Additionally, we can assume with a high degree of confidence, that Karl Alzner won’t be back either.We have read that he is exploring his options as well.

Who is left then?

Dmitry Orlovplayoffs126 still needs to sign a new agreement with the Capitals. Coach Trotz usually speaks positively about Dima and seems to have great hopes in his improving abilities. Orlov now has two full seasons in the NHL from which we can gather information. From a scoring perspective, he has increased his assists by six, although he had two fewer goals. In the past season, he ranks fifth in the league and second on the Caps roster with a plus 30, and 10th on the Caps with 33 points. He is also credited as the Caps player who most contributed to scoring opportunities, (defensive point shares/DPS). We see a lot of potential in the 26 year old (his birthday is Friday).

Brooks Orpik: watermarked192017-03-06-1112There has certainly been a lot of discussion on social media over the pros and cons of Orpik, who turns 37 in September. Oprik loves a physical defensive play which can often send him to the box. Last season he spent 48 minutes in the box. He averaged 17.47 minutes on the ice per game—among the lowest time for defensemen on the team. He blocked 132 shots, second only to Karl Alzner. With 181 hits, he was more physical than any D-men—only Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin had more hits. He ended the year with a plus 32, highest on the team. He too ranks high on contributing to the scoring advantage, although many fans see him providing more opportunities to opponents.  The Caps said there would be no buyouts, which likely means Brooks is here to stay. It just isn’t clear to us that he will continue as s a top defenseman, given his history of injury and his age. Read more on Orpik here.

Matt Niskanen: img_8640Another player fans love to hate. He joined the Caps in the 2014/15 season, like Oprik he came from Pittsburgh. Like a fine wine, his scoring just gets better every year. Should Orlvo return, it is likely that he will be paired with him once again. He surpassed Karl Alzner and John Carlson in defensive point shares, and as a whole for the season, had more time on ice then Carlson. He is under contract through the 2020 season and we don’t see him going anywhere. At 31, he still has a good career ahead of him.

John Carlson: John has been playing for the Caps since he was 20–he turns 28 in January. He missed a fair amount of the 2015/16 season with an injury and was out for some of the past season as well. Since his 2015 injury, he has not seemed to play as aggressively as he once did. Coach Trotz has tried some different pairing with him, returning to the best mix of John and Alzner. That, of course is off the table now. When he shoots, it is a power puck that flies. This past season he recorded 28 assists, sixth on the team and eighth in overall points (37). His plus/minus dropped to seven and his power play assists have stayed pretty static at 13. He becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. He will really need to step it up this year if he wants to ensure a spot on the roster come 2018.

That brings us to some of the question marks we have about next season. Who will possibly fill in the holes left by Alzner and Schmidt? What if Orlov isn’t signed?

Taylor Chorney: Taylor didn’t see that much ice time last season, playing in only 18 regular season games and seven playoff games. He previously filled in when Carlson and Orpik were out with their injuries. Some have suggested that the coach team him with either Madison Bowey or Christian Djoos, should they become part of the NHL roster. He has one more year left on his contract, and hopefully, if given more ice time he will be able to fill the Schmidt gap. He has one more year on his contract.

Madison Bowey: Bowey has been with the Hershey Bears for two seasons. He has always been impressive during development camp and this could be his standout summer. He was out much of last season with a broken ankle but all indications are he is ready to go. A/GM Mahoney recently said that Bowey is one of two players ready for the NHL (Jakub Vrana was the other).GMBM is looking for some young blood to add to the line up and the 22 year old could fit the bill. He notched four points in the AHL playoffs, including scoring the game winning overtime goal in game five of the Atlantic Division finals. We are optimistic that he would be a compliment to the Caps blue line.

Christian Djoos: The Caps signed him to a two-year $1.3 million contract today. The first year will be a two-way followed by a one-way contract in the 2018 season. It’s a $650,000 cap hit for those of you calculating. The Caps like their Swedes!! That means he should be seeing some NHL time this season. If this isn’t his year to join the Caps, it could be a year of transitioning him into a slot for 2018 and beyond. He has demonstrated his skill at the AHL level and will have the chance to prove himself during camp. They will likely be looking at his speed and ability to protect the puck.

Aaron Ness: We’ve seen glimmers of Ness in the NHL–10 with the Caps. He has been with the Bears since the 2015 season with 44 points – 33 of those assists. He currently has one year left on his contract with a $612,500 cap hit. We are not big fans of Aaron and look forward to see how he does at camp. Don’t think he will be what the Caps need to fill the Alzner/Schmidt gap.

Kevin Shattenkirk: wm-11To keep Shatt would be costly for the Caps. When he came he had one year left on a 4 year / $17,000,000 contract with the St Louis Blues and a cap hit of $4,250,000. He only played 19 games and we ran hot and cold with his performance. It is unlikely the Caps will sign him. he ended with 14 points and even to game winning goals. But we saw nothing notable in the playoffs. Rumor has it the NY Rangers might be interested or he could ultimately end up in Vegas as part of a trade.

It is important that the Caps have a strong blue line presence that can give Braden Holtby added protection. Fan expectation is to have more aggressive scoring defensemen. As the management team gets about filling the gaps this summer, our hope is they will bring forward some new blood with the same desire to win that Schmidt and Alzner had. The Caps shouldn’t have far to look, although a trade isn’t out of the question either.

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