What lineup holes do the Caps need to fill before the 2020-21 season? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
The Capitals had a lengthy to-do list for the 2020 offseason with finding a new head coach at the top of that list. With Peter Laviolette signed as the new bench boss, it's up to general manager Brian MacLellan to fix the rest of the holes on the roster.
Not all of the team's issues were because of coaching and a lack of motivation. There were some pretty obvious weaknesses and there will be more with the expected departure of some players.
So with the postseason winding down, what does MacLellan need to fix for a Capitals team still dreaming of winning a second Stanley Cup? Here are the holes MacLellan will need to address in the offseason.
Ilya Samsonov will be the No. 1 heading into the season, but the Caps will need someone to play with Samsonov and they will need more than just a backup.
More and more teams are using a goalie tandem instead of the traditional starter/backup roles. Considering the Caps are in Cup or bust mode, I can't see MacLellan putting the team's Cup aspirations squarely on the shoulders of a 23-year-old goalie with 26 games of NHL experience.
Washington needed both Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer in 2018. The Dallas Stars would not have reached the Stanley Cup Final if not for Anton Khudobin stepping in for Ben Bishop. The Montreal Canadiens just traded for Jake Allen to back up Carey Price.
It's not just about who the No. 1 is anymore, and that's especially true for the Caps with such an inexperienced starter.
Top pair left defenseman
How can the Caps go into next season confident that Michal Kempny can still be a top-pair defenseman? That would be harsh if this was a normal year considering he was coming off a torn hamstring, but he had a full offseason from March to August to recover from a tough regular season and get ready for the playoffs. And yet, he still struggled when he returned to the point that he was a healthy scratch.
The fact is, you are not a Stanley Cup contender if your top defensive pairing is a question mark and that is Washington has in Kempny until he proves otherwise.
This is not necessarily a hole the team has to dip into free agency to fix. Re-signing Brenden Dillon could be a possible option or the team could look internally and promote Dmitry Orlov or Jonas Siegenthaler.
Top-four right defenseman
This was the team's most glaring need through the entire 2019-20 season and it all depends on one question: Can Nick Jensen be that player?
Jensen played well towards the end of the regular season and was decent in the postseason even if unremarkable. Does MacLellan believe Jensen has finally turned the corner and is now the top-four player MacLellan hoped he would be when he first traded for him? If not, the Caps need to find someone to plug onto the top pair because they cannot go through the entire season with this position being an issue again.
Top-four right defensemen, however, are hard to come by and they don't come cheap. That's an issue considering cap room will be in short supply for MacLellan.
Washington got zero goals from its bottom-six against the New York Islanders. Literally none. In 2019, the Caps’ bottom-six scored only five goals in seven games against the Carolina Hurricanes. In the 2018 Cup run, Washington got 27 goals from the bottom-six in just 24 games. Devante Smith-Pelly in 2018 outscored the Caps' bottom-six from the last two playoffs by himself (7-5).
To put it in another way, Steven Stamkos has been missing the entire postseason for Tampa Bay and the Lightning are headed to the Stanley Cup Final. The Caps were missing Nicklas Backstrom for three games against New York and were completely lost without him. This team needs more offensive depth and specifically a goal-scoring threat on the third line.
In summary, that's four areas the Caps need to shore up before next season, but those are not small issues. With limited cap space and a flat salary cap, MacLellan may be forced to make a trade to free up cap room or simply pick and choose where to improve and where to cross his fingers. It seems doubtful he will be able to address all of these issues without making some sort of move.