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WHN Mailbag Extra: Laviolette, How Kids Stack Up, Capitals Decisions



Capitals coach Peter Laviolette

As the Washington Capitals’ offseason continues, so do questions regarding next season. Our WHN Mailbag got such a great response on Part 1 that we needed a Part 2 — or overflow, as we like to call it here.

So, without further ado, let’s answer some more burning questions.

Editor’s Note: Some questions have been edited for clarity/length.

@toddaago (four questions in one tweet, we love to see it) – Why did the Capitals sign Marcus Johansson over Johan Larsson? How short is Connor McMichael’s leash? What impact will the kids have this season? Will Peter Laviolette get an extension?

For Washington, the decision to bring back Marcus Johansson was actually an easy one. Washington’s front office, coaching staff and players like Johansson, who started his career with the club in 2009. Not only is he a good locker room presence, but his versatility is key for D.C. Johansson can play on the top-6 or bottom-6 and also plays a strong defensive game. With Carl Hagelin‘s future in flux, having Johansson in the mix is key. Given all that and his familiarity, as well as only so much space, I think general manager Brian MacLellan wanted to hold onto JoJo rather than Larsson, who was a rental.

When it comes to Connor McMichael‘s leash, I don’t think it’s short, but he will have to prove himself and earn his ice time. He’s a rising sophomore and faces fierce competition, as his seemingly sure top-6 spot has now been taken by Dylan Strome. GMBM wants to see him down the middle and wants him to grow this season, and I believe he will get that chance battling Lars Eller. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get time on the wing either. But overall, there’s a lot of depth on the roster and high hopes for him, and the team is aware that he is still growing. Taking all that into account, I don’t see Washington really getting frustrated, especially when he’s ahead of schedule after an early AHL jump in 2020-21.

READ MORE ON WHN: Henrik Borgstrom An Ongoing Project For Capitals, Who Think They Can ‘Get More Out Of Him’

That takes us into the kids’ impact. There are not too many spots up for grabs, but I still expect a fierce fight from the youngsters. McMichael wants more ice time, and Hendrix Lapierre is on a mission to prove he belongs in the NHL. Meanwhile, on the blue line, there are high hopes for Lucas Johansen, who wants to make the jump after a long wait. Plus, there are hopes for them, one-way deals and a lot of potential. So, all good things and expectations, though it won’t come easy.

As far as I’m concerned, the Capitals have been happy with Peter Laviolette and what he’s brought to the table. The bench boss has been around for a short time, coming in during a COVID-19 shortened season that still included social distancing. This will be his true second full season with full access to his players, so I think that will be key in deciding his extension. Still, he has brought a lot to the table and also did a good job with the club given the injuries, goaltending situation and more.

His contract is up at the end of this year. With the team’s strong free agency moves, there are several reasons for them to succeed. And if Laviolette does that, I would expect an extension. If he cannot make it work with this group, then I would say there may be reconsideration.

@BrianBastin – What are your thoughts on Laviolette?

I think he’s a great coach. Players like him and he sends a direct message and lets them know exactly what he wants to see. As I said above, he has also gotten this team to the playoffs twice. Once in a COVID-19 shortened season that allowed limited contact with players in his first year and an injury-riddled second year.

@djoosydjoos – Do you see Lucas Johansen making the NHL jump?

Despite the competition on the blue line, I do. Johansen has waited long enough and has done a great job developing his game with the AHL’s Hershey Bears, and I think that he showed a lot of growth and ability last season when he made his NHL debut. He is ready to make that jump and transition, and even if he starts as a 7D, I expect him to put up a fight for that jersey each night.

@JosephSzymanski – What does the blue line battle look like when it comes to that vacant spot next to Trevor van Riemsdyk?

Since Erik Gustafsson is on a one-way deal, I expect him to take that third-pairing spot to open 2022-23. However, he will have heavy, heavy competition.

As mentioned above, Johansen is going to make a major run at that spot. GMBM expects him to make strides this season, and he has been waiting since his draft year in 2016 to get his shot. Matt Irwin has been an extra that knew his role last year, but he showed strong play in his 17 games and won’t back down from battling for his chance at dressing. Then, of course, there’s new signing Gabriel Carlsson, a 6-5 defender with upside who wants to show he belongs in this league.

That’s pretty much how it stacks up, but if I had to guess the order of the LHD options: Gustafsson, Johansen, Irwin, Carlsson.

@CurtMcCormick – Has Nicklas Backstrom played his last game with the Capitals?

I don’t think so. Nicklas Backstrom wants to retire on his own terms. He is willing to put in the rehab and work. He and the team have the expectation that he will return at some point in 2022-23, and given his willpower and drive, I believe he will play again.

@WiseTrueAndFair – Have the Capitals replaced assistant coach Scott Arniel after his departure for the Winnipeg Jets?

The team is in the midst of making that decision at the moment. Washington has candidates and has been interviewing. GMBM said on Wednesday that the team will go on to contract negotiations and then announce that change.

WHN MAILBAG PT. 1: Will Capitals Make More Moves? Eller’s Future & More