Due to a flat salary cap for the next three years, the Washington Capitals were one of many teams that were forced to make a number of roster changes over the past offseason. With 20 percent of the 2020-21 season in the books, how are those changes currently looking? NoVa Caps looks at the performances of the players the Capitals’ lost over the 2020 offseason and those who have replaced them.
Justin Schultz vs. Radko Gudas
On the first day of free agency, Gudas signed a three-year contract that carries a $2.5 million cap hit with the Florida Panthers and Schultz signed a two-year deal that pays him $4 million annually.
Schultz, 30, was thriving with the Capitals before suffering a lower-body injury on January 28, as he posted three consecutive two-point outings. He currently leads Washington with a +9 rating, which is also tied for sixth in the NHL this season. At five-on-five, Schultz has recorded a solid 53.7% Corsi-for percentage, a 52.07% expected goals-for percentage, and a 51.35% scoring chances-for percentage. While averaging 18:45 per game, including 2:04 on the power-play, Schultz’s average of 1.20 hits-per-60 is last on among Capitals’ defensemen while his 3.20 blocks-per-60 is ahead of only John Carlson, 0.80 giveaways-per-60 trails only Dmitry Orlov, 0.80 takeaways-per-60 is third, and 53.7% shot-attempts percentage leads Capitals’ blueliners.
Gudas, 30, was a healthy scratch for six of the Capitals’ final 14 games of last season, while in Florida he has appeared in every game for the Panthers (who lead the NHL with a .857 points percentage) this season while recording one assist and a +4 rating (tied for the team lead). Gudas has posted a 51.53% Corsi-for percentage, a 51.78% expected goals-for percentage, and a 47.89% scoring chances-for percentage. In 16:28 of average ice-time per game, including 2:24 on the penalty kill, Gudas’ average of 16.65 hits-per-60 ranks second on the Panthers, 3.64 blocked shots-per-60 is third, his 1.56 giveaways is fifth, and his 52.5% shot-attempts percentage is fifth. He has not been credited with a takeaway so far this season.
Conor Sheary vs. Ilya Kovalchuk
With a hole at forward following Kovalchuk’s departure, the Capitals signed Sheary to a one-year contract worth $735,000. Kovalchuk returned to the KHL and signed a two-year contract with the Avangard Omsk.
Sheary was a healthy scratch for two games at the beginning of the season but has provided some scoring depth with two goals and three points in eight games. The 28-year-old has posted a -2 rating, a 51.09% Corsi-for percentage, a 48.83% expected goals-for percentage, a 38.64% scoring chances-for percentage, and a 50.7% shot-attempts percentage while averaging 10:49 of ice-time per game, including 2:31 on the power-play. He missed the Capitals’ 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday night and is labeled as day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
Kovalchuk has posted four goals, 14 points, and a -5 rating in 14 KHL games this season but he almost certainly would not get the same ice-time he has gotten from Avangard Omsk so far this season with the Capitals.
Daniel Sprong vs. Travis Boyd
After being acquired in a trade that sent defenseman Christian Djoos to the Anaheim Ducks on February 24, Sprong signed a two-year, one-way contract, which carries a $725,000 cap hit, with the Capitals. Boyd signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Sprong, 23, was a healthy scratch for the Capitals’ first two games but has become a regular in the lineup after captain Alex Ovechkin was placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol and the team has been dealing with other injuries. He has posted two goals, three points, a -1 rating, a 47.89% Corsi-for percentage, a 45.21% expected goals-for percentage, a 44.07% scoring chances-for percentage, and a 47.5% shot attempts percentage in nine games this season.
Boyd, 27, has played in only three games this season for the Maple Leafs but has been productive as he has posted one goal, four points, a +4 rating, a 44.19% Corsi-for percentage, a 45.09% expected goals-for percentage, a 45.45% scoring chances-for percentage, and a 44.1% shot-attempts percentage.
Vitek Vanecek vs. Braden Holtby
After Ilya Samsonov outplayed Holtby for much of last season and with the Capitals needing room under the NHL salary cap, Holtby signed a two-year contract that carries a $4.3 million cap hit with the Vancouver Canucks. The Capitals signed Henrik Lundqvist to replace Holtby but Vanecek won the job after Lundqvist underwent an open heart procedure on January 3.
With Samsonov out due to COVID-19, Vanecek has taken over the No. 1 role and has gone 5-2-2 with a .911 save percentage and a 2.95 goals-against average. He posted a .918 save percentage in his first seven games. At five-on-five, the 25-year-old has recorded a .929 save percentage, 2.32 goals-against average, a 3.13 goals-saved above average, a .804 high-danger save percentage, a 1.36 high-danger goals-against average, and a -0.22 high-danger goals-saved above average. While shorthanded, Vanecek has an .841 save percentage.
Holtby, 31, appears to have lost the No. 1 job with the Canucks as he has started six games, two fewer than Thatcher Demko. Holtby has gone 3-3-0 with an .896 save percentage and a 3.64 goals-against average this season. He has posted a .904 save percentage, 3.37 goals-against average, a -2.02 goals-saved above average, a .766 high-danger save percentage, a 2.32 high-danger goals-against average, and a -1.99 high-danger goals-saved above average at five-on-five. Holtby has a .839 shorthanded save percentage this season. In Holtby’s defense, his 34.9 shots faced-per-60 minutes is the eighth-most in the NHL, over 1.5 more than what Vanecek is facing (33.3).
Peter Laviolette vs. Todd Reirden
After the Capitals fired Reirden on August 23, the Pittsburgh Penguins hired him as an assistant on head coach Mike Sullivan’s staff where he runs the defense and power-play. The Capitals replaced Reirden with Laviolette.
Laviolette got his team off to a fast start as they went 6-0-3 before the Capitals lost two in a row in regulation. The Capitals have averaged 3.55 goals-per-game (tied with Winnipeg Jets for sixth in the NHL) and 3.27 goals-against per game (24th) in addition to going 34.6% on the power-play (sixth) and 79.5% on the penalty-kill (18th) under Laviolette so far this season.
Under Reirden, the Penguins’ defense has allowed an average of 3.70 goals-per-game (fourth-highest) and the power-play has converted on 13.9% of their chances (24th), which is a massive underperformance with center Sidney Crosby, center Evgeni Malkin, and defenseman Kris Letang among the many solid options to play there.
Kevin McCarthy vs. Reid Cashman
McCarthy has been Laviolette’s right-hand man since Laviolette took over the Philadelphia Flyers’ bench during the 2009-10 season and came to Washington with him after contemplating retirement. Assistant Reid Cashman was hired as Dartmouth University’s hockey team’s head coach on June 5.
The Capitals have allowed an average of 32.7 shots-against per game this season (the fifth-most) despite making some major changes on defense over the offseason. Though scoring is always up around the NHL at the beginning of each season, so there is optimism that their defensive numbers will slide down.
Dartmouth’s hockey team has yet to play a game under Cashman.
Trevor Van Riemsdyk vs. Tyler Lewington
The Capitals signed Van Riemsdyk to have as an extra option on defense with the risk of many players missing time this season due to injury and COVID-19. They opted to let Lewington, 26, walk in free agency where he signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Nashville Predators.
Van Riemsdyk, 29, has recorded one goal, a -2 rating, a 48.11% Corsi-for percentage, a 45.6% expected goals-for percentage, and a 50.7% scoring chances-for percentage in six games this season after serving as a healthy scratch for the Capitals’ first five games. While averaging 17:50 per game, including 2:16 on the penalty-kill, Van Riemsdyk’s average of 1.68 hits-per-60 is second to last on among Capitals’ defensemen while his 6.16 blocks-per-60 is second, 1.12 giveaways-per-60 ranks fourth, and 47.8% shot-attempts percentage ranks second among Capitals’ defensemen. He has yet to record to takeaway this season.
Lewington is on the Predators’ taxi squad and has yet to play a game this season.
Daniel Carr vs. Brendan Leipsic
Carr, 29, has primarily been on the Capitals’ taxi squad this season but got an opportunity in two games against the New York Islanders last week with the team missing forward Tom Wilson due to a lower-body injury. He signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the team as an unrestricted free agent. Leipsic signed a two-year contract with KHL’s CSKA Moscow after the Capitals terminated his contract after screen grabs of Leipsic making misogynistic comments in an Instagram group chat surfaced over the offseason.
Carr earned an assist, a +1 rating, a 46.67% Corsi-for percentage, a 39.66% expected goals-for percentage, a 44.44% scoring chances-for percentage, and a 46.6% shot attempts percentage in the two games that he played. He averaged 10:25 of ice-time in those two games.
Leipsic has posted 11 goals, 24 points, and a +16 rating in 35 KHL games this season but he would likely be a fringe fourth-liner on any NHL team.
While some players’ stats look better than others’, it is important to keep in mind that some are playing with better or worse partners or teams, in different roles, and under new systems that could or could not fit into one’s advantage. As we start to get in the thick of the 2020-21 season, we should see many newcomers get more comfortable with their new teams and clubs start to establish their style of play.
By Harrison Brown