Washington Capitals 2020-21 NHL season preview

The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we look at the Washington Capitals.

Washington Capitals 2019-20 Rewind

Record: 41-20-8 (90 pts.); first in Metropolitan Division; third in Eastern Conference

Leading scorers: Alex Ovechkin (48 goals), John Carlson (75 points)

Nearly three weeks after Alex Ovechkin reached 700 goals, the NHL season paused with the Capitals atop the Metro. They wouldn’t play again until early August during the Round Robin portion of the Return to Play. In the First Round they met the Islanders and were promptly eliminated in five games. Three days later, Todd Reirden was dismissed and Peter Laviolette was hired.

The off-season saw plenty of new faces head to D.C. Veteran blue liners Zdeno Chara and Justin Schultz highlighted the additions with Michael Kempny likely out for the season. Henrik Lundqvist signed a one-year deal after being bought out by the Rangers. Unfortunately, he announced in December he would be sitting out the season and undergoing heart surgery.

One of the biggest changes for the Capitals in 2021 will be the absence of Braden Holtby. It will be 23-year-old Ilya Samsonov taking the starter’s reins with Pheonix Copley or Craig Anderson, who’s currently on a tryout, as backup. The netminder impressed during his rookie season helping Washington to 16 wins in 22 appearances and posting a .923 even strength save percentage.

Additions

Zdeno Chara (free agency), Conor Sheary (free agency), Justin Schultz (free agency), Henrik Lundqvist (free agency), Trevor van Riemsdyk (free agency), Paul LaDue (free agency), Craig Anderson (training camp tryout)

Subtractions

Radko Gudas (signed with Florida), Ilya Kovalchuk (signed in KHL), Travis Boyd (signed with Toronto), Braden Holtby (signed with Vancouver)

Getty Images

3 Most Interesting Washington Capitals

• Alex Ovechkin: The reigning co-Richard Trophy winner is entering the final year of his contract and 188 goals away from Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record. He’s said he wants to finish his career in Russia, but the 35-year-old wants to pass The Great One before waving goodbye to the NHL. Both Ovechkin and Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said this week there’s no rush to begin talks on an extension and no timetable to get a deal done. It will be interesting to see what it looks like with a flat cap ceiling and restricted free agents to re-sign like Jakub Vrana and Ilya Samsonov.

• Jakub Vrana: He’s coming off back-to-back 20-plus goal seasons and due for an extension in the summer. During the Capitals’ First Round exit, the 24-year-old forward had a series to forget. He went pointless for the season consecutive postseason and failed to score on 17 shots. His biggest chance came in Game 3 when his breakaway was denied by Semyon Varlamov in overtime. He’s a big part of the second line and another big season will end up with a rise in pay from his current $3M salary for 2020-21.

[MORE: 2021 NHL schedule notes: Stats, oddities, fuel for nasty rivalries]

• Peter Laviolette: After five-and-a-half seasons with the Predators, Laviolette takes over a veteran team with a still-open Stanley Cup window. He is only the second coach in the Ovechkin era hired by the Capitals who is not in their first NHL head coaching job. The team’s core isn’t getting any younger and salary cap constraints could see some roster reshaping over the next few years. Along with his resume, he was brought in to “hold people accountable,” according to MacLellan. Laviolette is not known to be buddy-buddy with his players. Will that toughness bring the best out of this roster?

Best-Case Scenario

It will be competitive in the new-look East Division. With only four teams per division making the postseason, the Capitals will be tested. They can be a playoff team under Laviolette, and if they do that will mean a strong sophomore season from Samsonov, and Chara and Schultz playing successful roles in the back. Ovechkin will continue chasing Gretzky and likely put pen to paper on an extension at some point during the season.

Worst-Case Scenario

Samsonov struggles as the No. 1 and Copley or Anderson fail to provide adequate backup, putting their playoff chances in danger. While it seems inevitable he’ll sign, if weeks/months go by without Ovechkin being extended, will questions about his future become a distraction?

Pointsbet – Washington Capitals Stanley Cup odds

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