Blueline Pipeline: Assessing The Capitals Organizational Depth On Defense And Lead Indicators For 2022-23 Opening Night Roster


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

Subtractions

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.

Additions

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.

Closing

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

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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13 Responses to Blueline Pipeline: Assessing The Capitals Organizational Depth On Defense And Lead Indicators For 2022-23 Opening Night Roster

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this! Good to see the prospects making a move.

  2. steven says:

    I have absolutely no problem with having both Johansen and Alexeyev making the roster next year. To be honest I dont want another retread brought in on a high salary. If they want a vetern then sign Irwin on the cheap. And if his holiness HC Laviolette cant work with that then let his resign! Itis about what is best for the team NOT what he wants to coach. Young players who have had several years in Hershey and shown growth need to get time in Wash and not just a game or 2 a year. With some lower salaries on D maybe that money could be directed towards a goalieof good quality!

    • Anonymous says:

      Way too much inexperience to leave it to two rookies alone. That would be disastrous

      • steven says:

        One plays the other sits. There is also the option of signing Irwin if they want and rotating him and the two rookies. Sooner or later you have to start playing the rookies. Maybe if they had no sold Siegenthalerso quickly they would not be in this position. They did so let the rookies play and keep Irwin. This team is NOT a Cup team so start the rebuild slowly and maybe no one will notice that in 3 or 4 years they are back in contention; providing they find another couple of franchise players like Ovie and Backy and steady goalies.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Sign a top man to go with Carlson, Orlov, Fehervary and TVR. Insert youth at the sixth spot. Trade Jensen for additional cap space for goalie help or a top line center.

    • steven says:

      One plays the other sits. There is also the option of signing Irwin if they want and rotating him and the two rookies. Sooner or later you have to start playing the rookies. Maybe if they had no sold Siegenthalerso quickly they would not be in this position. They did so let the rookies play and keep Irwin. This team is NOT a Cup team so start the rebuild slowly and maybe no one will notice that in 3 or 4 years they are back in contention; providing they find another couple of franchise players like Ovie and Backy and steady goalies.

    • steven says:

      Have no problem keeping Jensen as with Schultz and Kempny gone there will be more than enough to sign a goalie especailly after the trade of Samsonov and not resigning Copley. And if Hagelin retires and Backy does also there will be buckets of it sitting on the cash room floor waiting to be given away.

  4. Anonymous says:

    And stop playing man on man. Carlson probably untradeable with his contract. A normal system may improve his level of play. If they can acquire a top dman they can drop him to second pair and reduce minutes.

  5. CAPSMANZ says:

    The CAPS need an “Orpik” or “Stevens” type D-Man to balance out the blue line. Someone who not only can clear the crease but opponents will respect. There isn’t one on the roster or in the system. No forward in the league fears Carlson or Jensen will clear them out when they post up in front of our goalies. Nikita Zadorov will be a FA and the CAPS should target him. He’s big, experienced, relatively young and should cost in the $4-5M for 3 seasons. A little Orlov, Kuzy and Ovi love might help bring him on board.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      I get what you’re saying, and in many ways I completely agree. Capitals have lost a bit of their heavy game on the back end since they dealt Brendan Dillon. However, it seems like the move away from the heavy game is a conscious decision by MacLellan. Why, I’m not sure.

      If you look at St. Louis, they won the cup the year after us and have done a better job of “reloading” and are definitely in the mix this postseason. Their game is very heavy, so I don’t believe there is any kind of trend away from the thinking that in the post season you need a heavy team to wear-down opponents.

      • Anonymous says:

        Agree completely that the Caps need some grit on the blue line. A Zadorov type player would be a good addition. Depending upon how much the Caps spend or don’t spend on a goalie, a guy like PK Suban would be perfect, but he might be too expensive given his age. But, pay the guy for a 2-3 year contract and the Caps could make a final run or two before the aging Ovechkin/Oshie/Backstrom leadership retires.

        Am looking forward to seeing the write up on forwards. What happens to Backstrom and his ailing hip? I’m curious if his retirement is possible.

  6. b-ryan says:

    pk subban??!! are you friggin kidding.. that guy is a dinosaur.. the Nikita (Calgary) addition would be sweet!

  7. b-ryan says:

    im truly hoping Backy does go off into the sweet sweet (well deserved) world of retirement.. his hip surgery wasn’t a success.. he played in pain the entire season.. which he missed half of.. tons of maintenance days.. and he’s not really that good anymore.. at almost 10 million a year , thats a laugh.. he’s worth about 1.5 a year based on his production.. really hoping he decides to call it quits after a brilliant career.. and let us rebuild (with that money) a championship caliber team.. if he really loves the Caps.. he will.. please backy.. we need you to packy!

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