With perhaps the most complete team top-to-bottom in franchise history, the Washington Capitals believed they had all the pieces to finally propel themselves past the arch-rival Pittsburgh Penguins and into the Eastern Conference Final for the first time in Alex Ovechkin’s 12-year NHL career. However, after yet another disappointing defeat at the hands of the Penguins, Washington must now once again go back to the drawing board in search of the right formula. Unlike in years past when the roster’s shortcomings were easy to identify, Capitals GM Brian McLellan will have a much tougher time this summer identifying an obvious solution to the team’s deficiencies, as Isabelle Khurshudyan of The Washington Post writes.
As Khurshudyan notes, since assuming the top job with the Caps, MacLellan has strategically set about filling holes on the roster as he attempted to construct a championship team. First he went to work to address the team’s defense corps, inking veteran blue liners Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik as free agents in the summer of 2014. The next year, the GM brought in Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie via free agency and trade respectively, to “bolster the top-six.” Last summer, MacLellan dealt two draft picks to Montreal for Lars Eller and signed Brett Connolly to add more speed and skill to the team’s third line. The cherry on top was acquiring prized, puck-moving defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline, adding an impact player to an already stacked lineup while at the same time keeping him from going to a conference rival (it was believed Pittsburgh and the N.Y. Rangers were also in the Shattenkirk sweepstakes). While it all added up to perhaps the best team in the league on paper, in the end Washington couldn’t exorcise their postseason demons and once again are left wondering what could have been.
Clearly MacLellan will again try to construct a Stanley Cup-caliber club but with Oshie, Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner and Williams all scheduled to be UFA’s, and with less than $22MM available in projected cap space, it’s likely the team will lose at least two key contributors from that group. Complicating matters is the fact that Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky and Dmitry Orlov will be RFA’s and in line for significant raises over their 2017 salaries. Barring some savvy salary cap maneuverings this summer, it’s quite possible the Capitals best chance to win a Stanley Cup with Ovechkin on the roster just passed them by.
More from the Metro:
- Though many suspected the New York Rangers would land the aforementioned Shattenkirk at the trade deadline, the team instead balked at paying the higher price and made a less expensive move for fellow blue liner Brendan Smith. Like many deadline acquisitions, Smith struggled at times while settling into a new organization and adapting to a different system but the veteran blue liner found his stride in the postseason, providing much needed bite and steady play on the back end for the Blueshirts. It’s common knowledge the Rangers will attempt to upgrade the puck-moving ability and mobility on the team’s blue line but Smith showed he may be part of that solution and the Rangers might be wise to consider re-signing the pending UFA. For his part, Smith would welcome a return to Manhattan, according to Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post, saying: “I really enjoyed being here. I like the guys, the group.” After making $2.75MM in 2016-17, Smith will undoubtedly be able to generate offers in the range of $4MM annually on the open market. But at just 28 years old, re-signing Smith to a three or four-year pact at that price point might prove to be more prudent than luring the top prospective UFA blue liner, Shattenkirk, to the Blueshirts.
- While the 2016-17 campaign will go down as a disappointing one for the Philadelphia Flyers, Dave Scott, president and CEO of the club’s parent company, Comcast Spectacor, would rather focus on the successful development of the organization’s younger players, as Sam Carchidi of Philly.com writes. GM Ron Hextall has avoided quick fixes in the free agent and trade markets and instead patiently rebuilt the team, focusing on the draft-and-develop model. Even though the team failed to qualify for a postseason berth, the successful debut of prized defense prospect Ivan Provorov served notice that Hextall’s plan is beginning to bear fruit. Carchidi noted that Scott is also excited about the potential of prospects Oskar Lindblom and Mike Vecchione. It also doesn’t hurt the Flyers rebuild that Philadelphia jumped several spots in the draft lottery, snagging the #2 overall selection and the opportunity to select one of Nolan Patrick, the consensus top talent in this draft for much of the last year, or Nico Hischier to further bolster an impressive pool of young talent. If Hextall can find a competent starting goaltender, either in free agency or via trade, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see Philadelphia make a huge leap in the standings in 2017-18 and qualify for the postseason.
- The New Jersey Devils may not have enjoyed much on-ice success in 2016-17 but those struggles were mitigated at least somewhat by overcoming the odds to win the NHL draft lottery. Now the Devils will have the chance to add an impact offensive talent to a roster that badly needs more skill. But lost in the shuffle of New Jersey’s good fortune is the fact the team also has two second-round choices, their own and Boston’s courtesy of the 2016 trade deadline trade of Lee Stempniak to the Bruins. While not nearly as valuable as the first overall selection, boasting two second-round picks will give the club a chance to add two more good young players to the system. However, as Chris Ryan of NJ.com notes, Devils GM Ray Shero does not have a particularly good track record of success in the second round. Going back to his days as GM in Pittsburgh, Shero and his teams have made a total of eight choices in the second round. Of that group, Scott Harrington (#54 overall in 2011) leads the way in NHL games played (47), goals (1) and points (4). Of course it is fair to point out that Shero’s recent selections are still young enough to carve out successful big league careers. In fact, goaltender Tristan Jarry (#44 overall in 2013) would be in line to assume the understudy role in Pittsburgh, assuming the team moves Marc-Andre Fleury after the season. Still, if New Jersey’s rise back to relevance is to happen sooner rather than later, Shero would do well to find quality players with the team’s two second-rounders in June.