The Washington Capitals are stacked and fully loaded for a deep Stanley Cup run, but this may be their last opportunity to contend for awhile, and of course they will need to get by the Pittsburgh Penguins. After winning another Presidents Trophy this season with a whopping 120 points, Washington has not missed a beat this year. They added the most impactful piece at the trade deadline in Kevin Shattenkirk from St. Louis and played lockdown defense, leading the NHL in goal differential. Is this the final year of the powerhouse Washington has rostered? We will explore that in this article, and see if there is any chance beyond this postseason for the Caps to keep the band together.
Kevin Shattenkirk was the biggest player moved at the trade deadline, and as Washington sits near the top of the salary cap ceiling, the Caps must decide if they can sign Shattenkirk. To keep Shatt in the mix in DC, they will have to let at least one of T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams or Karl Alzner walk as Unrestricted Free Agents on July 1. Meanwhile, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt are all restricted free agents.
I honestly do not see T.J. Oshie coming back. After scoring a career-high 33 goals, he has played his way into a nice pay raise, and will bolt for greener pastures, greener as in cash. Playing on the top line with the NHL’s fourth leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom and super sniper Alex Ovechkin has been the best thing to happen for Oshie as a Cap, and when he signs this new contract, he had better thank those two for helping him get it. At 30 years old, Oshie's skill level will slowly erode, but he has a few solid seasons left in those skates.
Justin Williams, the three-time Stanley Cup winner and now Mr. Game 7, will most likely not be back as well, especially if the Cup is not won by Washington. He will be 36 when next season begins, and unless it’s a one or two-year team friendly deal, Williams is gone.
Washington has a very solid and young set of defenders, and the way Nate Schmidt has played in these playoffs during Alzner’s absence, I can see the Caps letting Karl cash in elsewhere too, which would leave plenty of cap space to sign Shattenkirk to a long-term deal. Orlov and Schmidt will be staying put, and while the defensive corps is coming into their prime years, the same cannot be said for the key offensive players, minus Kuznetsov, who will be only 25 in a few weeks.
Key Players Age
The heart and soul of Washington for the last eleven years has been Alexander Ovechkin, and Ovi will be 32 when next season begins. While he is not going anywhere, plenty of studs from this multi-Presidents Trophy winning team will be. While Ovi’s numbers were down from last year, he still fires the puck more than any forward in the NHL, and he also has a few great seasons left in his skates. Ovi’s running mate all these years has been the silent killer, Nicklas Backstrom, who is also now on the wrong side of 30, well 30 exactly. While their skills will not drop off the earth tomorrow, these two will need to play extraordinary from now on as the Caps lose players to the cap crunch. Backstrom and Ovechkin will both be top- 15 fantasy picks next year and Kuznetsov will not get past round three, but this group is skating for their final chance at a Stanley Cup.
Last night, Washington dropped a 3-2 decision at home to their nemesis, Pittsburgh, and it has been Pittsburgh that has been the biggest thorn in Ovechkin’s side ever since he was drafted. I’m really hoping Ovi gets at least one Cup so the entire hockey world will quit questioning his leadership abilities. Now they have given away home ice and will have to battle to the end to squeak past the defending champions.
You can reach me @PolkaPat to talk anything hockey and be sure to also check me out at Fighting Chance Sports.