Monday, June 11, 2018

Pool Outlook for Washington

All hail the new champions of the NHL!

The last of my Pool Outlook posts at the beginning of the off-season always ends with the Stanley Cup champs, this year it is the Washington Capitals.  The Caps won their first Cup in their franchise history after defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights in what could have been one of the toughest roads to get there in recent memory.  Getting over the hump, which was the Penguins in the 2nd round, was the biggest hurdle, but once that was done, they looked like a team of destiny out there.

Everyone has been saying for a long time, that these Capitals have had the pieces to win a championship, they've certainly shown that in the regular season, with all of their excellent records, but it wasn't until this season, where they could finally get it all together and win the biggest prize of them all.  All the star power on this team, finally got what many were expecting them to at some point in their careers, win it all.

They won't have very long to bask in their glory though, the off-season is just around the corner and the hard work begins all over again.  Pittsburgh showed us that a repeat is possible in this salary cap era, so they have blazed the trail that the Capitals need to travel, but first, we'll have a look at the season that was and then we'll get moving into next year.

The man on a mission, Alex Ovechkin, was the closest player to 50 goals this season, falling one short of the mark, but still having a great year in the regular season.  Remember, we're looking back now at the regular season.  49 goals and 87 points in all 82 games for the Capitals was good enough for top spot on the team in hockey pool scoring, 14th overall and 11th among all forwards.  He did have a great year and the playoffs were that much better.

Only 10 other players joined him in the hockey pool worthiness conversation, three players less than the Golden Knights, who we featured yesterday, which is somewhat surprising.  They did, however, have five players in the top 50 in hockey pool scoring, so they were somewhat top heavy.  Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Lars Eller and Tom Wilson were all worthy from the forward position last season, while the Capitals did have the best defenseman in scoring, John Carlson, to help guide the way from the back end.  Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen joined Carlson in the conversation at the blueline position.  Braden Holtby struggled at times in the regular season, which gave Philipp Grubauer ample time to collect some wins, both of them were worthy in 2018, rounding out the the rest of the team that made it on the list.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

Even with the number of bodies that have been removed from the table above, most of which should come back, the Capitals still have a very good core group of players to build around. Re-signing Kuznetsov will probably be the toughest job of them all, but once that contract is signed, the scoring depth isn't nearly as questionable, as he'll make his line better and things should keep moving forward. Right now, it's hard to imagine that the Capitals will be nearly as dominant in the regular season, from a wins perspective, since all the pieces are not there, but there's no doubt that the quality of top players is there, so the playoffs should be a given. The race for the Metropolitan Division title might be a bit closer though, but the Capitals should be participating, with all things being equal. President's Trophy is a stretch today, but not impossible. Stanley Cup? That's going to need some real elbow grease by the team's management.

The team's management really did put the work in through the off-season, Kuznetsov came relatively easy, back into the fold.  The real elbow grease did get pushed around by the players though, they knew that they had to be great this year to achieve what they did, so they buckled down and did it.  It was good on them, this core certainly had it in them and they showed us all it was possible.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

With Marcus Johansson getting shipped off to the Devils last summer, I put my spotlight on Andre Burakovsky, making him my intriguing player for this past season.  A broken thumb in the early part of the season cost him 20 games and may have ultimately cost him his ability to make it among the pool worthy candidates.  His playoffs were also cut short too, thanks to an upper-body injury, so it really wasn't his year in the end.  25 points in 56 games just wasn't going to cut it, but he does have some upside for next season, one would think.

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Alex Ovechkin 9.538 Matt Niskanen 5.750 Braden Holtby 5.100
Evgeny Kuznetsov 7.800 Brooks Orpik 5.500 Ilya Samsonov 0.925
Nicklas Backstrom 6.700 Dmitry Orlov 5.100
T.J. Oshie 5.750 Jonas Siegenthaler 0.714
Lars Eller 3.500 Tyler Lewington 0.675
Andre Burakovsky 3.000 Aaron Ness 0.650
Brett Connolly 1.500 Christian Djoos 0.650
Shane Gersich 0.925
Hampus Gustafsson 0.884
Jakub Vrana 0.863
Brian Pinho 0.834
Garrett Pilon 0.745
Chandler Stephenson 0.650
Nathan Walker 0.650

This is a very rough sketch for the Capitals, trying to round out a roster, but we had to get something done for this post.  There are some key names missing, which will likely play a big part in this summer's activities, but there is a good portion of the core, which will be poised to come back for next season.  The outlook is relatively positive, but it's far from getting overly excited about at the moment.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

John Carlson is clearly one of the biggest fish on the list, especially if he indeed makes it to unrestricted free agency this summer.  The best scoring defenseman in 2018 and a big part of this team's championship win, will be looking for a big payday.  Tom Wilson and Philipp Grubauer are also heading to free agency, albeit restricted free agency, but they'll be looking for some raises to stay on with this club.

So, scratching and clawing a 23-man roster together means that we can gauge relative cap space for the coming year, to which the new salary cap number should be upon us here quite soon.  I have the Capitals with $6.6 million left in cap space and take away some of those depth players that may not make the squad, they'd be inching closer to $9 million, before the cap rises.  That won't be enough.  Especially, if they want Carlson to stay.  There could be some trouble brewing for the Capitals this summer.

The potential loss of Carlson means that there could be some openings coming up here pretty quick on the back end.  A guy like Jonas Sigenthaler may be one of those guys that gets an extra look or two in camp, if that happens, but his upside is more on the defensive side of the game, so he isn't a huge priority for the hockey pool community to keep him in mind.  You never know though, some players just find that extra gear, if and when they make it to the big leagues.  I'm just throwing that out there.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft

The Stanley Cup champions have their 1st round pick, go figure!  The Capitals could really use some mobile, offensive defensemen in their stables going forward and a player like Jonny Tychonick has been floating around some the rankings, somewhat of a project player from the BCHL.  Noted as a good mobile defenseman, he is already committed to heading to the NCAA for his education and development, but as a project goes, this could be one that is right up Washington's alley.

As repeating as champions goes, the Capitals have a long road to hoe there.  I don't think I could stress enough, just how much John Carlson means to this team and if he's out there on the free agent market, he's going to command a long-term deal, which will have him paid among the elite.  The Capitals can't afford him at those numbers, but they also can't afford not to have him next season, if their grand design is to repeat, as it should be.  Somewhere, somehow, this team will have to cut some corners and make some decisions, hope that their depth will make up for what they had to trade away and then maybe, just maybe, we'll talk about some more good things.  Looking at some of these other teams though, they have far less to do and they're already in better shape in the off-season than these Capitals.  I'm not saying that it's impossible, but it is very improbable at the moment, and it will be fun to see how they work this all out.

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