NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, the Washington Capitals.
The Washington Capitals will have the same goal this season they’ve had since winning the Stanley Cup in 2018 — to win it again — but with a heightened urgency.
With an aging core that includes forwards Alex Ovechkin, 35, Nicklas Backstrom, 33, and T.J. Oshie, who turns 34 on Dec. 23, and defenseman John Carlson, who turns 31 on Jan. 10, the Capitals want to make the most of the championship chances the group has left. That was reflected in the hiring of coach Peter Laviolette on Sept. 15 to replace Todd Reirden, who was fired Aug. 23 after Washington failed to win a round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second straight season.
A coaching veteran of 18 NHL seasons, Laviolette brings a track record for getting results quickly. The 56-year-old won the Stanley Cup in his first full season with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, reached the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, and took the Nashville Predators from missing the playoffs the season before he arrived to the Cup Final in his third season in 2017.
“I’m uneasy. It was 2006 the last time I won the Cup,” Laviolette said. “A lot of those guys won the Cup in 2018. Well, man, you sure expect to do it in 2019 and, if you don’t, you damn well think you’re going to do it in 2020. So when those things don’t happen, I think it makes everybody a little edgy. So the fact that they’re an experienced group that’s been there, I think we can use that to our advantage to try to get back.”
Though much of the Capitals roster from last season remains intact, they are in transition at goalie.
With longtime starter Braden Holtby signing a two-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks as an unrestricted free agent Oct. 9, Henrik Lundqvist was signed to a one-year contract the same day after the 38-year-old had the final season on his contract bought out by the New York Rangers. Lundqvist will compete with and help groom Ilya Samsonov, the 23-year-old who is likely Washington’s No. 1 goalie of the future.
The Capitals’ other most-notable offseason additions were right-handed defensemen Justin Schultz, who signed a two-year contract Oct. 9, and Trevor van Riemsdyk, who signed a one-year contract Oct. 10. Each fit into Laviolette’s plan for Washington to play an aggressive style with its defensemen being active in the offensive zone to create sustained pressure.
But Laviolette, who coached Nashville for six seasons before being fired Jan. 6, wants to build on what the Capitals have done well in the past. Washington qualified for the playoffs 12 of the past 13 seasons, including six straight, finished first in the Metropolitan Division five consecutive seasons, and won the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s best team in the regular season in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
“There’s ultimate success and then there’s success,” Laviolette said. “You can make the playoffs consistently and play into the second round or the third round. There’s a championship, there’s Presidents’ Trophies, there’s division championships. So this is a team that’s experienced a lot of success, and I’m looking forward to coming in and just adding my layer of what it is that I want to do and see if we can’t get back to where we were a couple years ago.”
The opportunity to do that is one of the reasons defenseman Brenden Dillon passed on becoming an unrestricted free agent and signed a four-year contract to stay with Washington on Oct. 6. Though the Capitals lost to the New York Islanders in five games in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round last season, Dillon said he liked what he saw after he was acquired in a trade with the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 18 and believes Washington is capable of more.
“You look at the roster and the makeup of the team,” Dillon said, “and not only are we super skilled and super talented, but we are big, we are made for playoff hockey. We like to play a physical, hard brand of game. We’ve got a great mix of guys from different parts of the world that just get along so well at the rink. … Just to see the success of winning the Cup in 2018, we are only two years removed from that. A lot of the big pieces are still here.”