Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Washington Capitals.
If ever there was an accurate way to describe the Capitals season last year it was a roller coaster ride. At one point they were at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and looking like a team that made a mistake hiring Adam Oates as their new head coach.
That’s when the team finally got comfortable in his new system and Alex Ovechkin took over on his way to a Hart Trophy-winning season. Scoring a league-leading 32 goals in a shortened season and looking like the Ovi of old had fans in Washington believing whatever Oates was selling.
While the team took down a very weak Southeast Division on their way to another division title, they bowed out yet again to the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. With a full season to work with, Oates has a real test ahead of him in a new division.
Things were shaping up to be yet another quiet summer in D.C. until recently when GM George McPhee made, arguably, the best signing of the summer landing recently bought out centerman Mikhail Grabovski. The Capitals’ glaring weakness was at their second center spot after Mike Ribeiro grumpily bolted to Phoenix. Grabovski gives them a guy who will push their offense and score goals as well.
The team had a buyout of their own in defenseman Jeff Schultz who moved on to Los Angeles. Free agents Ribeiro, Matt Hendricks (Nashville), and Joey Crabb (Florida) all landed elsewhere while the team made some depth signings to help fill out their AHL roster in Hershey.
Here’s to hoping new blue liner Tyson Strachan (signed from Florida) doesn’t have an awkward first day on the job with Jason Chimera.
The Capitals are sticking to their guns with the roster the way they had it, for the most part, last season. That’s not a new strategy in Washington, but maybe this time it can prove to be successful.
Introducing: PHT’s ‘Team of the Day’ summer series
Capitals defenseman Jeff Schultz surprised some fans by asking to be traded. After all, he’s played there for seven seasons and has been a blue line fixture.
It turns out his demand to be moved was, indeed, true and Caps GM George McPhee says he’ll do his part to accommodate him as Ben Raby of CSNWashington.com shares.
“He did ask for a trade,” McPhee said. “As we’ve told every player, if you ever want to be traded or you’re not happy then let us know and we’ll trade you. So we started working on it and we’ll see what develops.”
What may prove to be the hard part in moving him is how he’s played the last couple seasons on top of his salary cap hit. Schultz has a $2.75 million cap hit next season and for a guy that’s played second or third-pairing minutes with the cap going down next season, that might be a bit pricey.
It was yet another disappointing playoffs for the Washington Capitals and owner Ted Leonsis knows all too well about that by now.
Leonsis took to his own blog to address how things went for the team this season and sprinkled in plenty of hope and positive thoughts it what turned out to be a bummer of a finish for the team.
Most notably, he has a word for the fans who had hopes of seeing the team win their first Stanley Cup: Sorry.
I’m sorry it ended when it did. I thought we were peaking at the appropriate time and it would translate into more playoff success and a deeper run. We played well, but we weren’t good enough. I remain proud of our team and appreciative of our fans – perhaps that’s why losing hurts so much. I feel we have let you down; I know we have let you down, and we let ourselves down. And we will continue to explore all avenues to improve our team in this new hard-cap era.
Overall, Leonsis praises the effort of coach Adam Oates for winning the Southeast Division in his first season and for the team doing it for five of the last six seasons.
He also says they’re busy prepping for next season. It’ll be an important one for him and GM George McPhee as their division is going to be a tad more competitive next season.
Caps GM George McPhee is doing his part to keep at least half of his goaltending tandem happy.
The team announced they’ve signed current backup goalie Michal Neuvirth to a two-year extension worth $5 million. He’ll cash in at $2.4 million next season and $2.6 million the following year. The deal is good for a cap hit of $2.5 million. He was due to be a restricted free agent this summer.
What’s curious about this extension is it puts Neuvirth ahead of current starter Braden Holtby on the salary list. Back in February, the Caps signed Holtby to a two-year, $3.7 million extension. His deal and Neuvirth’s deal will expire after the 2014-15 season putting them in a competition for the starting job til then.
It’s not a ton of money being burned against the cap, especially for goaltending, and both goalies are young and have playoff experience but you have to wonder what it makes Holtby think of what he’s done to help buoy the team in net this season and last.
When the Capitals hired Adam Oates to be their head coach following Dale Hunter’s decision to return to London, Ontario, many wondered how he would do with a team in seeming discontent.
After a rocky start, Washington is turning the corner and playing more consistent. They’re two points out of eighth in the Eastern Conference and five back of Winnipeg in the Southeast Division. Caps GM George McPhee is happy with what Oates has done and says he’s a bit of a hybrid coach as Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com shares.
“Coaches have different approaches. There’s a certain way that I think we should do things that is sort of the middle ground with what the previous two coaches did. I think we’ve had some real good coaches here,” McPhee said.
“Having been able to hire Adam and take our time, I think we’ve got a blend of the two previous coaches.”
Washington’s slow start to the season is something that could wind up biting them in the end.
With Alex Ovechkin playing like the Ovi of old (eight goals, five assists in the last nine games) and mostly everyone being healthy (Michal Neuvirth excepted) things have turned around in such a way that making the playoffs is a more than realistic possibility. Not bad for a first-year coach.