The Hockey News has been running a fun series entitled “2020 Vision” which projects how NHL teams might look when the 2019-2020 season rolls around. It’s definitely worth a look, so check it out here. They write a quick blurb on the current state of each team and provide a projected roster in three years.
Adding to that, the series includes a quick write-up on what a team “Got”, what they “Need”, their “Cap” situation, and the “Bottom Line” on their outcome for the 2019-2020 season.
It’s obviously just about impossible to guess such a thing, but it’s August and what else is one going to read? The state of the American political landscape? Didn’t think so. So here at NoVa Caps, we’ll be doing the same thing but with a little bit more insight into each of the next three years to figure what the Capitals could look like by the 2019-2020 season.
Like the Hockey News article, there are some rules that were used to create these lineups.
- There are no big trades or big Unrestricted Free Agency (UFA) signings. It’s not worth trying to guess who the Caps will be trading for or signing outside of the team. The projection will only focus on re-signing current players and prospects.
- This is very important for everyone to understand: this article (like The Hockey news one) will assume a lot. It looks at “best-case scenario” for a players and prospects development.
- We have the cap going up $2 million for the 2018-2019 season, then another $3 million for the 2019-2020 season, for a total of $80 million in three years.
- The lineups will only include 12 forwards, six defensemen, and two goalies – no extras. So the cap hit for the team could be a tad less than what it should be because extra the one to three players aren’t there.
This should be pretty basic as we know how the team will most likely look this upcoming season unless General Manager Brian MacLellan has something up his sleeve. This roster is very much up in the air. It could be a Top 5 team in the league or a team that could be selling Alex Ovechkin at the deadline. It all depends on how well the new kids do and how the health of the whole team is. Don’t freak out about the selling Ovechkin part, that is literally the very worse scenario. All of the new young players would have to be pretty bad and big names get hurt for a long stretch. I would bet high dollars the Caps are a playoff team for years to come.
The Caps will be losing Lars Eller, Jay Beagle, and Taylor Chorney in unrestricted free agency before the 2018-2019 season, saving them a bit over $6 million, but half of that will go straight to John Carlson. This is assuming Carlson has a great 2017-2018 season, which is very possible now that he will be away from Karl Alzner and, hopefully, Brooks Orpik. He has the ability to hit 50-plus points in his contract year, so $7 million a year for six years is a real possibility.
The only other “big” UFA is Tom Wilson and he’s a question mark. Can he make the 2017-2018 season his? Can he prove he’s more than a fourth-liner? Can he burst out and score 15 goals and 30-plus points? Hard to tell but let’s assume he does and if so, he will probably get another two-year bridge deal to prove he’s a Top 9 player. It isn’t the biggest deal if he isn’t, and/or the Capitals trade him or sign him to a low-cost deal. Prospect Riley Barber has the ability to be an effective player in the NHL, and can take a try at third-line. Or another UFA is certainly attainable, as there are dozens every year.
This is where it gets really interesting. There will be a lot of full-time youngsters in the lineup. Most noticeably is Travis Boyd at the third-line center position. To me, he is a near clone of former Capital Mathieu Perreault. Neither are the strongest or fastest, but they are incredibly smart and skilled. They also have identical point per game stats in their first two years in the AHL (0.76 points per game). Add to this, Boyd is eighth in points in the AHL over his first two seasons in the league, and all seven players ahead of him are older. Assuming Boyd works out like Perreault, he should start in the third-line center position at the age of 25.
Another big issue is the defense. We know Dmitry Orlov, Matt Niskanen, and Carlson are great, but Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey will need to prove in the 2017-2018 season (whether in the NHL or AHL) that they are NHL ready. If they aren’t then it’s possible Lucas Johansen, Connor Hobbs, Jonas Siegenthaler, and/or Tyer Lewington will be ready to step in and get a chance. All of the young players listed (besides Lewington) have the capability to be Top 4 defensemen, but they have to prove it. But, as the article states, let’s assume they do and Djoos and Bowey work out swimmingly.
This is also considering that Philipp Grubauer will more than likely be traded during the 2017-2018 season or in the following summer. It’s possible he will not be on the team for the 2018-2019 season.
It’s important to note the cap hit. Assuming the cap climbs at least $2 million, the Caps will have almost $4 million in cap space, so if all of their young players, no matter how unlikely, show they can’t make it in the NHL, don’t worry, there’s room to fix it in free agency. I also have Orpik still on the team, but would not be surprised at all if he is bought out for space (it would save an extra $3 million) and to give one of the young players a chance. He could also be shifted to the seventh defensive spot to be used as an emergency backup.
And finally, we get to how the Caps will look in three years. Luckily, there are no huge free agent signings needed and they finally free themselves of Orpik’s $5.5 million cap hit, though I’m sure some hope he’s gone before then. But there are some important restricted free agent signings to be made. First, it wouldn’t be surprising if Burakovsky becomes a consistent 25-30 goal-scorer for each of the two seasons in his bridge deal so he will most likely earn $6 million a year deal in the summer before the 2019-2020 season. Jakub Vrana will also more than likely prove his worth over these next two seasons and likely get the normal bridge deal that Burakovsky just signed of $3 million salary two seasons. Though it might be wise of the Caps to lock up Vrana long-term around $4.5 million like they should have done with Burakovsky to save money down the line. If Djoos proves himself to be a Top 4 blueliner that all fans are hoping, then he will get a bridge deal, though like Vrana, it might be prudent to lock him up on a longer term deal.
A big boost will be the addition of Shane Gersich, who is looking to be a legitimate Top 6 player. He could join the Caps in the 2018-2019 season, but to play it safe I have him joining after his senior year in college once Brett Connolly is gone. I also have Boyd proving his worth as a third-line center and getting a bridge deal to prove more. Basically, I followed the same formula that Perreault went through contract-wise.
This will leave the Caps with $5 million or more in cap space, which is a good chunk that could fix something on the roster if it doesn’t work out. But the Caps should highly consider trading Braden Holtby before the 2019-2020 season starts. Yes, Holtby is one of the best in the league, but the Caps will have Vitek Vanecek and hopefully Ilya Samsonov ready to take over by then. Samsonov is arguably, the best goaltender not in the NHL and should be more than capable to replace Holtby’s elite status at some point. How do great teams continue to be great? They move assets before they lose them for nothing. Holtby would bring back a king’s ransom in terms of picks and prospects. To add to this, if Bowey and/or Connor Hobbs hit their ceiling and prove to be Top 4 defensemen, the Capitals should also consider moving Matt Niskanen. He’s a top -airing right handed defenseman, so he would fetch a great price even if he is 32-33.
Between moving Holtby and Niskanen (assuming just picks and/or prospects), the Caps could free up an additional $11.85 million, totalling $16 million in cap space that summer. This could give the Capitals a great deal of room to help them anywhere in the lineup if think they need it. There are some big names on the market that season too that you can check out here. Or the Caps could use the Holtby and Niksanen trades to get back current NHL players to help. Point is, the Caps have a lot of options and maneuverability that can help them make the best team. They don’t have to move Holtby or Niskanen, I’m just saying there are options out there to free up space if needed.
It’s also very important to note here that neither Lucas Johansen, Connor Hobbs, and Ilya Samsonov are on this roster and they will more likely need to be, as they will outgrow the AHL. Those are three really good prospects that aren’t needed, that’s a great sign. And it’s very possible Garrett Pilon, Beck Malenstyn, and maybe even Tyler Lewington could all be in the same boat. This gives the Caps even more options for trades to free up space and gain assets.
The Capitals have everything really, assuming their young kids prove their worth. Two centers that are first-line worthy, wingers young and old that are highly-skilled, a deep defensive core that are veteran top-heavy with promising youngsters to back them up, and as usual one the deepest teams in terms of goaltenders.
Nothing pressing at the NHL level. As stated above, they have very promising young wingers, defensemen, and goalies. But they do lack Top 6 talent centers in their prospect pool and that’s a bit worrisome because the last season of Nicklas Backstrom’s contract is the 2019-2020 season, and it’s no guarantee he’ll be back. If he does re-sign with the Caps, they could buy another handful of years of not needing a Top 6 center. They have some nice prospects in Travis Boyd, Brian Pinho, and Garrett Pilon, but none, so far, scream Top 6 center. The Caps could easily acquire a great center prospect or pick to acquire one in the Holtby and Niskanen trades if they take that route.
To add to needing a Top 6 center prospect, the Caps should try their best to try to move up in the draft to grab another game-changer. Yes, they have a lot of promising Top 6, Top 4, and number one goalies coming up in their prospect pool, but it would be great to grab another known elite prospect that will be regarded as one of the greats in their position such a Rasumus Dahlin or Andrei Svechnikov who look to possibly go first and second overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. The Caps do have a potential game changer in Samsonov, who could be one of the best goalies in his prime, but it would be great to find a skater with the same admiration of Backstrom or Ovechkin. The issue is the Caps are consistently picking in the 20’s because they are so good. Maybe this is where the Holtby trade comes into play. Packaging him with something else could get the Caps a Top 5 pick to get a top-tier prospect. Point is, the Caps need to find one of those players soon to carry the torch.
As stated above, as long as the cap goes up, the Capitals should be able to keep a competitive team with room to spare, but if they need more money they have some big contracts they can move, like Holtby or Niskanen. And if things get really ugly, Ovechkin will always be in demand and shedding his contract, whether they have to eat $1 million or $2 million, would be simple. Add moving these contracts with the young talent coming up that will be cheap, the Caps should be sitting pretty cap-wise.
So the question is, will the Caps still be a competitive team in the 2019-2020 season? How do you define a competitive team? I would think a team with a skilled Top 6, a strong Top 4, and a reliable goalie is all you need to give yourself a good chance at the Stanley Cup. Do the Caps fit those requirements?
I don’t think it’s too much of stretch to assume that both Burakovsky and Vrana will turn into Top 6 talents. This means Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, Vrana, and Oshie will be the Top 6, which looks very good, even with Ovechkin and Oshie “declining”. This doesn’t even include Gersich, who looks like he’ll be a Top 6 talent himself. As for the defense, we know Carlson, Niskanen, and Orlov are Top 4 worthy (arguably all top-pairing worthy), this means the Caps just need one more player to fill out their defense. So just one of Djoos, Bowey, Hobbs, Johansen, or Siegnthelar need to turn into a Top 4 player by the 2019-2020 season. I’d be absolutely shocked if at least one of them doesn’t fill that hole. In fact, I’d actually be shocked if at least three of them didn’t turn into Top 4 talents. And of course, the Caps have the goaltending. Holtby, Vanecek, and Samsonov all make it, so the Caps’ net is secured for the next decade.
As long as the young kids pan out to their potential, then the idea of the “window closing” is severely overblown. The Caps have all the pieces to continue to be a competitive team for years to come, even after the Ovechkin era has passed. They have very young talented goaltenders, defensemen, and wingers that could be very impactful. Currently, if you remove Orpik from the equation, Ovechkin is the oldest player on the roster at just 31-years old (32 on September 17), that means the team is still quite young. In three years Kuznetsov, Orlov, Burakovsky, Carlson, Vrana, and Holtby will all be 30 or less, and that list doesn’t include the young kids.
The biggest concern will be that Ovechkin will be 34, and Oshie, 32 by the start of the 2019-2020 season. Ovechkin shouldn’t be a burden just because of his elite scoring ability added to the fact he would only have one more year on his deal, so if things don’t work out, they will still be shedding his salary. Even if he re-signs, it will most likely be in the $5 million-$6 million range, saving them $3.5 million-plus on his current deal. But Oshie is a bit harder to maneuver around, as his deal goes to his 38th birthday. But, if he is the only bad deal in four to five years ,then the Caps will be fine as every team has one or two of them.
Backstrom will also be 31, but for elite playmakers like him, it takes a little extra longer for time to catch up to them, like Joe Thornton is proving now. His eyes and passing are so elite, he will always be deadly because neither rely on strength of a shot or legs. Niskanen will be 32, but will only have one more year on his deal and still be a very good Top 4 defenseman, if not top-pairing, defenseman. But again, he could be moved before that time for a good return if Bowey and Hobbs prove their worth.
If you look at the 2019-2020 predictive roster what looks out of place the most? Nothing on that roster screams “no way” to me. At most, Wilson proving to be a $3 million man is the most ridiculous, and I wouldn’t disagree. But then remove that $3 million, and find a replacement. There are dozens of third-liners on the free agent market every year or a prospect like Barber or others could step up. What else? Boyd being a third-line center. Again, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a replacement in free agency or among prospects like Brian Pinho or Pilon. Djoos proving to be second-pairing? Again, if he can’t one of the other listed prospects should be able to step in. Basically, if something is wrong with this team, it isn’t a huge issue and with the cap space and the ability to make trades there’s no reason the Caps shouldn’t be contending in the 2019-2020 season.
I imagine The Hockey News will not look kindly upon the Washington Capitals because the Caps will need to rely heavily on unknown prospects in three seasons. It would have been best to make this article next summer because this upcoming season will say a lot about the Caps’ current roster and it’s prospects. Most likely, for the 2019-2020 season, nearly half the roster will be filled with prospects that currently have little to no NHL experience. This inexperience will probably make The Hockey News think the Caps will be a weak team. But if a handful of Caps prospects pan out and reach their capability there’s no reason to think in three seasons, the Capitals won’t be contending for the Stanley Cup still. But the question stands: will those young kids pan out? We’ll have to wait and see.
Rosters made at CapFriendly.com
By Luke Adomanis