The Washington Capitals will look different this season. Several players have left and their spots will most likely be filled with rookies from the Hershey Bears and a few new gentlemen who are filling the roster. Gone are Marcus Johansson, Nate Schmidt, Justin Williams, Daniel Winnick Kevin Shattenkirk, and Karl Alzner. These players were key contributors to the Capitals successful regular season and will be missed on and off the ice.
This season will see a commitment to a group of younger players—“The 20-Somethings”—from the previous season’s roster; players who the management believe can get them past the second round of the playoffs. With new contracts for Andre Burakovbsky (22), Evgeny Kuznetsov (25), Dmitry Orlov (25), and Brett Connolly (25) the Caps have a core group of NHL experienced players under 25 that should be prepared to serve as a bridge between the veteran and rookie players.
Andre Burakovsky (22) has consistently improved his playing performance since his first year with the Caps. He ended the 2016-17 season 12 goals and 23 points. Some have said that his play is inconsistent; however, as the ninth highest scoring player on the team, we see many more opportunities for him on the team. In the upcoming season we want to see Burky taking chances and shooting the puck more to score. He has a capability that, along with the likes of the veterans on the team, could be one of the game changers this coming season.
Evgeny Kuznetsov (25) has everything to offer the team as they begin to rely more and more on the younger players to augment, and eventually replace, the veteran players. Kuzy is the third highest scoring Capitals‘ player with 59 points, although his numbers are down from the previous high of 77 points in the 2015/16 season. On balance, his playoff performance this year exceed his previous three points in two seasons and five this past season. Kuznetsov could be on the cusp of a great career in the NHL.
Dmitry Orlov, the 25-year old defenseman from Russia signed a new deal that should keep him in the NHL for the next six years. Like Kuzy and Burky, his performance has been a bit unstable. Obviously the Caps believe he, like the others, is ready to step it up and play an offensive defensive game. He ended the 2016-17 season with six goals and a career-high 27 assists and 33 points. He had a heralded performance during the IIHF World’s following the Caps loss in the playoffs. He will most likely be paired with Matt Niskanen on the blue line. Word is that as part of the agreement, which kept Orlov from signing with the KHL, is that he have a more dominant role (more ice time) next season.
Brett Connolly (25) has plenty of time to hone his skills. He only saw 66 games in the regular season last year and seven in the playoffs. He ended the regular season a plus 20 and the playoffs a -2. He received a nod from Coach Trotz during the NHL draft and it was long suspected he would receive an offer to stay with the Caps. He was only occasionally called upon to fill in for injured or ill players. With this new agreement we expect to see more of him and for him to have a chance to demonstrate the ability that the Caps management thinks he has.
Philipp Grubauer (25) will return for at least one more season as the Caps back-up goalie. Grubauer gave one of his best performances during the 2016/17 season – stepping in at times when Braden Holtby had a hiccup in his performance. Coach Trotz did his best to get as much playing time as he could for the back-up goaltender. In the past two seasons he has been between the pipes for 22 and 24 games. He even had a slightly better save percentage then Holby (.926 over .925). We expect him to be the goaltender for at least as many games, if not more, than he saw in the previous season.
In addition, Tom Wilson, who has one year left on his current contract, is just 23 and unless things go horribly wrong, he is highly likely to sign a long-term contract at the end of the 2017-18 season. The Caps have four players under 30 and six players 30 and older, including TJ Oshie who has signed an eight-year contract. Of those players,
- Brooks Orpik is 36.
- Jay Beagle and Alex Ovechkin are 31.
- Matt Niskanen is 30 and Nick Backstrom turns 30 this year
The Caps signed TJ Oshie to an eight-year contract, locking in a solid top line player. TJ has the personality fans have come to adore—he and his beautiful family. He has become the team’s top scorer with 33 goals last season –tied with Alex Ovechkin. Overall he only had 56 points, fifth highest on the team. He only scored four goals in 13 games during the playoffs. Disappointing, but then the whole team was so we can let that slide for now. Oshie will start the season as a 30 year old right winger, most likely on the first line.
The Caps have a solid group of players lined up in Hershey to make the move to the NHL roster in 2017/18. Training Camp should reveal who has the best potential to win a permanent spot. Others will fill in as necessary, running between the NHL and AHL with the hope of staying in Washington.
At the end of this season, the Caps will have a whole slew of new contracts to negotiate and players to resign or release. Those players include RFAs Tom Wilson and Philipp Grubauer and UFAs Lars Eller, Jay Beagle, John Carlson, and Taylor Chorney. It is possible that the Caps will trade or buyout Brooks Orpik. Additionally, the team will be looking for a number two goalie as it is expected that Grubauer will find a new home where he can become the starting goalie. Change is the nature of the game and some of these fellas might not be back.
All-in-all the Caps are in a very good position. We, the fans, have to get beyond our personal feelings and appreciate the possibilities for this newer, younger team. Remember the excitement for the young guns? The hope was there for the likes of Ovi, Alex Semin, Mike Green, and Backstrom. It is time for us to get behind this emergent team and its coaches and start building some excitement. We at FiCP would rather remain hopeful for this season and the opportunity these Young Guns 2!!