(The 2014-15 NHL season is nearly upon us, and attempting to handicap the winners and losers can sometimes leave us speechless. So we decided to break down all 30 teams with the next best thing to words: Emojis!)
Last Season In Emojis
Last Season, In Summary
The Washington Capitals went from kings of the Southeast Division to out of the playoffs in the Metro. Because apparently even-strength hockey is of some importance to success.
The Caps were 38-30-14 last season, but were 23rd in the NHL in even strength effectiveness. That speaks directly to the epic minus-35 Alex Ovechkin carried, and the firing of Adam Oates as head coach after two seasons.
But the cost of losing went beyond Oates, as GM George McPhee was let go after 17 years at the helm.
Enter Barry Trotz, the former Nashville Predators coach who got his start in the Capitals organization, and Brian MacLellan, who was promoted from within the organization’s player personnel department to general manager.
Last Season’s Definitive Highlight
When things got a little chaotic with the Philadelphia Flyers and Ray Emery.
Aside from the coach and GM firings and hirings, it was an eventful summer for the Capitals on their blue line.
The Caps landed Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Matt Niskanen ($5.75 million cap hit through 2021) and Brooks Orpik ($5.5 million through 2019) during the free-agent frenzy, bolstering a group that needed some bolstering. They’ll be reunited with Todd Reirdan, a Caps assistant who coached them in Pittsburgh under Dan Bylsma. They added another ex-Penguin in Chris Connor, and some spare parts in Kris Newbury and Tim Kennedy.
They also added Justin Peters as a backup netminder from the Hurricanes.
The Capitals said goodbye to Mikhail Grabovski (Islanders) and the beloved Joel Rechlicz (Wild). Oh, and to Jaroslav Halak, who went to the Islanders. Will he now beg out of playing the Capitals? (/Oates’d!)
Also the Capitals were given another Winter Classic spot, DC-area site to be determined.
Alex Ovechkin had 51 goals last season. He was also a minus-35. Nicklas Backstrom had 79 points last season. He was also a minus-20. And while plus/minus shouldn’t be relied on to tell the whole story for a player … uh, that’s a combined minus-55. That’s a reverse Jeff Schultz!
Marcus Johansson was the third member of that line for the majority of last season, adding 44 points and a minus-21. He could be one of a few Capitals asked to shift to center to address that need.
Brooks Laich (15 points in 51 games) brings a veteran two-way presence to the second line. Ditto Troy Brouwer, although the fact that he only scored 13 of his 25 goals at even strength is a little disconcerting.
The offensive wild card is Evgeny Kutznetsov, the explosive Russian rookie who joined the Capitals late last season after getting his career started in the KHL. He has a repertoire of moves and goal-scoring ability; but where does Trotz see him fitting?
The best line for the Capitals last season was Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr and Joel Ward, with Ward scoring 24 goals (and 18 of them away from the power play).
Tom Wilson, a big bodied sophomore, has top line potential. (He’s recovering from a broken leg in the offseason.) Jay Beagle, Aaron Volpatti, Michael Latta, Newbury, Conner and Australia’s own Nathan Walker will vie for spots. Ditto Jakub Vrana and Stanislav Galiev, the former more than the latter.
There’s a lot of debate about what Matt Niskanen brings to the team. It’s clear his offensive spike last season (46 points) was due to his sliding into Kris Letang’s skates with the Penguins during Letang’s absence. Can he drive possession for the Capitals? Improve them 5-on-5? Be worth the money?
Speaking of worth the money, Orpik has the opposite problem: He doesn’t come off his best season as a pro, but rather is seen as a defenseman on the downward swing. He brings a veteran, physical presence the Capitals never had under McPhee’s regime. We’ll see what he has left.
John Carlson and Karl Alzner spent most of last season together as a pairing, with Carlson generating 37 points, 22 of them on the power play. Alzner, however, could play with Niskanen this season.
Mike Green will probably never be the player his early career promised he could, but he’s had a nice little resurgence in the last two seasons with 64 points in 105 games. Dmitry Orlov should get the nod to play with him, with John Erskine and Jack Hillen in reserve.
Braden Holtby is going to have goalie guru Mitch Korn instructing him and friend-to-goalies Barry Trotz as his head coach. This is very good news, as Holtby was up and down last season in 48 games to the point where Phillip Grubauer was taking starts from him and Jaroslav Halak was acquired to help shoulder the load.
All that said: He still rocked a .928 EV SV percentage on a team that was abjectly terrible 5-on-5.
Justin Peters is his backup until the Capitals inevitably trade for another veteran.
Probable Text Conversation Within Organization
This is a tricky one.
The power play was best in the NHL last season at 23.4 percent, scoring 65 power-play goals in 278 chances. That was Adam Oates’ power play, the one that led to an offensive renaissance for Alex Ovechkin. He’s gone now.
That said, Trotz’s Preds were 12th in the NHL on the power play last season. No, the Caps don’t have Shea Weber, but the Predators didn’t have Ovechkin, either.
The Capitals’ PK was 16th in the League at 82 percent, giving up 284 power plays to the opposition. The key to this unit’s improvement? Orpik, who was second on the Penguins in shorthanded ice time last season.
GM and Coach
Trotz comes to Washington with a talented roster in place, but one that needs a firmer hand to give them structure on the ice and off. The question is whether there’s any redeeming that roster, which has now seen four coaches in four seasons.
MacLellan, a.k.a. GMBM, was a surprise hire, considering the clean sweep of coach and GM. He promises a split from the philosophies of McPhee. Signing Orpik and hiring an NHL coach with significant experience are a good start to proving it.
And Now, A Blooper
Steven Olesky did not have Blades of Steel. (Although “pathetic” is a bit much, Sportsnet…)
The Potential Best Thing About This Team
Trotz. The inmates were running the asylum a bit in DC, and bringing in someone like Trotz is the antidote for that. No, he doesn’t have a Cup ring. But he’s also not a junior coach or a first-time head coach with a famous name. He’s an NHL coach, and a respected one at that, who won’t be out the door if the team feels. The players will be.
The Potential Worst Thing About This Team
The center spot. Backstrom is as good as they comes in the tier right behind the League’s elite pivots, but once again the Capitals are going into a season looking for answers in the middle, especially on the second line. We’ve seen this movie before.
Single Emoji Prediction
The Russian Cossack looking one. Because Alex Ovechkin’s going to be asked to be a more complete player than he’s been, while potentially seeing a dip in his offensive stats after Oates was fired. How he reacts, how he leads, is going to determine how this team fares.
It can be the second best team in the Metro and a playoff team, if the pieces fit. If they don’t, then it’ll be time to do what many expected the Caps were going to do if McPhee was ever turfed, which is blow it all up.
Prediction: Trotz gets them to the postseason again, but isn't nearly as entertaining as Boudreau on 'HBO 24/7'.