The Washington Capitals have one of the most impressive rosters in the NHL today, but father time won’t be friendly in the coming seasons. Still, if the Caps can keep its stars for the long run, watch out.
Ilya Samsonov|Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Welcome to the Five-Year Plan. In this summer exercise, we forecast the rosters for all 31 current NHL teams for the 2023-24 season. Are we bound for folly? Sure, but the point of the exercise is to give some sense of where an organization is heading based on current long-term contracts and the prospects they have in the system.
Some ground rules: No trades will be made and no future draft picks will be included – so you won’t see the likes of Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield on any roster, even though they will almost certainly be NHL stars in 2023-24. All current contracts are honored and most restricted free agents are projected to stay with their teams, unless it is determined the player will lose his spot or move on in the future. Some future unrestricted free agents will be kept on if the players are deemed integral and likely to re-sign. The Seattle expansion draft is not considered. With all that established, let’s take a look at Washington.
Ovechkin, Backstrom and Wilson. Don’t change that. Backstrom, Ovechkin and Vrana (RFA) all become free agents before 2023-24, but it’s hard believing there’s a situation where they’re not all brought back, even with the team’s tight cap situation. Kuznetsov, Oshie and Wilson all have deals in five years, so there’s nothing to worry about on that front.
The good thing for Washington is that, despite not having a No. 1 scoring prospect in the farm system right now, there’s solid center depth from which to choose. McMichael saw his game improve by leaps and bounds as an OHL sophomore, scoring 36 goals and 72 points and transforming into one of the OHL’s top 2019 draft prospects. Does he take his game to the next level in the future? That’s what Washington is banking on, especially once Backstrom calls it quits.
Protas is exactly what you want out of a bottom-six center today: he’s 6-foot-5 and doesn’t have an issue finding his teammates. He’s coming off of a fantastic playoff run with Prince Albert and who knows? Maybe he’ll be reunited on a line with his good friend Leason in the future. Leason, of course, is a center with experience on the wing, and that’s where he’ll likely make a living in the NHL. The big forward was the most prominent overaged forward in the 2019 draft, going from a 33-point campaign in 2017-18 to an 89-point effort this past season. Again, Leason is a guy heating up at the right time – at this point, a top-six spot is not out of the question, especially after improving his skating and rounding out his game.
Nothing changes at the top for the Caps, who’ll rely on Orlov and Carlson five years from now as much as they do today. Is it crazy to think Carlson could have a Norris Trophy or two on his resume by then? Behind them, though, questions remain. The Caps don’t have a stacked prospect group, but they do have an underrated base. Alexeyev will start 2019-20 on the sidelines with a concussion, but if all goes well, he’ll be a key contributor to Washington’s lineup as an established two-way defender down the line. Fehervary is set for his first season of North American hockey and can hopefully build upon his offensive abilities after failing to generate much buzz in Sweden. Still, he can the setup man for Alexeyev, who isn’t afraid to shoot the puck. Johansen will need some time to get himself going after missing much of 2018-19 with an upper-body injury, but he’s got good two-way upside. Siegenthaler isn’t far from cracking the Caps full-time, but he’s got little offensive upside. Good thing he’s strong in his own zone.
Brayden Holtby will be 31 soon, and the Capitals could elect to run with Samsonov sooner rather than later if the Caps can’t afford Holtby. Samsonov is one of just three goalies drafted in the first round since 2015 and has been a highly touted prospect ever since. In fact, Samsonov could realistically find himself as Washington’s backup goaltender halfway through 2019-20. If you’re the Caps, you want Samsonov playing as many games as possible over the next few years to help limit the gap between star goaltenders, assuming Holtby is out of the picture. Vanecek needs to find more consistency in his game, but he’s the leading option to backup Samsonov after a couple of seasons in the AHL, assuming Pheonix Copley has moved on.
The Capitals are expected to be a top team in the NHL for at least a few more years, but father time is starting to creep up on them. Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie and Holtby are over 30 and five of the team’s current defensemen are 28 or older. Years of strong results have prevented the Caps from building its farm in a way the team would like, but it’s hard to be upset when there’s a big, fancy ring obscuring your view of the cupboard. The Caps will be at the end of their Cup window in 2023-24, but don’t expect them to go away quietly.
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