The easy answer, of course, is to get past the second round.
It’s a place Washington hasn’t been since the ’98 Stanley Cup Final which, when you consider what’s transpired in the aftermath, is a really long time ago. Six coaches have come and gone — Ron Wilson, Bruce Cassidy, Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau, Dale Hunter, Adam Oates — and seven different captains have served.
All told, it’s seventeen years and counting without a trip past Round 2, a drought Barry Trotz wants to end.
“Last year was a foundational year for us,” the Caps’ head coach told the National Press Club in July. “We want to have a parade down one of these great streets.”
To achieve that goal, Caps GM Brian MacLellan went out and had himself a splashy summer — well, as splashy as someone with his financial constraints could, anyway. Despite hovering close to the cap ceiling, MacLellan accomplished his goal of adding quality wingers in Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie.
The sophomoric analysis and narrative is that Williams, a former Conn Smythe winner dubbed “Mr. Game 7,” would help the team win important playoff games. Oshie, the U.S. Olympic hero in Sochi, would thrive in the nation’s capital, while wearing stars n’ stripes while riding an eagle (or something like that).
The reality is a tad more complex.
Despite boasting the NHL’s sixth-best offense in ’14-15, the Caps’ forward group didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Alex Ovechkin was responsible for a whopping 22 percent of the team’s goals, and two of the teams’ top-five point-getters were defensemen. The hope is that Williams and Oshie will balance things out — especially on right wing, where the likes of Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson were briefly parachuted in.
“You don’t like to see revolving players go through that spot all year,” MacLellan told the Washington Post. “You’d like to have more stability where a guy’s there permanently or almost permanently.”
To be fair, it’s likely that MacLellan made the Williams and Oshie moves with an eye on the playoffs. Williams’ postseason exploits are, as mentioned above, well-documented and while Oshie doesn’t have much of a reputation for playoff performances, he could be viewed as a more talented/gifted goalscorer/gamebreaker than the guy he replaced (Troy Brouwer).
In the postseason, that’s a big deal; do remember that in blowing their 3-1 series lead on the Rangers last season, the Caps only mustered five goals over the final three games.
So to sum it up, the outlook for next season is the same outlook we’ve seen in years prior. Can they finally get over that playoff hump?
Or come springtime, will it be the same old Caps?