We’re a little late to the party here, but District Sports Page conducted a roundtable with staff writers and friends of the site to discuss pertinent issues surrounding the 2014-15 Washington Capitals.
Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief; Katie Brown, Staff Writer; Eric Hobeck, Staff Writer; J.J. Regan, Contributor; Abram Fox, former contributor, Harry Hawkings, Editor at Rock the Red.
Part I: Grade the Caps offseason and their biggest acquisitions.
Dave: C+. The biggest immediate acquisition, obviously, is Barry Trotz and the biggest long-term acquisition is Brian MacLellan. Trotz brings instant credibility to the on-ice product, while MacLellan’s impact is less certain and probably not fully realized until several seasons down the line.
Player-wise, the Caps biggest need was to add two NHL-caliber defensemen, and MacLellan went out and bought what he thought were the best options in Niskanen and Orpik. Nisky is a player entering his prime, while Orpik may be on his last legs and will end up as an albatross — probably sooner rather than later. But for this season, the pair significantly upgrade the balance of the blueline.
I would have liked to seen a scorer added, but the team will rely on a pair of rookies, Burakovsky and Kuznetsov, to help in that department.
Katie: B.The hiring of Barry Trotz salvaged what could have been a disastrous offseason for the Capitals. Can you imagine if Dan Bylsma had been a free agent? I suspect the promotion of Brian MacLellan was spurred by Trotz’s sudden availability and reluctance to hire a head coach without a general manager in place.
The Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen signings undoubtedly shored up a thin defense, and though they probably should have just signed Niskanen and not Orpik, it was a bold move that might pay off. Or it might be a bust. That’s the nature of risk. Good teams take risks, but it’s a fine line between good risks and bad risks. Thus far, this risk seems to be working out okay. I’ll get back to you in about 30 games.
Eric: I’d grade the offseason an A based on what Brian MacLellan was able to do with such little experience on the job. He improved the blueline immensely by signing Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen away from Pittsburgh, although that came at the cost of not bringing back Mikhail Grabovski. Initially, I thought losing Grabovski would be a serious detriment to the team’s offensive potential, but the top line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Brouwer has proved plenty capable thus far.
J.J.: B. Barry Trotz was a fantastic hire and I already love the things he’s done since coming in. I’m not yet sold on Brian MacLellan as GM. Right now he looks like the easy hire, but I don’t know if he was the right one. He came in and immediately tried to address the need for defense, but at what cost? The Caps are certainly better in the short term, but I am wary of the long-term effects of the Niskanen/Orpik contracts, especially Orpik’s.
Abram: Obviously the biggest acquisition was a new head coach, Barry Trotz, the team’s fourth in four years.Trotz brings significant experience as a head coach – 15 years on the Nashville Predators – which goes far, considering the last time the Caps hired a veteran head coach it was Ron Wilson, seven coaches and 18 years ago. Other than that, the team overhauled its blue line with Matt Niskanen and USS Brooks Orpik, and added phenom Andre Burakovsky as well as grinder Liam O’Brien and backup goalie Justin Peters, while losing Michal Neuvirth and Mikhail Grabovski.
There’s no question the 2013-14 roster is a better on-ice squad than the 2012-13 team. That said, the team’s salary cap situation has a far bleaker outlook thanks to the massive amount of money being plugged into the defensive corps. Which is a long way of saying that the offseason gets a 79%, graciously rounded up to a B-. Room for improvement.
Harry: I give the offseason a C. The Capitals signed a good defenseman in Matt Niskanen to a reasonable contract but gave Brooks Orpik a very scary one. They also let their third-best forward walk in free agency. Even with the hiring of Trotz, which was smart, they didn’t really move closer to a Stanley Cup championship.