Transformational Times: A Look at the Washington Capitals As They Enter Season 18 of the Alex Ovechkin Era

Photo: @Capitals

The Washington Capitals are about to enter the 18th season with Alex Ovechkin, the franchise’s greatest player and a man on the cusp of more history to add to his already-Hall of Fame-bound career. And while The Great Eight has by no means shown signs of slowing down as he begins his 18th season at the age of 37 (September 17), the Caps are also a team preparing for a new period of hockey in the future.

Since [finally] winning the Stanley Cup in 2018, exorcising a hoard of demons that had seen the face of the franchise bear the burden of his team’s shortfalls in the playoffs, the Capitals have yet to advance beyond the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, despite a core of players that has remained largely untampered since. Inconsistencies and injuries from some, stops in play due to an unforeseen pandemic, and other factors have played some part, however General Manager Brian MacLellan and his team revamped the roster this offseason, noticeably improving the lineup in the wake of the pending absences of Nicklas Backstrom (offseason hip surgery) and Tom Wilson (surgery to repair torn ACL).

Prior to the team’s personnel moves in free agency, MacLellan stated his intention to allow some of the team’s young prospects to compete for spots in the lineup to fill needs. And while that youth movement has been delayed somewhat by the additions from outside the organization, the play by several of the team’s youth last season highlights the flip-side of the team’s pursuit of another Stanley Cup in the Alex Ovechkin era.

The debuts of top picks Connor McMichael (2019) and Hendrix Lapierre (2020) the past two seasons gave Capitals fans a glimpse of the team’s future core, and the ceiling for both players leaves plenty to be excited about. While McMichael has had a more limited role thus far at the NHL level, as he gains more experience and develops (he is still just 21-years old) he will surely be entrusted in more situations by the Caps’ coaching staff. Likewise Lapierre, who has iterated his intent to arrive to training camp looking to work for a roster spot, has time and room to address flaws in his game and adapt to professional game.

On the blueline, Martin Fehervary (23 on October 6) showed flashes of a strong two-way game last season, his first full campaign in the NHL, recording 17 Points (eight goals) in 79 Games Played, along with averaging nearly 20 minutes (19:39) of ice time a night for Head Coach Peter Laviolette. Looking to build upon his offensive contributions in 2022-23, Fehervary is a solid core piece on the backend going into the next few seasons, with fellow youngsters such as Alexander Alexeyev and Lucas Johansen likely to make an appearance at some point as well.

The point? When Alex Ovechkin signed his five-year contract prior to last season, an insurance that he will finish his career as a lifetime Capital, the team’s M.O. was clearly to try and put together another winning lineup that could capture Lord Stanley’s chalice once again. And while the team’s veteran core has still produced, there will come a time in which the Caps must begin to hand the reins to their young players as the final seasons of the Ovechkin era close. The interval between then and now offers a perfect opportunity for them not only to chase another championship and get the most out of their current core, but also allow the next wave of Washington Capitals to develop and prep for the mantle they will one day hold.

I believe the team is markedly better than it was a season ago and by no means am suggesting the likes of TJ Oshie, Ovechkin, and co. are regressing. It is merely an examination of the time the Capitals are in as a team and the balance they must find as the next few seasons come and go. Perhaps the team will take a similar approach as the Calgary Flames did this summer, or perhaps MacLellan and his staff will have something different entirely in mind.

By Michael Fleetwood

About Michael Fleetwood

Michael Fleetwood was born into a family of diehard Capitals fans and has been watching games as long as he can remember. He was born the year the Capitals went to their first Stanley Cup Final, and is a diehard Caps fan, the owner of the very FIRST Joe Beninati jersey and since then, has met Joe himself. Michael joined the NoVa Caps team in 2015, and is most proud of the growth of the NoVa Caps community in that time. An avid photographer, Michael resides in VA.
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9 Responses to Transformational Times: A Look at the Washington Capitals As They Enter Season 18 of the Alex Ovechkin Era

  1. Jonathan says:

    Last year, the first half consisted of a lot of youth time on the ice, but when certain vet’s returned, they lost that time. I think the teams success depends on the team maintaining consistent ice time for the young talent, with a consistent blend of vets vs youth toi. The youth ice time will help extend the longevity of the vets on this team, giving them necessary rest during the regular season, and energy during the post season. Consistency helps the whole team know what to expect, and add to it’s chemistry. Consistency is a great chemistry builder, and chemistry is the x factor in crucial times.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      There is an interesting alignment of winning ways and youth at the start of the season. It’s hard to directly correlate the winning with the youth, but can certainly make that case. It isn’t a wrong statement,that’s for sure.

  2. DWGie26 says:

    Time to see who comes to camp to win a position.

    I just love Lapierre, his attitude, confidence, and compete. The guy wants a spot, not just the experience. I still think he’ll be a numbers crunch since he is waiver exempt. Plus as much as i love him, he needs a year to play with men in the AHL.

    Also really interested to see the Caps trade pattern this year. They will have some pieces they can move much earlier than the trade deadline IF (IF), they can find a trade partner probably because of injury but maybe because of Gap. 3C on an expiring contract anyone?

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      I see Lapierre in Hershey without question, he needs games. With Covid and injuries he’s played in just 86 games over the last three seasons. He had a so-so season in The Q last season, was 4th on the team in points per game average, so a full year in Hershey will be perfect for him. He will possibly get a few games at the start like last season, but he needs to get to Hershey as quick as possible.

  3. redLitYogi says:

    regression is inevitable. The Pens and Caps have both regressed, neither being even competitive in a playoff round since ’19. I’d love to see the Caps win another Cup with Ovie, but would love it even more if Backstrom somehow returned from his surgery and played a significant role. Without him being a key player it will feel like a Thanksgiving with an empty seat at the table. I’m sure we’ll be a solid team this year and be in contention for a playoff spot. If we miss then we’ll know it’s probably time for more of a tear down — not a complete rebuild — and we may get lucky and move up to a high spot in the lottery.

    • The thing that really had me pondering what the next couple of seasons would be like was Backstrom being out indefinitely. I personally would have been comfortable with the team having more of their young players as regulars in the lineup while still adding an additional support piece in the offseason. Snively in particular. I can see the team wanting to maximize as much as they can out of this roster before having to acknowledge it is truly time to hand it over to the young guns, I just hope they will do it when the time comes.

  4. Lance says:

    The Strome signing and the addition of Connor Brown are intriguing. If those guys find a home in DC and reach their potential the forward corps really might be good enough to make a run. Connor McMichael is likely to blossom this year. I see 20+ goals and 20+ assista from him. Mantha will have the full season. Tom Wilson is ahead of schedule. Hopefully we avoid big injuries this year.

    The goaltending looks set. Better than it’s been in years.

    The D is still on the weak and feeble side but they can skate and transition the puck.

  5. steven says:

    Some of the additions are nice, Kuemper, Strome, Brown and Lindgren, however others are baffeling like MoJo. When you have young talent like McMichael and Lapierre who are ready to play it seems that the bigget obsticle that there is for them is not other players but the HC! Having 2 experienced goalies will make a big difference over what we had last year. However unless Mantha picks up his game and does not mentally disappear from games and Oshie stays healthy and most iportant Kuzy plays at a high level ALL year and truly plays like a #1 center this team might as well start trading off older pieces for picks starting in December. Hopefully there will be a market for Eller in Sept and maybe one or 2 others to open spots for younger players to play more minutes and games at their positions with the same linemates. Hopefully the injury bug does not hit again this season. However if those things do not happen then trading pieces to get picks and move up in the draft would be a good thing for this team now and also for the futuer. One thing to think of how will Lav coach as a lame duck HC? Will the GM possibly fire him in Nov if this team is not performing well and promote Scott Allen? There are 13 players on this roster who will be either UFA or RFA after this season so there could be a lot of mid season trades if the team is mediocre which although not good for fan interest would be good for this years and next years drafts providing that the GM trades for picks not for older players to try and make the playoffs! Exciting training camp starting and anxious for the season to start and see how many younger players make the team. Good Luck guys!

    • I agree, I didn’t understand the re-signing of Johansson, and while it was a feel-good story when they acquired him last year (overpaying in the trade IMO), he didn’t do much to warrant another look. One gripe (of a few) I had with George McPhee at the end of his run with the team was his stubborn loyalty to his veteran players and refusal to cut the chord when he needed to. I have had few issues with MacLellan since he took over, but I just hope he doesn’t fall into that same mindset.

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