Washington Capitals 2019-20 Training Camp Preview: Lineup Battles, Salary Cap Decisions, and More Storylines to Watch

As the Capitals’ training camp kicks off tomorrow, there are going to be a few storylines fans will want to keep an eye on. The 2019-20 season is set to be one of the more important campaigns in the Alex Ovechkin era, as both Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby are in the final year of their current contracts, and the core of the team is beginning to age. The Caps will have to start strong with a pretty grueling start to their regular season schedule, facing eight playoff teams from last season in the first eight games, including the defending champion St. Louis Blues on opening night. In this piece, NoVa Caps’ Justin Trudel previews some key aspects of training camp to watch. (Training camp roster and schedule is here).

Positional Battles and the Salary Cap

It’s no secret that the Capitals are one of five teams currently over the salary cap ceiling of $81.5 million, after re-signing both Christian Djoos and Chandler Stephenson. The biggest question appears to which could end up being a salary cap casualty? Fans can expect there to be a fair bit of competition for the left spot on the third defensive-pairing between Jonas Siegenthaler and Djoos and if Djoos were to lose that battle to Siegenthaler, he could be traded to provide the Caps with some relief. There also may be some dark horse candidates for this position, such as Martin Fehervary, who impressed at the prospects tournament

Additionally, there’s potential questions asked about the team’s goaltending situation, given Holtby’s contract status and the development of top goaltending prospect Ilya Samsonov. Most expect that Pheonix Copley will retain his spot as the backup goaltender in Washington, but if Samsonov impresses in training camp, do the Capitals send him to AHL Hershey to start the season?

On top of the goaltending and third defensive-pairing, there will be a number of players jostling for a spot on the team’s fourth-line alongside center Nic Dowd, with offseason addition Brendan Leipsic, Travis Boyd, and Stephenson. Stephenson is the most expensive of the three, but his entire salary cap hit can be taken off of the Capitals’ books if he is sent to Hershey. The issue for the Caps, however, is that Stephenson is waiver eligible, meaning another team would have the opportunity to claim him if they attempt to send him to the AHL. It would be surprising if Leipsic wasn’t on the NHL roster after signing with Washington, leaving a possible two-way battle between Boyd and Stephenson.

At the end of the day, the Caps are $1,364,294 over the salary cap ceiling. There will have to be some shuffling of the roster, either via the trade route or through demotions to Hershey. The roster will have to be cap compliant before the start of the season, so training camp will be a big indicator as to who will be staying and who may be on the way out the door.

Michal Kempny’s Health

The Capitals’ defensive performance struggled greatly after defenseman Michal Kempny tore his hamstring against the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 20. The chemistry on the defensive pairings was noticeably off in the Capitals’ first round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes, and it resulted in multiple defensemen playing on their off-side.

If the team can have a healthy Kempny back in the lineup for the entire season, the team has a very strong chance of improving on their less-than stellar defensive performance last season. While he has been skating in workouts leading up to training camp, the hope is that Kempny will be ready to play on October 2 in the Capitals’ season opener against the Blues.

What Prospects Will Make Their Mark?

Training camp is a great place for near NHL-ready prospects to make a good impression on the front office and coaching staff, since they’ll be practicing and playing in preseason games against NHL-caliber competition. The Capitals have a handful of prospects looking to make their mark this year, including Martin Fehervary, Lucas Johansen, and Alex Alexeyev on the blueline and 2019 picks Connor McMichael and Brett Leason leading the forward prospects, among others.. A full training camp roster can be found HERE.

This will be an especially important training camp for Johansen, in particular. After being selected in the first-round (28th overall) in 2016, Johansen has been largely inconsistent during his time with Hershey. He has yet to see NHL action, and in the final season of his entry-level contract, the Capitals need to see what they have in the left-handed blueliner, who will need to have a strong preseason to indicate to the front office and coaching staff he is capable of being an NHL player.

In addition to their blueline prospects, the Capitals will have a slew of goaltenders with the team in training camp, including highly-touted prospect Ilya Samsonov and 2019 All-Star Vitek Vanecek. Strong performances from either of these netminders may force the front office’s hand with Copley, since both Samsonov and Vanecek have less expensive cap hits than Copley. The Caps also need to see what they have in Samsonov, with Holtby’s contract situation likely making it more urgent than before for the second-year pro to continue to develop into an NHL-caliber netminder.

Summary

This season’s training camp is one that will be interesting to watch for a variety of reasons. Many of these storyline will require patience to see how they play out during the preseason, and potentially into the regular season as well, as there are always surprises during training camp who could make for some interesting roster decisions from MacLellan (especially considering the team’s salary cap situation).

By Justin Trudel

About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager at a non-profit in Jacksonville, FL. Justin enjoys geeking out over roster construction and cap management.
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7 Responses to Washington Capitals 2019-20 Training Camp Preview: Lineup Battles, Salary Cap Decisions, and More Storylines to Watch

  1. jimallcaps says:

    Stephenson and Djoos will have to be outstanding and Leipsic and Siegenthaler and Fehervary underwhemling for them to be on the opening night roster.

    Like

  2. Day One Caps Fan says:

    Thanks Justin Trudel for this excellent, On The Eve of the Season summary of the Caps’ aspirations

    As always, I add one more paragraph to the analysis:”Will the Caps’ Coaching Staff Figure It Out?”
    I ain’t a Reirden fan, and lots of responsibility falls on his shoulders and those of his assistants.

    They have a chance to improve on last season’s debacle, to prove their critics wrong. It won’t take long! The “Leash” should last no longer than Friday, 15 November 2019, the night the Caps face Montreal at home, their 21st game of the new season

    Like

    • jimallcaps says:

      I did not see TR as a failure in the regular season. Yes, the PP and PK need improvement, particularly PP entries. The overall team defense also required a serious overhaul that BMac addressed in the offseason. I think the bottom 6 will be much better for the team overall, more defensively sound. Yes, the Canes beat the Caps in a series they should have won, but the Caps lacked possession badly that had a lot to do with Nisky’s deteriorating play, Orpik playing on one good knee, Kempny out, Jensen not meshing well yet, Djoos playing horribly, and the bottom 6 just not very good at a 200 foot game. If TR and his assistants are stinking up the joint before the deadline, yes, try to salvage the season with a coaching change, but if they are winning the Metro again, then he has earned the season. It’s the postseason he really has to improve upon, and hopefully now he has the parts to do so.

      Like

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