The Washington Capitals have had a busy summer during the free agency frenzy. They have made some sweeping changes, especially along their right-wing side. There is a new look in their attack that contains a little bit more of a skill and finesse game rather than a big and brawny game.
On paper, the Capitals look to be an improved team for the upcoming 2015-16 season. But with their new additions to their lineup, they also had to say goodbye to some quality players. Let’s take a closer look at what the Capitals gained and lost with each other their additions and subtraction.
T.J. Oshie – the Washington Capitals management and coaching staff have high hopes that Oshie can fill the top-line right-wing hole. This position has had a revolving door of different players since Mike Knuble left the Capitals in 2012. Players such as Marcus Johansson, Eric Fehr, Brooks Laich, and Jason Chimera have all attempted to play with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, but they did not have much success. With the addition of Oshie, the Capitals get a player who plays bigger than how big he actually is. Oshie is good at cycling the puck and can get to the front of the net when he wants to. He is also a master at the NHL’s skills competition.
Justin Williams – “Mr. Game 7” was signed by the Washington Capitals to provide extra stability to the Capitals top-six rotation. He will definitely be a mentor to the Capitals younger rising players such as Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky. With Williams, the Capitals get a clutch player who excels in high-pressure postseason games. Williams has 30 career playoff goals in 115 career playoff games. There are not too many players in today’s NHL who have three Stanley Cup rings and a Conn Smythe Trophy on their resumes. Having good leadership and character in the locker room is something that is hard to put a monetary value on. The Capitals will have a proven, well-respected NHL veteran in the room with Justin Williams now.
Taylor Chorney – the former Penguins defenseman will bring some added depth to the Capitals blueline. He will most likely not play in every contest and he will be the Capitals 7/8 defenseman on the depth chart. Chorney, 28, played in 62 regular season games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last season. He registered 4 goals and 19 points at the AHL level and had a +26 rating. Chorney brings some toughness and physicality to the Capitals blueline and he has some familiarity with Capitals Assistant Coach Todd Reirden. He is not afraid to drop the gloves and he will stick up for his teammates.
Ryan Stanton – the former Canucks defenseman signed a 1-year, two-way contract with the Capitals and is most likely Hershey bound. He played in 54 games for the Canucks last season and registered 3 goals and 11 points. Like Taylor Chorney, Stanton is another physical defenseman who is not afraid to throw his weight around. He will probably not see much time in a Washington sweater, but he will provide some much-needed leadership and protection for Hershey’s younger defensemen.
Zach Sill – the former Penguins and Maple Leafs forward will give the Capitals an extra body for their fourth line. Sill is a player that is very similar to Michael Latta. He brings an attitude and some extra scrappiness to the lineup. You may remember him from the scrap he had with Capitals forward Tom Wilson last season. Sill is an energy guy who will protect and stand up for his teammates. He is a guy that can be put in the lineup in certain situations for added toughness. I am sure he might get to play against teams like the Flyers or Bruins in order to counteract other players such as Zac Rinaldo or Wayne Simmonds.
Eric Fehr – “F-16” is a former 1st round draft selection of the Capitals back in 2003. His time with the Capitals has ended and now he is off to join the Pittsburgh Penguins for the next three seasons. Fehr played in 75 games for the Capitals in 2014-15 and registered 19 goals and 33 points. He found a new role with the Capitals last season and he became the club’s third line centre. The position change really helped his career out. Fehr is a versatile guy who can bounce up and down in the lineup. When he is healthy, he is also a very good penalty killer.
Troy Brouwer – Brouwer is a guy who was a former Stanley Cup winner with the Chicago Blackhawks. He put up 20+ goals for the Capitals in each of the last couple of seasons. While Brouwer was not the most skilled player, he was one of the Capitals big hitters not named Ovechkin or Orpik. Brouwer usually took the faceoffs on the Capitals top powerplay unit and he was also used on their penalty killing unit. He is a player who plays the game hard, but he is not quite skilled enough to be in a top-six forward role. Brouwer was a part of the trade package with the St. Louis Blues that sent T.J. Oshie to Washington.
Joel Ward – Ward became a fan favorite in DC for his tremendous work ethic and clutch-goal ability. Like Brouwer, he was another do-everything guy for the Capitals. Ward is a blue-collar guy who is not the flashiest player, but he gets the job done. He does all of the little things well on the ice. He spent most of the season with Jason Chimera and Eric Fehr on the Capitals third line, but in the playoffs he excelled on the Capitals top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Ward’s game that he plays is good for playoff games. He is an excellent board battler and he is good at getting to the hard areas around the net.
Mike Green – “Game Over” Green was a cornerstone of the Capitals blueline for many years. Under Barry Trotz last season, Green’s minutes and role with the team became a bit sheltered. He played on the Capitals third pairing most of the season and averaged just over 19 minutes per game. Even in Green’s reduced role, he had a rebound season and registered 10 goals and 45 points in 2014-15. The Capitals had to say goodbye to Mike Green this summer because there were other team priorities ahead of him with not much salary cap space to play with. He did many good things for the Capitals over his ten seasons he was in Washington. With Green now signed in Detroit, the Capitals lose a top puck moving defenseman who can play the point on the powerplay well.
Are the New Players Better than the Former Players?
The Capitals will have a different look as they enter the upcoming 2015-16 season. The Capitals will have more speed and skill in their lineup. But with this new speed and skill, they lose a little bit of physicality and strength.
Losing a guy like Joel Ward is probably tough for Capitals management to swallow. But they found a very capable replacement for Ward with Justin Williams. So is it a total loss? Probably not. With the addition of T.J. Oshie, the Capitals will hopefully fill a hole in their lineup that has not been filled since 2012. Losing a guy like Troy Brouwer is tough too, but Capitals management feels that Tom Wilson needs an expanded role with the club. In order for Tom Wilson to spread his wings and fly, someone ahead of him has to be moved.
It will be interesting to see how the Capitals replace Mike Green in the lineup. Right now, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt are penciled to be the Capitals bottom pair for 2015-16. Green’s point production is tough to replace, but the Capitals are showing faith in their youngsters to make up for Green’s loss.
I like the additions of Zach Sill, Ryan Stanton, and Taylor Chorney. It is nice to see the Capitals adding even more toughness to the bottom of their lineup. While most of these guys will probably not suit up for the Capitals in every game, the Capitals are clearly adding to their team identity. The Capitals are sending a message to the other NHL Clubs that they are one of the tougher franchises to play against. Does that sound like a Barry Trotz-coached franchise or what?
The hole that remains for the Capitals is the third line centre hole. With Fehr’s departure, the Capitals will most likely have to look in-house for their solution. There is a good chance Brooks Laich reclaims this spot unless the Capitals go and get help from the outside.
I believe the Capitals have a well-rounded structured team that is built to compete. GM Brian MacLellan and the Capitals management have addressed some team needs over the past couple of summers and the club is trending up in the right direction. I believe the Capitals are a favorite to win the Metropolitan Division in 2015-16 and they have a good chance to compete for a Stanley Cup.
By George Foussekis