The Washington Capitals remain in the hunt as they look to rebound after a first-round exit to the Florida Panthers in six games. The Capitals started strong but just couldn’t keep that same energy all the way into the playoffs. They had a solid season with a record of 44-26-12 while also having the most road wins of any team in the NHL last year. For a team that has been in the playoff mix for 15 years, it’s admirable to see how committed they are to keeping the championship dreams alive. After all, they finally removed their curse in 2018 and won the team’s first and only championship.
The big reality of this team in its current state is that it’s really all about Alexander Ovechkin. It’s no secret he’s one of the greatest players in NHL history, let alone a generation. Not to mention the biggest fact is that he has the chance to become the greatest goal scorer in league history if people don’t think he already is. His work is the stuff of legends as he currently sits third All-Time in Career Goals Scored with 780. He’s behind two other legends with Gordie “Mr. Hockey” Howe and Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky. “The Great Eight” at age 36 is a timeless wonder with his goal-scoring ability and it’s great that we all get to enjoy it.
With Ovechkin around, the Capitals are a solid team and usually a good bet to make the playoffs, even if they aren’t in the top-tier of Eastern Conference teams anymore. Father Time is undefeated and will get to Ovechkin eventually, but Washington understands that and has done well to stay competitive until it all becomes about Ovechkin chasing Gretzky in a few years.
The Capitals had a solid offseason with the guys they brought in. This has been one of the biggest offseasons for them in a while with the amount of talent they brought in. Even if their window is closing (or has already closed), the team still has put themselves in a competitive position while being a fun team. The Capitals addressed a big need in between the pipes and filled out the forward ranks with capable depth. They know how to navigate the cap and have made the proper moves to stay solid.
They had to solve their main problem of last season which was goaltending. Since winning it all in 2018, their situation in the crease has been shaky. Braden Holtby never returned to championship form and left the team, leaving it in the hands of youngsters Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek. Both weren’t bad, but they didn’t put up the results the Capitals would’ve liked if they wished to see themselves in the Stanley Cup Final again. So they got rid of both and made a big-time move by signing Stanley Cup winner Darcy Kuemper. A major upgrade, and a great goalie who’s proved his worth. He will be a major key to the success of the team alongside backup Charlie Lindgren
Not to mention they strengthened the forward core. Adding Dylan Strome, Connor Brown, and some fresh faces to a forward core that could use some assistance. Especially with the aging group as a whole. With these moves, they’re hoping to solve their main issue of getting healthy. The additions of Strome and Brown will help bridge the gap, but Tom Wilson isn’t expected to play before December, and it’s unclear when Nicklas Backstrom will be able to return. Forward Carl Hagelin’s future is also uncertain because of an eye injury. Hopefully, things turn out better for the Capitals once the season starts. The Capitals have been an outstanding team for a while and could push for a 20-year run of postseason play. It gets harder to sustain that level of success and pride for that long and naturally, there will come a time when that all comes to a close.
They don’t have a lot of drafted talent and there will be more misses from the draft as a result of continuing to go for it. Washington is slowly approaching the end of an era, and it’ll be telling how the Capitals handle the transition period between contending and rebuilding. It may happen sooner rather than later. But for now, we watch Ovechkin head off into the sunset as he chases Gretzky for the next couple of years. And I think for some folks, him surpassing Gretzky might be better than another Stanley Cup for him.