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Top Offseason Priorities Heading into 2020-2021 Season

October 2, 2020, 1:47 PM ET [3 Comments]
Brian Sickles
Washington Capitals Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT

Today I wanted to take a look at current state of the Capitals and what I view as our biggest offseason needs as it currently stands.

The Capitals had a lot of positives during the 2019-2020 regular season. The offense was 2nd in the league with 3.42 Goals For/Game. Samsonov emerged as a potential future franchise goalie while posting a respectable .912 SV% (ranked 25th) and 2.55 GAA (ranked 11th). The penalty-kill performed at a consistent elite level all year and finished 6th best at 82.6%. That was a very welcomed improvement from their previous year PK executing at a 78.9% rate which ranked 24th in the league. The Capitals narrowly won their division over a surging Flyers squad. This marks the Caps 10th division win in the last 13 seasons.

On the negative side this season, the defense was average. In 2018-2019, they allowed 3.02 GAA per game which ranked 17th in the league. This year it slightly dipped to 3.07 GAA which ranked 18th. Call it what it is, they are a middle of the road defensive team. I recognize there are other variables to consider when measuring team defense more on that in a little bit. The Capitals limited opponents to 30.2 shots/game which ranked 9th in the league. In regard to the power play, the Capitals have slowly declined over the past couple years. The year they won the Stanley Cup they had the 7th best PP at 22.5%. In 2018-2019, they ranked 12th at 20.2% on the power play. This year they dipped to 17th at 19.4%. I am hoping Laviolette can reverse that trend!

Here are my top offseason priorities for the Capitals:

1. Bolster the Defense – As mentioned above, the Capitals are an average team when looking at collective defense. The story is much more troublesome when you look at stats from the starting December 23rd and on when the Caps lost 7-3 to Boston. This is arguably the beginning of the Capitals downfall. For the remainder of the season, the Capitals gave up 3.44 GA/G which was ranked 3rd most in the league behind Ottawa and Detroit. They still held a respectable 29.7 SA/G which ranked 7th best in the league. Giving up 3rd most goals while be 7th best at shots against tells me the defense and goaltending were not efficient by any stretch. Teams were shooting a very high % against us. How to fix the issue? The simple answer is delegate a lot of remaining cap space towards signing a top two or top four defenseman. Bring in top talent and the team gets better right? That is an easy solution but depending on the expected Ovechkin contract, we just simply do not know how much cap space the Capitals have to pay a top defenseman. The team is rumored to be working to move money to keep Brendan Dillon on the roster. Expect UFA Radko Gudas to be gone and maybe anticipate a team friendly deal for Dillon. If Dillon signs, our defense will virtually be the same next year in terms of the actual players. Carlson, Dillon, Orlov, Jensen, Siegenthaler, and Kempny will remain constant. Personally, I would let Dillon walk and bring up Martin Fehervary. Dillon didn’t impress me and holy moly the guy takes a lot of penalties. The failed Todd Rierden experiment had a lot of residual effect on the defensive performance last year. I believe with a more veteran coach like Laviolette implementing his system and discipline, that will help improve overall defensive consistency.

2. Acquire a backup Goaltender – With UFA Braden Holtby likely to be hitting free agency, the Capitals would be left with only Ilya Samsonov. Samsonov is most certainly the goalie of the future but he is only 23 years old and has 26 games played of experience. Other notable goalies in our system include 28-year-old Pheonix Copley who has 29 games played and 24-year-old Vitek Vanecek who has never officially started an NHL game. I like the idea of Samsonov and Vanecek as a 1A and 1B next year but with such a lack of experience, it may be wise for the Capitals to invest in a veteran netminder at or around league minimum. Vanecek has put up stellar numbers with the Bears. He posted a 2.26 GAA which ranked 5th among goalies. He had a .917 SV% which ranked 11th. He also won AHL All-star MVP. In worst case scenarios, if Samsonov struggles or gets hurt next year, the Capitals would have a major weakness at goalie, at least on paper. There are plenty of goalies available on the market right now and the Caps would NOT have to invest much. Names available that jump out to me right now are Lundqvist, Greiss, Talbot, Khudobin, Elliot, and M. Smith. Those are all option I believe the Capitals could sign at a reasonable price. The league minimum is $700k per year but I believe the Caps can scoop up a guy like Cam Talbot at about 2-2.5 million a year. He posted a 2.63 GAA and .919 SV% last season.

3. Extend Ovechkin. Ovechkin wants to be a Capital for the remainder of his career and the Capitals want him to remain with the franchise. No real shocker there. Where it gets tricky is how much do you pay a 35-year-old winger and for how long. I say pay the damn man whatever he wants. Ovi deserves to be paid like one of the best players in the league because he is one of the best players in the league. Rumors are he wants upward of 10million a year but the Caps and Ovi have yet to come to terms with duration. Considering Ovechkin is chasing Gretzky, I say pay him $10mil per year for four years. If he hasn’t reached Gretzky by then, offer him another 1 year deal and then both him and Backstrom can retire together at the end of the 2024-2025 season. Is it a smart financial move to pay Ovi that much? Probably not. Would any Caps fan actually be mad if they paid Ovi is worth? Absolutely not.

That’s all I have for now. On a smaller level, the Capitals need to sure up some third line scoring and generate more offense. The team also needs to reverse the trend of the power play that has declined statistically in four straight seasons (23.1%  22.5%- 20.2% - 19.4%)

Any other ideas or suggestions to get this team back on track for a deep playoff run? Thanks for reading!
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