Nicklas Backstrom

It’s Washington Capitals day at PHT

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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

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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

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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.

Caps GM doesn’t fear possible arbitration for Holtby, Johansson

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“If you’ve got to go to arb, you’ve got to go to arb.”

No, that’s not a new slogan for fast food roast beef. Instead, it’s the amusing phrasing Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan used as he projected comfort with the possibility of Braden Holtby and Marcus Johansson going to salary arbitration, according to the Washington Post.

“I think we’ve made an aggressive offer with Holtby, hoping to get it done sooner than later,” MacLellan said. “I like what we’ve offered. We’ve offered a term deal with a good salary. The total dollars is pretty significant. Unfortunately, I guess you play it out. If you’ve got to go to arb, you’ve got to go to arb. It’s part of the process.”

The Washington Post notes that MacLellan described his offer to Johansson as “competitive.” Does that rank a little lower on the scale of negotiations than “aggressive,” though?

Contract talks don’t really go through the sometimes-tense arbitration process very often any longer. Each case would be fascinating if they made it that far, however.

A quick look at each RFA

Holtby is obviously the bigger name of the two, and with good reason after a breakout year.

The 25-year-old’s career numbers look excellent (especially an impressive .921 save percentage), and he really made an impression in 2014-15, going 41-20-10 with nine shutouts and a .923 save percentage. While his resume isn’t enormous – 73 of his 178 games played came this past season – his stats argue for a hefty raise from his bargain $1.85 million cap hit.

Johansson, 24, would be an interesting consideration in his own right, though.

The Swedish forward set career-highs with 20 goals and 47 points last season; he didn’t look out of place when he joined the Caps’ top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, either.

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Washington boasts about $10.9 million in cap space, but those two could eat a huge chunk of that breathing room. It sounds like MacLellan isn’t sweating the situation too much, though (at least publicly).