Braden Holtby and Alex Ovechkin.
The Capitals have the forward depth and goaltending to go deep again, but can they get over the hump or will they regress to the mean?
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season.
THN's Prediction: 1st in Metro
Stanley Cup odds: 12-1
Key additions: Lars Eller, C; Brett Connolly, RW
Key departures: Jason Chimera, LW; Mike Richards, C; Michael Latta, C
-Who will lead the Capitals in scoring? It may sound like an odd question, but Evgeny Kuznetsov is your man. He is, after all, the team’s reigning scoring champ. And though Alex Ovechkin is far from finished, Kuznetsov is a better bet right now. The 24-year-old center is entering his prime and has the vision and skills to pile up points. While ‘Ovie’ is a huge goal-scoring threat, he doesn’t rack up the assists like Kuznetsov does. It’s a fun debate if you’re a Caps fan.
-Where does Brooks Orpik fit in the lineup? When he was brought in via free agency two summers ago, Orpik was the veteran Cup winner who played tough minutes against top lines. The five-year contract was never going to end well, but the laborious 36-year-old skater’s best-before date is here now. The Capitals can afford to make him their sixth defenseman if another bubble guy steps up, but it’s not an ideal situation for a team gunning for its first Cup. And to think, Matt Niskanen was second to Orpik on Washington’s priority list when both were signed out of Pittsburgh.
-Would another Presidents' Trophy matter? Nope. Once again, it’s Cup or bust for this crew, and the path will not be easy. The speedy Penguins exposed the Capitals last season. And with Tampa Bay still soaring and Carey Price back healthy in Montreal, Washington isn’t guaranteed to get out of the division or conference, let alone win it all. Coach Barry Trotz may have the Jack Adams Award on his mantle right now, but he still has to figure out a way past the second round, something he has never done in his long NHL career, dating back to his time in Nashville.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
This year will be a regression to the mean. The Capitals are bringing on mostly the same roster, but should drop about 18 points in the standings based simply on the team falling back to earth. A lot of players had career shooting percentages last season and likely won’t repeat those numbers again this season. Washington has the biggest year-over-year expected drop of any team in the league.
Despite the drop, this team still projects to be a top five team in the league, and with the news of Sidney Crosby’s concussion, it’s possible they overtake the Penguins atop the Metro again depending on the length of his absence. Much of that will be thanks to their forward depth and goaltending.
Holtby is one of the league’s best and most consistent goalies and that should continue this year. Up front they have Alex Ovechkin, who’ll probably score 50 goals again, along with smooth centers Evgeny Kuznetosv and Nicklas Backstrom leading the attack. There’s not many teams in the league that boast that much offensive skill from their top three guys. With that firepower up front, combined with the brick wall in net, the Capitals will be very tough to beat on most nights.
Where things get a little murky is on defense, which is solid, but nothing special compared to other contending teams. Still, the overall unit is filled with a number of decent puck-movers that should be able to get the puck up ice to their uber-talented forwards.
The Capitals are an excellent team and they’ve certainly got a great chance to finally make a deep playoff run this season. Their only issue is there’s one team in their division that’ll make that very difficult.
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