As the 2016-17 season draws closer, the Washington Capitals will aim to defend their Metropolitan Division title. While the Capitals are ultimately aiming for the shinier things that will come around next June, the Caps understand the importance of winning a division. Winning a division in today’s NHL is not an easy task. There are many good teams, and the competitive balance around the league is as good as it has ever been.
It is going to be a Cup or bust scenario for the Capitals in 2016-17. They didn’t make many major adjustments during the summer, and have nearly the same team that did so well back in 2015-16.
So how can the Capitals finish no worse than 2nd in the Metropolitan Division in 2016-17? How will they be able to repeat their regular season success from last season?
Here are 5 reasons why the Capitals will finish no worse than 2nd in the Metropolitan Division in 2016-17:
Holtby was the best goaltender in the Metropolitan Division, and in the entire NHL in 2015-16. He took home the Vezina Trophy, as he recorded a remarkable 48 wins for the Capitals. The 26-year old netminder has found his elite game under Barry Trotz and Caps goaltending coach Mitch Korn. Holtby will probably be a favorite to win the Vezina Trophy again next year as the Capitals are expected to do great things. The Metropolitan Division has a handful of good goaltenders like Henrik Lundqvist and Cory Schneider, but none of them are playing at the same level that Holtby is playing at right now.
The center position used to be a position that the Capitals lacked depth at for many years. With the emergence of Evgeny Kuznetsov, and a very reliable, established Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals have a dynamic 1-2 punch up the middle. The Capitals added to that depth at the draft by trading for Lars Eller, who is expected to fill the 3rd line center role. Jay Beagle, who played up and down the Capitals lineup last season, is expected to fill the 4th line center spot. Other players the Capitals have that have played center before include T.J. Oshie, Marcus Johansson, and Andre Burakovsky. The Capitals have all of the holes filled at the center position, and they have plenty of flexibility to play multiple players at different positions, depending on the matchups.
YOUTH NOW, YOUTH LATER
The NHL has become a young man’s game. Players have to have speed, and at least a little bit of skill in order to survive. The Capitals have never been shy about playing young players. Young Capitals players like Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Tom Wilson, Dmitry Orlov, and Nate Schmidt all had breakout seasons in 2015-16. These players have only scratched of their true potential, as they are all 25-years old or younger.
The Capitals could be getting another youth injection in the upcoming season as prospects Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, and Zach Sanford all may have a chance to crack the opening night roster. The Capitals will have a lot of competition in their upcoming training camp.
Since Trotz’s arrival to D.C., he has made the locker room a family atmosphere. The players all respect each other. The coaches respect their fellow coaches and their players. There is a special team unity that the Capitals have now, something that was missing for the longest time. Trotz took home the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach, and it was a long time coming for him. With over 1,300 NHL games and 658 wins under his belt, Trotz has a wealth of experience and a great hockey mind.
The Capitals have a very deep blueline that can do many things well. Defensemen like John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov (once he gets re-signed) can contribute to the offense and score some goals from the blueline. Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner provide a formidable shutdown pairing for the Capitals against other teams’ top players. Brooks Orpik, Nate Schmidt, and Taylor Chorney all provide serviceable depth and added flexibility for the blueline in case there are injuries. Teams that find success in the NHL have deep defensive cores. The Capitals have all of the right ingredients in this area of the lineup.
By: George Foussekis