Nicklas Backstrom

Looking to make the leap: Tom Wilson


The numbers from Tom Wilson’s first two seasons in Washington pretty much explain his role.

Hits: 402

Penalty minutes: 323

Fights: 26

Goals: 7

While Wilson’s been effective as the energy-slash-enforcer guy, it’s probably not the role most imagined when the Caps made him the 16th overall pick in 2012. Taken ahead of the likes of Tomas Hertl and Teuvo Teravainen, the big-bodied Wilson — 6-foot-4, 210 pounds — should be able to do more.

Just ask his head coach.

“Willie is one of my favorites,” Barry Trotz told the Washington Post this offseason. “I think he’s got a great upside, but at the same time I don’t see him as a fourth line winger for the Washington Capitals.

“To me, he’s better than that.”

Wilson has appeared in plenty of games — only four players from his draft class have been in more — but hasn’t really played all that much, averaging 7:56 per game in his rookie year, then 10:56 as a sophomore, all of it in a predominantly fourth-line role. Part of that is age, having just turned 21 in March, and part of that stems from ex-head coach Adam Oates, who thrust Wilson into the muscle role to compensate for what he saw as a lack of team toughness.

Trotz, though, sees something more.

He gave Wilson top-line minutes last year alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and while the promotion was brief, it provided insight into what Trotz thinks of Wilson’s potential — a big-bodied power forward that can physically punish opponents and produce offensively.

“My goal will be pretty simple with Tom,” Trotz said, per CSN Washington. “Tom needs to elevate his game. We’ll talk about all those areas of where he can and how he’s going to do it and where we see him needing to get to.”

But is this the year it happens?

There is competition for top-six minutes, especially at wing. Washington’s added some veteran talent in Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie, meaning Wilson, a pending RFA, may not get a shot at his breakthrough until 2016-17.

Or perhaps beyond.

“We want to get Wilson more ice time next year. We need to bump him,” Caps GM Brian MacLellan said. “Maybe not next year, but the year after, we have to turn him into a top-six forward.

“We just need him making more plays, doing more with the puck, contributing offensively, and I think we can get that out of him.”

It’s Washington Capitals day at PHT


For the most part, Washington’s ’14-15 campaign was a success.

Under new head coach Barry Trotz, the Caps had 45 wins, 101 points, got back into the playoffs and won a series for the first time in three years.

All good things.

But in the end, success was fleeting. Once again, Washington lost a Game 7 to the Rangers — for the third time in four seasons — and, once again, Washington failed to get past Round 2 (for the 17th straight year). That rekindled talk of the Caps’ inability to come through in the clutch and, subsequently, talk of Alex Ovechkin’s inability to come through in the clutch.

In the end, though, you’d have to say the positives in Washington outweighed the negatives, thanks in large part to quality individual efforts.

Ovechkin had his highest goalscoring season in six years, netting 53 en route to winning the Maurice Richard Trophy. No. 1 goalie Braden Holtby posted career-highs across the board and narrowly missed out on being a Vezina finalist. John Carlson finished fifth in the NHL in d-man scoring, and top-10 in Norris voting.

Combine those with the growth shown by youngsters Evgeni Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky, and the year — even though it ended in disappointment — could be seen as a stepping stone to a brighter ’15-16.

Off-season recap

GM Brian MacLellan made some pretty aggressive moves this summer, specifically at wing. Former Conn Smythe winner Justin Williams was added in free agency and then, in a bit of a stunner, U.S. Olympic hero T.J. Oshie was acquired from St. Louis.

The team’s objective, MacLellan revealed early in the process, was to find right wingers capable of playing on the top line (next to Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom) and the second unit (next to Kuznetsov and Burakovsky).

So, mission accomplished — though it didn’t come without a price.

Washington lost a trio of veteran forwards this summer: Troy Brouwer was sent to the Blues in the Oshie deal, Eric Fehr signed in Pittsburgh, and Joel Ward inked with the Sharks. Longtime blueliner Mike Green also left in free agency, as did trade deadline pickups Tim Gleason and Curtis Glencross.

Those departures were partly due to the price of the aforementioned acquisitions, but also because MacLellan had some big-ticket players in house that needed new contracts.

Chief among those was Holtby, who was rewarded for his banner season with a big five-year, $30.5M extension. Significant money was also spent elsewhere: Kuznetsov was given $6M over two years, Marcus Johansson $3.75M over one (by way of arbitration), and checking forward Jay Beagle $5.25M over three.

At the draft, the Caps were relatively quiet with just four picks, though did raise some eyebrows by picking highly-touted Russian goalie Ilya Samsonov with their top selection, at No. 22 overall.

Caps GM provides positive injury updates for Backstrom, Orpik


For all the exciting additions made this offseason, the Washington Capitals still must cross their fingers about a few injury situations.

Most obviously, they need Nicklas Backstrom’s hip surgery rehab to go well.

While it doesn’t sound like Capitals GM Brian MacLellan is guaranteeing that the outstanding playmaker will be available at the beginning of the 2015-16 season, his update was still positive, as the Washington Post reports.

“I think he’s progressing well,” MacLellan said during a Monday conference call. “I heard he started skating recently, so that’s a good sign.”

(Note: there’s no guarantee that Backstrom won’t be ready by the season-opener, either.)

Backstrom’s situation is still a work in progress, but it sounds like things are going especially well for hard-hitting defenseman Brooks Orpik. MacLellan noted that Orpik previously “managed” a wrist injury, finally decided to undergo surgery on it, and is expected to be “100 percent healthy” to start 2015-16.

There are quite a few reasons for Capitals fans to be optimistic about next season, and positive health news should only brighten those outlooks. Plenty can change in the next few months, yet it sounds like the word is so far, so good.

MacLellan doesn’t think summer additions have to take from Johansson

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Marcus Johansson was handed a one-year, $3.75 million contract in arbitration, but there’s been speculation that Washington’s offseason additions might eat into his playing time in 2015-16. Capitals GM Brian MacLellan doesn’t see that as inevitable.

“We just have a deeper top six and you’re going to have to play well and it’ll be hard to keep your job there,” MacLellan told the Washington Post. “He’s going to have to play well from the start.”

At the same time, MacLellan believes that Johansson can maintain a spot on one of Washington’s top two lines and serve on the first power-play unit. The general manager even hinted at Johansson’s role actually expanding as the 24-year-old might help kill penalties.

Washington added Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie over the summer and both of them are expected to serve as top-six forwards along with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov. So when everyone is healthy, that will leave just one slot for Johansson or Andre Burakovsky.

Johansson had 20 goals and 47 points in 82 contests last season while averaging 16:28 minutes per contest.

Capitals still might add a third-line center


With Eric Fehr an unrestricted free agent and Nicklas Backstrom’s availability for the start of the season “up in the air” after undergoing arthroscopic hip surgery, the Washington Capitals’ situation at center is far from certain.

Washington has stated that Evgeny Kuznetsov will serve as the number two center and when Backstrom is healthy, he is the clear number one, but that still leaves the third line role undetermined.

“I think we’re going to let it play out,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan told the Washington Post. “We could address it internally, the third-line center spot, and also depending on how the contract situation plays itself out, there’s a couple options in the free agency market that we see, and we’ll explore the trade market up until training camp. There might be something in that venue.”

Andre Burakovsky, 20, is among their internal options, but they also have veteran alternatives like 29-year-old Jay Beagle.

If they do decide to sign a center to help fill the void, then their options include Stephen Weiss, Matt Cullen, Derek Roy and, of course, Fehr.

Washington does have some cap considerations though. They have a little more than $10 million in space, but still have to re-sign restricted free agents Marcus Johansson and Braden Holtby, per General Fanager.