Let me start off by saying I’m not intending this to be as hot of a take as it seems from the title. The Capitals were a really good hockey team last year, and they were eliminated by a Pittsburgh team that exploited their weaknesses and rode a young, hot goalie all the way to a second Stanley Cup Championship in seven years.
Unlike in years past, where the Capitals “choked” out of the playoffs, this year, they were beaten (albeit by one goal on aggregate in the series) by a better, faster Penguins team. The Capitals were a more talented team than the Penguins, but the Penguins ran the Capitals ragged in all three zones, constantly pressuring the Capitals defense into mistakes, and quickly turning pucks over in the neutral zone leading to grade-A scoring opportunities.
It’s mid-July, meaning the season doesn’t start for another three months, and by the time the season does roll around (or even by the time this article is posted), the Capitals could have made a move (or multiple moves) that contradict how I feel about the way the Capitals have conducted their offseason.
What should be noted is this; on July 1, there were almost $650 million of contracts given out. Some were decent, like the Sabres signing Kyle Okposo to a 7 year contract. This was a great signing for the Sabres, as they need more of a veteran presence to help guide a young team into the postseason, and maybe even a run at the Stanley Cup. Okposo had a great season for the Islanders, racking up 22 goals and 64 points playing alongside elite centerman John Tavares. Okposo will likely step into a first line role, playing with stud young American forward Jack Eichel. Milan Lucic’s deal with Edmonton, while expected, was a bit much to hand out to a player of Lucic’s type; a big-body power forward who’s there to clear space in front of the net and score the occasional goal. Playing alongside Connor McDavid may boost his fantasy stats, but everyone and their mother knows the type of player he is.
These two specific deals were good deals in that they addressed team needs, and made their respective teams better. However, there were some absolutely baffling contracts signed in free agency so far. To me, the most ridiculous of the bunch was the Calgary Flames signing Troy Brouwer to a 4 year contract worth 18.5 million dollars, an average annual value (AAV) of 4.625 million dollars. Brouwer isn’t a bad player, and had a solid season on a very good St. Louis Blues team (18G, 39 points), but at age 30, giving a contract of that kind of term and money to a player whose best days are behind him (no knock on Brouwer, great guy, and had great years with the Capitals) is ludicrous. Speaking of ludicrous, what on EARTH were the Bruins thinking, signing David Backes (again, good player, but at age 32) to a 5 YEAR DEAL worth 30 MILLION DOLLARS (AAV OF 5 million dollars). Backes’ cap hit will be 5 million dollars until he’s 37 years old (!!!).
What do these deals have to do with the Caps? Well, for starters, I’m glad Brian MacLellan hasn’t done anything blatantly stupid (I.E. signing a player over 30 years old to a long-term deal or overspending for a need). Through the addition of Lars Eller, the Capitals solved their void at 3C, and with the addition of Brett Connolly, they added more bottom-6 depth. This being said, it’s just not good enough, and if nothing is done soon, we’re going to be staring at another early playoff exit.
Minnesota signed Eric Staal, who albeit isn’t the player he once was, but could still contribute to a contending team, to a 3 year contract worth 10.5 million dollars (AAV of 3.5 million dollars, which is the same as Justin Williams). I understand that there needs to be cap space to potentially lock up Orlov and Johansson to long-term contracts, but staring at the second year of what GMBM described as a “2-year cup window,” making these small, shrewd moves may save the team in the long-run, but the Capitals don’t have the luxury of that kind of time. Why not at least inquire about Staal, maybe see if he’d take less money to potentially win a cup?
As of right now, here’s what the Capitals lines look like (according to how I think they should line up. VIVA TKO!)
Obviously, things could change as soon as 10 minutes after this article is posted, with Johansson facing arbitration and Orlov still tagged as a restricted free agent. Personally, I’d like to see Johansson signed long term (maybe at an AAV of 4.25 million, but certainly no more). Had the Caps signed Eric Staal, they’re looking at a center depth of Kuzy, Nicky, Eller, and Staal, a championship caliber center group. With Staal, you could even roll a third line of Eller-Staal-Williams, a line that could rival Hagelin-Bonino-Kessel. Moving Orlov for a guy like Jordan Eberle is another option, with Eberle sliding in alongside Backstrom and either Burkie or MoJo. The point is, there are moves that could potentially be made to significantly improve this team, and MacLellan is just sitting pretty, resting on laurels that are really non-existent, having been knocked out in the second round of the playoffs in two consecutive years.
There aren’t many more elite years that Alex Ovechkin can give this team. TJ Oshie’s contract expires after this upcoming season, as does Justin Williams’. After next year, important decisions are going to need to be made regarding the future of this franchise. I’m not advocating to mortgage the future to go “all in” for the Stanley Cup (The Rangers are famous for this, and falling flat on their face over and over again). However, given the very minor tinkering the Capitals have done to their roster this offseason, you would think that they’re coming off of a Stanley Cup championship, or at least an eastern conference title. The fact of the matter is that they aren’t and despite a President’s Trophy, last year, while fun, was a failure, and there are only so many more failures that we can afford before a total restart is needed.
So, while I am vehemently opposed to the Rangers’ total mortgaging of their future in order to win now, there are assets within this organization (money, prospects, Orlov and Johansson) that can be used to upgrade the Capitals. Kris Versteeg is a free agent. Edmonton has a wealth of forwards that they’re willing to move. Make of that what you will.
By Matthew Jacobson