Last week, the Washington Capitals failed to get past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the eighth time since left winger and team captain Alex Ovechkin entered the NHL in the 2006 season.
Having a three-games-to-one lead over the New York Rangers, it seemed as though this 2014-2015 Capitals team — which actually had what it previously lacked most in an experienced head coach — would finally break through and make it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 17 years 12`
Three one-goal losses later, including a Game 7 series clinching overtime loss at Madison Square Garden, the Capitals remain synonymous with crushing playoff collapses.
So what’s next for the Washington Capitals leading up to the start of the 2015-2016 campaign in October?
The NHL Awards
The NHL Awards will take place on Wednesday June 24, 2015 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ovechkin will be up for the Ted Lindsay Award for the NHL’s Most Valuable Player as voted by other league players. He’ll be up against the Dallas Stars’ left winger Jamie Benn and the Montreal Canadiens’ goaltender Carey Price. If the, “Gr8 Eight” as he is known wins it, it will be the fourth time he has done so, having had the honor in 2008, 2009 and 2010. He was nominated for the award in 2006 and 2013 but did not win.
Ovechkin is also nominated for the Hart Trophy for the NHL’s most valuable player as voted by the media along with the New York Islanders’ center John Tavares and Price. This is Ovechkin’s fifth time being nominated for this award. He won it consecutively in 2008-2009 and again in 2013. He finished as a runner up in 2010.
Thanks to his 53 goals, Ovechkin won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for being the NHL’s top goal scorer during the 2014-2015 season. This is the fifth time he has won the award (2008, 2009, 2013 and 2014).
The NHL Draft will take place June 26 and 27, 2015 at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida.
The Capitals will have five draft picks. The first will be the 22nd overall and the next won’t be until the first selection of the third round (62nd overall). That pick is courtesy of the Buffalo Sabres who traded the pick to Washington when they traded goaltender Jaroslav Halak and their third-round selection in exchange for goaltender Michal Neuvirth and defenseman Rostislav Klesla on March 5, 2014.
The Capitals will finish out the draft with a fourth and then two fifth-round picks.
The Capitals biggest task this summer is striking deals with their seven unrestricted free agents (UFA) and three restricted free agents (RFA) beginning July 1, 2015. For starters, Washington stands $21,234,041 from the cap ceiling.
For Washington General Manager Brian MacLellan, that’s enough room to sign these guys… but only if the price is right.
“I think it’s important for players that they realize that we’ve had a successful team,” MacLellan said in his postseason press conference. “And if they believe that we have a good chance moving forward to win a championship, they recognize that going for max dollars which they could make the choice to do in certain situations, that it would hinder our ability to compete moving forward,”
Goaltender Braden Holtby, an RFA, has been labeled a priority by MacLellan. The GM likes the club’s chances of getting a long-term deal done with the goalie.
“Obviously he’s been a big part of what’s gone on this year. I think the development of Braden has been tremendous,” MacLellan said, talking about his number one goaltender. “Personally and as a player, I think he represents pretty much everything you want in a team’s goaltending.”
MacLellan actually commented on several players.
“[Length of contract] is going to be an issue going forward” he said of 34-year-old UFA and right winger Joel Ward. “If we can work in a good number and we feel Joel can continue the level he’s playing at, we’ll work it out. He played good. They moved him around a lot and he did a great job in the playoffs on the first line at the end of the year.”
“He had a great year,” MacLellan then remarked about UFA center Eric Fehr. “We missed him in the playoffs. He’s comfortable with that third line center spot. He did a good job on face-offs, really improved in that area. He’s good defensively and he’s got a good stick. He contributed offensively five-on-five, which is hard to do in this league, while playing against good players. We’d love to have him back.”
And about UFA center Jay Beagle:
“From talking to him I know he likes it here,” MacLellan said. “He’s comfortable here. He’s comfortable with the coaching staff so he’d be one of the easier ones to sign I hope.”
But the most interesting contract talk to watch play out will be that of UFA defenseman Mike Green.
Green was drafted by the Capitals 29th overall in the 2004 NHL Draft and came up through the Washington Capitals system. He’s played 575 regular season games and 71 playoff games with the organization.
“I like what Mike Green’s done this year. It’s been a good fit for us,” MacLellan said. “I think it’s going to come down to if he’s comfortable with that role and what do you pay for that role. It’s probably going to be a little complicated.”
“If it works out, that will be great,” the GM added. “If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.” On RFA left winger Marcus Johansson, MacLellan stated, “He’s 25 years old. He’s still developing. We think we can get more out of him moving forward.”
“He’s been a big part of our success at the end of the year,” MacLellan commented about center Evgeny Kuznetsov, also an RFA. “He filled a hole at second line center that we’ve been trying to fill for a number of years. He’s going to be important for our team going forward. He likes it here, he likes his role, he likes the coaching staff.”
A few free agents that are almost assuredly on their way out of Washington are trade deadline acquisitions defenseman Tim Gleason and left winger Curtis Glencross. Defenseman John Erskine will likely not return as well.
“I think it will sort itself out. We have some RFA’s we really like and we want to bring them back. We’ll work through it,” MacLellan said. “I think we can get reasonable contracts from all of them and then we’ll make decisions on where the cap ends up with the amount of money we have left over and how we want to invest it.”
Whether or not the Capitals will be aggressive again in the unrestricted free agent market is yet to be discovered. MacLellan mentioned that getting a Top Six forward is on the organization’s radar but also noted that the current crop of UFA’s may not be what they are looking for. Another concern is that the club may not have enough cap space to sign one if they want to keep the players they already have.
Washington will likely focus mostly on signing its own guys and then working to develop the in-house talent to fill the void that had them moving players around all season, on and off the top two lines.
As they do every July, the Capitals will host Development Camp at their practice facility, Kettlers Capitals Ice Plex in Arlington, Virginia.
The camp will last a week and will be open to fans. This is the best chance for Caps Faithful to see the young crop of talent recently drafted or signed. The team will have early morning practices and be split into two squads — one red and one white — for midafternoon scrimmages.
Typically, the morning practices aren’t widely attended but the scrimmages draw a decent amount of attendance, especially as the week goes on.
The camp will culminate in a well-attended Fan Fest (usually on the Saturday during which the camp is scheduled) which takes place before and after the final scrimmage. This event will have current player autograph sessions and game/practiced-used equipment sales.
The dates and times for the Washington Capitals 2015 Development Camp will be announced at a later date by the team.