The Washington Capitals had one of their best seasons in franchise history in 2015-16. Everything was all set up for Alex Ovechkin and company to finally get over the hump, and head back to the Stanley Cup Final. Unfortunately for the Caps and their fans, the road to the Stanley Cup Final was cut short, and the club was bounced from playoffs in the second round by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
As a Vancouver Canucks fan, I can relate to any Capitals fan with experiencing playoff disappointment. It is a horrible feeling to watch your favorite team lose, especially to an arch rival.
The Capitals accomplished many good things this year. They won the Metropolitan Division handily, which is very impressive considering there are plenty of competitive teams in that division. Alex Ovechkin had another 50 goal season, and Braden Holtby was spectacular for the Capitals all year in net. Evgeny Kuznetsov also came into his own, and was one of the most productive NHL forwards.
Since my hockey fanhood does not belong to the Capitals, I can look objectively at the club and reach an unbiased assessment as to why the Capitals seem to have a dark cloud that looms over their organization.
As a fair warning, some of the things I will write in this article may sting some people. I do not expect the reader to agree with everything I will discuss. I will try my best to be fair to the Capitals and their respective current players and former players.
With that in mind, I will try to make sense of what plagues the Washington Capitals. Why have the Capitals failed to get over the hump? Why has the Ovechkin era been so disappointing in the past and in the present? Where do the Capitals go from here in the future?
In the Ovechkin era, the Capitals have been plagued by a supporting cast that has not been able to score a ton of goals or points in the playoffs. While Ovechkin has put up 82 points in his 84 career playoff appearances, his supporting cast has let him down.
Let’s take a look at some beloved former Capitals that failed for the club in the playoffs. See if you can identify these players by their playoff statistics. The answers to these players are listed in the very last paragraph.
This player spent 9 seasons in Washington. In his 37 playoff games with the Capitals, he recorded only 5 goals and 6 points. His crowning moments for the Capitals happened in their 2 Winter Classic appearances.
This player played in DC for 12 seasons. In his 65 playoff games with the Capitals, he tallied just 10 goals and 32 points.
This player spent 4 seasons in Washington. In his 35 playoff games with the Capitals, he recorded just 3 goals and 9 points.
This player spent 7 seasons in Washington. In his 51 playoff games with the Capitals, he tallied 15 goals and 34 points.
In this short list, there is a mix of stars and depth players. The players listed above were all loved by Capitals fans. Some of these players displayed plenty of regular season flair, but nothing in the playoffs. Some of these players were considered “leaders” in the locker room, but they did not lead by example.
With these particular players, the Capitals chose to let them walk away, or they chose to trade them away. At the end of the day, the NHL is a production business. If a player does not perform in the playoffs, that club will most likely part ways with them at some point in the near future.
While many fans and Capitals bloggers praised these players over the years, I will argue that these players were overvalued and overrated. Production is needed in the playoffs, and these players did not perform well enough in their tenures for the Capitals.
As Ovechkin has gotten a little bit older, his supporting cast has improved. The Capitals now have one of the top playoff goaltenders in NHL history with Braden Holtby.
In addition to Holtby’s emergence, the Capitals blueline has become more stable. With John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Nate Schmidt, and Dmitry Orlov, this group is as good as any that one will see in the NHL.
The Capitals have put together a good mix of veterans and young players that surround their core group of stars. With some of the Capitals younger players, there have been some recent growing pains.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, and Tom Wilson all struggled to find some offense in the 2016 NHL Playoffs. Kuznetsov only recorded 2 points in 12 playoff games, while Burakovsky and Wilson each tallied just 1 point. These players are all important to the Capitals future, and there is still plenty of upside in each of them. The production should eventually come for these players in the playoffs, once they continue to physically mature and gain more experience.
While the present has not kind to the Capitals, the future is still bright for the club.
The Capitals will need to continue to re-tool their depth forwards this offseason. There was little production from the Capitals bottom 6 forward group, which was a major difference in the series against the Penguins.
The Capitals have options to re-tool their lineup. They have some players already in their Hershey system that could take a roster spot next season. The Capitals could also look in the trade route, or sign someone via free agency. Brian MacLellan has been a very active GM for the Capitals, so he will most likely find a solution somewhere.
After the 2016-17 season concludes, the Capitals will have some tough decisions to make as an organization. Evgeny Kuznetsov, TJ Oshie, Andre Burakovsky, Justin Williams, and Karl Alzner will be up for contract renewals. Depending on the moves the Capitals make, the Capitals will be shifting a lot of money around in their lineup.
The Capitals need to continue to develop their young players properly, and it is important for club to keep youth in their lineup. If they continue to keep young guys that can produce, that will help them with their salary cap usage.
If the Capitals management chooses the right players to retain, their window will expand beyond the 2-year projection. There is plenty of excitement surrounding the Capitals future, and they should continue to be a playoff contender as long as they keep drafting and developing well.
PLAYER QUIZ ANSWERS
PLAYER A – Eric Fehr
PLAYER B – Brooks Laich
PLAYER C – Troy Brouwer
PLAYER D – Alex Semin
By: George Foussekis