Leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline on March 22, the Washington Capitals will almost certainly be buyers but have yet to see their optimal lineup this season due to injuries and COVID-19 and likely will not until left-wing Anthony Mantha returns from shoulder surgery, which he underwent on November 5. NoVa Caps takes a look at what the team’s 23-man roster could look like after Mantha comes back.
Laviolette has certain variables that he likes such as having the fourth-line together when healthy. He has scratched Sprong nine times due to his one-dimensional playing style and he probably would have done so much more had he had a full roster of players to choose from. When healthy, Oshie has averaged 3:20 on the power play (fifth most on the team).
While it is arguable that Wilson could overtake that spot with his play this season, he has averaged 35 fewer seconds on the man advantage. Laviolette has also given Schultz (1:20) an average of 14 more seconds on the power play than Orlov despite the fact that Schultz has two goals in 42 games this season. Despite the fact that Wilson plays in the top-six and Hathaway has more responsibility defensively, Wilson (1:31) averages 30 more seconds per game shorthanded than Hathaway.
While defenseman Dennis Cholowski has been on the roster for most of the season, Laviolette keeps raving about Irwin, who has looked strong, so he will likely be the extra defenseman.
Head Coach Peter Laviolette’s Lines
Alex Ovechkin — Evgeny Kuznetsov — Tom Wilson
Connor McMichael — Nicklas Backstrom — Mantha
Conor Sheary — Lars Eller — T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin — Nic Dowd — Garnet Hathaway
Extras: RW Daniel Sprong, C Aliaksei Protas
Martin Fehervary — John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov — Nick Jensen
Trevor Van Riemsdyk — Justin Schultz
Extra: Matt Irwin
Kuznetsov — Backstrom — Oshie
Ovechkin — Carlson
Sheary — Eller — Wilson
Mantha — Schultz
Dowd — Hagelin
Van Riemsdyk — Jensen
Eller — Wilson
Fehervary — Carlson
Discussion And Suggested Tweaks
Ovechkin and Kuznetsov have been carrying the team all season long and Wilson meshes will with them with his physicality opening up ice for the two to make plays and produce. McMichael has done well creating chances in his rookie season while Mantha will get a chance to prove himself once he returns. Oshie has not been durable this season so you may want to limit his ice time while Protas has looked good on both sides of the ice.
We all saw how the Capitals ran out of gas in the first round last year and keeping youth in the mix is a must even for a team in win-now mode. Hagelin has had a rough year and with a price tag of $2.75 million, it may be time to move on from him despite the role he plays defensively. If Laviolette wants a veteran who can play responsible defense, the Capitals could just go out and get another (it likely won’t cost much to acquire).
Eller comes with a price tag of $3.5 million but he has played better than Hagelin has and is also known as a defensively responsible player. The fourth-line should still be among the league’s best even with Eller in over Hagelin. Sprong has a nice shot but he has not been as good as McMichael and Protas and has his defensive deficiencies.
On defense, I have loved the two-way game Jensen and Van Riemsdyk have played but Carlson has improved since a rocky start and the Fehervary-Carlson pairing has been pretty good. While improving slightly, Schultz has not been as good as one would have hoped while Irwin has the best Corsi-for percentage (55.81%), expected goals-for percentage (59.96%), and scoring chances-for percentage (54.72%) among Capitals defensemen who have played in at least five games this season at five-on-five.
With special teams, it may be time to start decreasing Oshie’s time since he has yet to prove that he can stay healthy and Wilson’s big body could be a good compliment to Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Carlson on the first unit. Eller is getting older at age 32 and can play a strong two-way game so it might be time to shed some of his load too and give some of the young players more opportunity. Especially with the way the power play has played this season (until recently), it may be time to mix the personnel up.
Since Wilson and Carlson contribute to the Capitals’ offensive system more, it may also be beneficial to take them off of the penalty kill to up their goal production in favor of Hathaway and Irwin, who’s primary job is on the defensive side of the puck anyway. Playing three defensemen on the penalty kill at the same time is something worth trying with the Capitals’ depth on defense to give more offensive opportunity to Wilson and Carlson. Also, who would not try Orlov as a forward even if it is four against five and not with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov?
Ovechkin — Kuznetsov — Wilson
McMichael — Backstrom — Mantha
Sheary — Protas — Oshie
Eller — Dowd — Hathaway
Extras: Sprong, Hagelin
Fehervary — Carlson
Orlov — Jensen
Irwin — Van Riemsdyk
Kuznetsov — Backstrom — Wilson
Ovechkin — Carlson
Sheary — McMichael — Oshie
Mantha — Orlov
Dowd — Hathaway
Irwin — Jensen
Eller — Orlov
Fehervary — Van Riemsdyk
Overall, the Capitals lineup looks strong but they may want to add another forward who can move around the lineup since Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Eller, and Dowd have all missed time this season and all will be 30 or older in May. They may also want another goaltender since Samsonov’s play has fallen off since a strong start and Vanecek has played just 13:10 of Stanley Cup Playoff hockey in his NHL career.
The Capitals have used four different goalies this season and three had a chance to take the top job before each yielded it right after they seemed to have grabbed it. With just 45 days left before the trade deadline, the Capitals do not have much time to assess the state of their roster before teams put their pencils down and have not gotten any time at all to see how their ideal combinations roll together. Good luck, Brian MacLellan.
By Harrison Brown
Protas needs to play. When Mantha comes back, if he is in a bottom six role, fine. However, if he isn’t going to be in the Caps lineup, sending him to Hershey to continue his development is a better option. Being on press box duty doesn’t help Protas continue to grow.
I agree he needs to play. I’m just not sure he would be sent back to Hershey if he is 13F or 14F, after playing a full season in the NHL. Seems like that wouldn’t provide much for him.
Spot on. He’s looked good, gotta make room for him.
Lav won’t give McMichael top 6.
You obviously haven’t been following along.
Would love to see the team move Schultz and Hagelin at deadline and use savings for a better Dman. Would be willing to move Sammy to make an enticing deal. For a team missing offense I cannot leave Sprong out of lineup.
Yes and Yes!
Any word on when Mantha returns?
Judging by social media, I would be surprised if he skated next week with a non-contact jersey.
I see Hags being traded for an improvement on the blueline… Habs and Hawks have money and assets… D Savard?
Really? To get savard you have to give more than Hagelin. They are going to want a young player and probably a draft pick. It would be nice if Schults, Hagelin adn Eller could be put in the same package but still not sure that would get you a top players or ever a good player. Plus you are on the hook for Savards $3.5 million salary for the next 3 years and at 31 he is not what this team needs another aging vet who doesnt score and is on the down slope of his career.
The talk is the Capitals management knows they go no where without a playoff ready Goalie, and as promising as our two young goalies may be they simply are not ready so expect a move here. I hope its a bold move since this team has such a small window of maybe 3 years at best to get another cup. Some of the younger players like Protas and McMichael must be on the team but clearly are not top 6. Still the bigger issue is if the team is all in then they have a CAP issue, because only one goalie available can lead them to the cup and that is goalie Marc-André Fleury. And even if the Blackhawks retain the maximum one half of his salary we do not have room for him under the cap without letting someone go via trade.
Ovechkin — Kuznetsov — Mantha
Oshie — Backstrom — Wilson
Sheary — Eller — McMichael
Protas — Dowd — Hathaway
Extras: Sprong, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby
Fehervary — Carlson
Orlov — Jensen
Irwin — Van Riemsdyk
Extra: Schultz (last year as Cap)
I like a lot of what you have laid out. I would have AJF in the Hagelin spot just because of Axel’s excellent PK ability.
Save money in Fleury cap by getting a third team involved
I agree Schultz and Hagelin should be traded. Power play needs major improvement. Ovie needs to be less static in the kitchen on the power play and be more mobile.
There isnt a lot this team can do to get a player to help at the trade deadline without giving up a young player or players and mortgaging their future for a playoff spot today. Not smart. Schultz is gone after this year. Soneone above said that Protas in not a 1st liner, well we dont need a first liner. But we could move, give away Hagelin and let AJF play or bring up Gerisch who plays much like Hagelin but can score. I know Hags in good on the PK but he is a defecit in the scoring column. I see our best trade piece as being Eller but then you would have to put Protos or McMichael there. I think either would be good as then one would be getting steady playing time to develop as his natural position. IF Sprong is not going to play regulary then he should be traded. However Sprong makes the league min so not a good idea. I think that there are 2 D that might bring you something…..Carlson and Kempny. Kempny a lot less than Carlson. If Carlson is traded and Schukltz goes after this year and they can dump Hagelin and Eller they could free up a little over $19 mil.