With the conclusion of Washington Capitals season, too early yet again, it’s time for appreciation, evaluation and critique. For the next seven days the Caps staff at District Sports Page, and a few friends, will be taking an in-depth look at what went right, what could be better, suggest some changes and grade out the team position-by-position.
Our panel: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of DSP; Abram Fox, Caps Team Editor of DSP; Katie Brown, Caps Beat Writer for DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan and DSP contributor; Ted Starkey, SBNation.com and DSP contributor, Adam Vingan, NBCWashington.com; and Harry Hawkings, RocktheRed.net.
PART III: What single adjustment would you advocate for next season?
DAVE: The Caps obviously have more than one single problem area to address. They need a top-four defenseman, another scoring winger, most likely a replacement at second line center for Mike Ribeiro, and I’d like to see a veteran goalie brought in to back up Braden Holtby. I think the most pressing need is for the Caps to get bigger and stronger up front. Tom Wilson was inserted into the playoff lineup to make his NHL debut because the Caps just couldn’t match up with the Rangers size-for-size. Will he be ready at the start of next season? The Caps like to see their Juniors-eligible players exhaust that eligibility before inserting them into the lineup, but Wilson didn’t look overmatched at all in the three games he played with stakes as high as they can get.
I’d like to see the Caps target another big, tough, capable forward to add to the mix, in addition to Wilson. I know that players like Milan Lucic or Brain Boyle don’t grow on trees, but the Caps have a definite need for size and toughness up front — players willing to crash the net.
ABRAM: Pick up a top four defenseman. Washington’s defense over-performed this season, particularly John Erskine and Jack Hillen. Neither man should be earning over 17 minutes of ice time in a game. The Caps finished toward the bottom in the league in team defense. Right now, D.C. has a playoff caliber offense and goaltending. Their defense is their weak point, and while Karl Alzner, Mike Green, and John Carlson are a good start, they need more support.
KATIE: It’s hard to pick just one adjustment that needs to be made during the offseason. One of the most glaring deficiencies will likely be in the top six forwards if Mike Ribeiro is not offered an extension. Alex Ovechkin needs a scoring winger on the other side of the top line. Marcus Johansson sufficed for this once he was healthy, but I still think he’d benefit from a lesser role, possibly on another team. His late-season play undoubtedly boosted his trade value. If Ribeiro doesn’t return, that leaves a hole at 2C that could be filled by Brooks Laich, in theory, but I’d like to see McPhee make some bold moves to fill that spot as well as a scoring winger for the top line. There needs to be scoring elsewhere when Ovechkin isn’t doing it, furthermore, it would be foolish to rely on him to carry the offense because of a deficient roster.
SKY: Bring in another top-four defenseman.
TED: Washington needs to get another Top-6 forward, either to replace the presumably departing Mike Ribeiro or add some depth on the wing. While Martin Erat will have a full season in 2013-14, he certainly didn’t show a whole lot in limited action between unfortunate injuries in Washington.
ADAM: Admittedly, I don’t think there are really any adjustments that the Capitals need to make in regards to their style of play under Adam Oates. The power play has been revitalized and the “hybrid” system rejuvenated the team’s play at even strength; Washington was the fifth-highest scoring team in 2013 at 3.04 goals per game, a significant improvement over the 2.66 they averaged in 2011-12 (14th).
HARRY: The single adjustment that I would advocate for at this point is the abandonment of the “win now” mentality. The Capitals made the playoffs this year in large part due to their weak schedule, something that will disappear next year when they will join a Division with the Rangers, Penguins, Islanders, Flyers, Hurricanes, Devils, and Blue Jackets. That set up is several orders of magnitude harder than their current one in terms of making the postseason, and I think the Capitals need to realize that and do what they can to get pieces in place for when Tom Wilson and Evgeny Kuznetsov are ready to contribute at a high level, instead of treading water and hoping to get lucky. It will be very difficult and likely will not happen, but I truly feel that is the best path to long-term success and a championship.