With a little over a month to go before training camp and the preseason, the Washington Capitals are gearing up for the upcoming campaign with a new-look team.
General manager Brian MacLellan shook things up quite a bit in the first 48 hours of free agency, bringing in a brand new tandem in net, several forward additions and more defensive options.
Despite improving the depth and making moves to keep the Stanley Cup window open for a bit longer, the team still faces questions and some uncertainty. So, with October approaching, we opened the WHN Mailbag to address some of your burning questions.
@douglas_forsyth – We were one of the most inconsistent teams, did the Washington Capitals do enough to change that?
When it comes to free agency, the Capitals should get a grade of an A. They addressed every single area they had to, and then some. Washington cleaned house between the pipes, replacing Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov with Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren. Kuemper is a proven starter who provides consistency and stability in goal. He makes timely saves, can steal games and knows how to win. And Lindgren is still very much on the rise and has shown himself to be a strong No. 2 option. That reliability is something the Capitals were lacking over the last two seasons, so that’s a major help right there.
Then, to address some injuries up front, Washington brought in Connor Brown and Dylan Strome up front. Brown is a proven 20-goal scorer and top penalty killer, and Strome is also coming off a career year and still has plenty of upside, while he is also a catalyst on the power play. Having those names fill in for Tom Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom, and perhaps Carl Hagelin will help fill those vacancies and help provide stability there too.
Finally, the team did in fact bolster the blue line. And seeing Trevor van Riemsdyk finally switch back to his natural right side while having Erik Gustafsson, Lucas Johansen or another name to his left should provide more consistency back there as well.
READ MORE ON WHN: Breaking Down The Washington Capitals’ Blue Line Battle
So, on the consistency front, the Capitals did exactly what they should have, and it should pay off.
@robostop10 – Are the Washington Capitals done retooling the roster? If not how much LTIR space is left?
I would say so. Washington checked all of its boxes when it comes to offseason needs; the team got two proven netminders to make up a new tandem, several LHD options for TVR and two top-6 forwards. Beyond that, they have a promising prospect pool. So, there’s no need to spend more.
Plus, when it comes to the LTIR, the team is going to exceed the cap by $6,321,666, per CapFriendly. So, when Wilson or Hagelin or even Backstrom returns, the Capitals will have work to do to clear that space and get back under. So also taking that into account, I don’t see more moves coming unless they’re moves to clear space. But even that isn’t something I envision before the season, in my humble opinion.
@ivancapsrock5 – What do you think the future is for Anthony Mantha with the Washington Capitals? How will Charlie Lindgren stack up as the backup? How many goals will Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie score in 2022-23?
I think that there’s still a lot more for Anthony Mantha to prove with Washington. He is entering his second full regular season in D.C., and this past year, he suffered a major shoulder injury that spoiled a rather strong start to the season. The 27-year-old started to find his game a bit at the end of the year but also had his share of inconsistency. Still, with time and the right combination, as well as new additions this offseason, a healthy, full-strength Mantha can make a major impact this season.
As for Lindgren, the Capitals got a solid No. 2 in free agency for a great price. Though he played just five NHL games last season, he posted excellent numbers and went undefeated while also boasting a .958 save percentage and 1.22 GAA. And in the AHL, with the Springfield Thunderbirds, Lindgren’s .925 SV% was the second-best in the league, and he also registered a 2.21 GAA. He has shown growth and proved that he is ready for a bigger role, and making a full-time transition as a backup behind Kuemper should motivate him to thrive when in, as does a three-year deal.
And lastly, for goal predictions, I expect strong seasons for both Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie.
Alex Ovechkin hasn’t stopped scoring this summer and looks like he’s in great shape. He had one of the best years of his career at 36 last season, dishing 50 goals for the record-ninth time and adding 40 assists. And though he takes a “game by game” approach to the scoring record, Ovechkin is a man on a mission. He needs to average at least 29 goals over the next four seasons to break Gretzky’s record and establish a new one of 895 within the terms of the extension he signed in 2021. So for him, I’ll say at least 35 goals.
For Oshie, I’ll put him at 24. He was outstanding in the playoffs and led the team with six goals, going hard to the net and showcasing that classic Oshie skill and energy that makes him such a presence both on and off the ice.
Last year, multiple injuries limited him to 44 games, but he still managed 11 goals and 14 assists, which would have put him on pace for 21 goals and 47 points. If the 35-year-old can stay healthy, I expect him to hit the 20-goal mark and continue to be a major contributor, especially if he works with Strome.
@okiestrat – What does Darcy Kuemper have to do to quiet the skeptics?
Kuemper is exactly what Washington needed this offseason: a veteran presence and capable No. 1. Kuemper’s .921 save percentage leads all netminders with at least 150 games played over the last five seasons. He boasted the same exact SV% this past season and managed a career-high 37 wins. Though his numbers dropped in the playoffs, he was also playing through a severe eye injury suffered against Nashville in the first round.
The 6-5, 215-pound netminder uses his size to his advantage and covers a lot of the net. He can also make timely and routine saves, come up with flashy stops, control rebounds and track the puck. Plus, his winning mentality and experience, as well as his ability to maintain consistency and start multiple games in a row, will prove to be a major boost for the Capitals. Neither Samsonov nor Vanecek could steal the starting job, and they would have to be changed following burnouts after short spans of success.
So, when it comes to the skeptics, Kuemper’s experience and consistency should be enough to put that reluctance to rest. He was the best option on the market, and now, he’s in the District.
@mtootsbowls – The power play wasn’t great in the eyes of a lot of Washington Capitals fans last season. What changes do you think should be made to help improve it? Is there any chance they will kill off the slingshot?
The power play will likely look different just because of personnel. There’s no Backstrom or Wilson, so Strome and Brown will likely get to shine on those units. Strome is a proven power-play asset who can make great passes, create time and space and also finish in front. Brown also has great ability on special teams, as well as versatility. That alone should help bring a new look and potentially more success.
As for the slingshot, it’s a funny thing; the team doesn’t really think of it as a “slingshot” at all. It’s simply just a drop pass back, as Oshie told NBC Sports Washington back in 2019. And overall, it wasn’t the “make or break” for the man advantage. So, I don’t see it dying off with Blaine Forsythe still the PP coach and the system likely remaining in place.
@samboberquist – What young guys or prospects do you think have a good shot of making the Washington Capitals and getting good ice time this year?
Right now, there aren’t too many vacancies, but don’t rule out the young guns. MacLellan mentioned earlier this offseason that he expects Connor McMichael to step up and play a bigger role this season down the middle. I expect him to break out in his sophomore season and take on more responsibility.
On the backend, I personally expect to see Lucas Johansen fighting for a regular role in the lineup. He’s coming off a career year in Hershey and has spent enough time with the Bears to finally make the pro jump. He looked great in 2021-22 down in the minors and had a strong debut, and if he comes in and has a strong camp and preseason, he could be in the lineup come opening night and be a valuable asset next to TVR. Though, it’ll be difficult with Gustafsson an NHL regular and other LHD vying for that role to boot.
When it comes to call-ups, Aliaksei Protas and Brett Leason have NHL experience, and Beck Malenstyn also showed he can bring a lot to the table as well. And, when Alex Alexeyev is healthy, he will likely be the first man up on the blue line.
My two dark horses: Hendrix Lapierre and Vincent Iorio. Lapierre shined last season and made the opening night roster but reported back to the QMJHL to get more experience under his belt rather than watching from the press box. And he did a great job with Acadie-Bathurst and is ready to prove he belongs in the pros. Iorio’s four years in the QHL are up, and he will make the pro jump to Hershey. If he impresses enough, he could get that call-up to D.C. Anything can happen in camp, after all.
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@eskantor – Will Ted Leonsis clean house if the Washington Capitals don’t make the playoffs?
Right now, I see Washington as a playoff team. As mentioned earlier, there is a lot more stability, which should help solve some of the inconsistency problems from last season. However, if they don’t make the playoffs, I would assume some changes would be made, especially with four consecutive first-round exits since 2018.
Peter Laviolette is entering the final year of his contract, and how he fares this year with strong new additions will likely weigh heavy on whether or not he’ll return. As for general manager Brian MacLellan, he is coming off a strong offseason that saw the team bring in some strong options. Plus, the veteran core is still in place, and the team hasn’t voiced any dissatisfaction with its leaders.
Not to mention, comparing teams, this year’s roster looks more like a playoff team than last year’s on paper, in my personal opinion. So no, I don’t see a “trade and get rid of everyone” scenario breaking out in D.C. personally. I also don’t see them missing the postseason.
@GMUHockeyScout – Would the Washington Capitals ever consider a fan-design jersey competition for a new alternate jersey?
Never say never. I’m not sure on this or who that’s up to, but personally, I think it’d be a fun idea.