It’s beneficial to regularly conduct a “big picture” assessment of an organization’s depth by position in order to gain a solid understanding of the status of certain attributes within the organization. The periodic review is also essential in identifying necessary changes as a result of performance and salary cap value (or lack thereof) and to also identify potential gaps in depth at a position.
Earlier this week I laid out the Capitals organizational depth chart for the goaltending position. In this post I’ll take a look at the Capitals’ depth on the blueline and project an initial defensive depth chart for the start of the 2022-23 season.
This organizational review is meant to provide a general snapshot for assessing the positional depth and the basic attributes of all defensemen within the organization. It’s not intended to be a detailed statistical analysis of the overall potential of a defensive prospect, or provide a forecast for each defensemen, which we will cover in a follow-up post.
WHERE THE BLUELINE STANDS TODAY
The following table presents the Capitals defensemen in tiers (Capitals, Bears and Juniors) as it stands today/end of season. The players are categorized by their natural shooting side and ranking within their respective tiers (not in assigned pairs). [Click to enlarge]
2021-22 SEASON NOTES
The Capitals and Peter Laviolette were fairly content with their blueliners from a very early stage in the 2021-22 season, and as a result, made very few changes unless necessary due to injury or Covid. Trevor van Riemsdyk spent significant time on the left side to counter a slight imbalance in natural positions.
The lack of organizational depth on the right side was prevalent at the AHL level for the entire season. As a result, a couple of natural left-handlers spent time on the right side. Alex Alexeyev spent a significant amount of time on the right side, occasionally switching with Bobby Nardella to play on the left side. In the final 15 games of the season Alexeyev played on the right side for 11 games, with Nardella taking the other four games.
Part of this can be attributed to right-side depth issues, but Alexeyev also saw time on the right side when there were sufficient players, indicating the Capitals may be looking for right-side help and for Alexeyev, who also spent time on the right side in the KHL, to potentially play on the right-side in the future (Capitals).
OFF-SEASON SUBTRACTIONS AND ADDITIONS
It’s likely that the Capitals will part ways with Justin Schultz, Michal Kempny and Matt Irwin due to age, salary, sub-par play or a combination of all of those factors. The cuts will generate approximately $7,000,000 in much-needed salary cap space. As a result of the departures, the Capitals could see as many as three opening roster spots on the blueline by September.
There is a slight chance the Capitals might consider keeping Irwin because of his low cost, but the preference is to replace his age (34) with a prospect (Johansen and/or Alexeyev) at the 7th or 8th defenseman spot.
Look for the Capitals to sign or trade for a trustworthy veteran defenseman this off-season, potentially by draft weekend or at the very least the start of free agency. The departures of Schultz and Kempny, while justified, will leave a sizeable gap in experience on the blueline, something that can’t be fully replaced by youth. The newly acquired defensemen will preferably be a left-hander, but a right-handed defenseman might also be considered.
Also look for the Capitals to elevate Lucas Johansen and/or Alex Alexeyev. Johansen had his best season in the AHL last season and made an appearance with the Capitals during the regular season. Alex Alexeyev had an underwhelming campaign with the Bears but may have maxed-out his developmental value in the AHL. Alexeyev had a very good season in the KHL the previous season, which might be a better indicator of his NHL-readiness.
Other prospects including Bobby Nardella and Tobias Geisser will also get a long look in training camp and have an outside shot at making the roster.
The preliminary draft organization depth chart for September [Click to enlarge].
Other Organizational Movement
Martin Hugo Has has maxed-out his developmental value in the CHL and needs to take the next step to the AHL. If he is not in Hershey in September it will raise questions as to his long-term potential.
The Capitals rights to Benton Maass will expire this summer. The organization brought Maass to Hershey for an extended look as soon as his collegiate career wrapped-up with Minnesota State, but he remains unsigned. The organization needs help on the right side, but the fact that Maass is not signed by now could be a negative indicator. There is still time, but it is rapidly running out.
Vincent Iorio is only 19 but played four full seasons in the CHL and will also need a new assignment this fall.
The overall desire to inject youth in the Capitals roster will drive the desire to see Alex Alexeyev and Lucas Johansen make the leap to the Capitals, but they will need to prove they belong in September. The time is now for both prospects.
The signing of an NHL veteran will act as an experienced pairing for Alexeyev and Johansen, but will also fill a void in experience created by the departures of Schultz and Kempny. The blueline will undoubtedly get younger, but it will also lose valuable experience, and thus, the addition of the NHL veteran will be critical to the overall success of the blueline in 2022-23.
We’ll wrap our three-part review of the Capitals organizational depth with a look at the forward position in the next few days.
By Jon Sorensen