Offseason Roundup: Washington Capitals
Over the next month, theScore's NHL editors will review all the offseason moves for each team around the league.
Once thought to be on the verge of becoming perennial Stanley Cup contenders, the Washington Capitals failed to advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2007 last season, resulting in sweeping changes at the management and coaching levels.
With that taken care of, the club took significant steps toward bolstering its back end with several moves intended to compliment an explosive forward corps. Washington is expected to take a more defensive-minded approach to the game this season.
The Capitals shook things up by hiring general manager Brian MacLellan and coach Barry Trotz on May 27.
Owner Ted Leonsis was careful to describe the moves as a refresher rather than a reboot; MacLellan, who spent the past seven years serving as the team's assistant GM, believes the club still has a solid foundation and said he looks forward to getting Washington back to competing for the Cup.
Key to any Cup talk is superstar forward Alex Ovechkin, who suffered an apparent knee injury at the IIHF World Championships in May. While the Russian did play in the final - winning a gold medal - he later admitted the knee was less than 50 percent in advance of that game. Breathe easy Caps fans, the knee isn't bothering him anymore.
One of MacLellan's first official acts as GM was to draft Czech forward Jakub Vrána with the 13th overall pick in the draft, and sign him to a three-year, entry-level contract.
Braden Holtby was then solidified - for now - as the team's No. 1 goaltender, a wise decision considering he ranks third among all goalies with an even strength save percentage of .930 over the past four years (minimum 3,000 minutes played). MacLellan signed Justin Peters to serve as the primary backup.
On July 1, the Capitals poached two defensemen off the Pittsburgh Penguins' roster, signing free agents Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. While Orpik was forced to withstand criticism of his five-year, $27.5-million contract, both players are seen (by management, anyway) as valuable assets in regards to improving overall team defense and pushing play in a decidedly more northern direction.
Finally, the league officially announced the Capitals will host the 2015 Winter Classic at Nationals Park. The latest installment of the New Year's Day affair will see Ovechkin and co. face off against Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks - whether it will be a "classic" is very much up in the air.
D Matt Niskanen
D Brooks Orpik
G Justin Peters
F Mikhail Grabovski
F Dustin Penner
G Jaroslav Halak
The Capitals finished only three points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, and only six points behind the second-place New York Rangers, the Eastern Conference champions.
Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom remain elite-level forwards, and the defensive reinforcements should help Holtby take his game to the next level. Youngsters Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky should make a meaningful contribution sooner rather than later.
Playing in a weak Metro Division is reason enough for optimism, and Trotz's tightening of the reins should be enough to get Washington back in the playoff conversation, at the very least.