The Washington Capitals are one of the many teams feeling the effects of the realignment plan announced by the NHL. The Capitals were formerly in the Southeast Division, which is no longer in existence, and the team has been shifted into the new Metropolitan Division.
The long history of intense games between the Capitals and the New Jersey Devils will take on added meaning with the teams now in the same division. This article will look at the Capitals offseason activity and their roster for the upcoming season, and how this roster stacks up against the New Jersey Devils roster.
It was a slow offseason for the Washington Capitals over the summer months. In the early days of the offseason, Mike Ribeiro left the team to pursue free agency, eventually landing a new deal with the Phoenix Coyotes (www.nhl.com).
The Capitals also made the decision to cut ties with defenseman Jeff Schultz, who had a number of good years with the team including leading the league with +50 a few years back (www.si.com). However, his performance had tailed off the past two seasons, so the Capitals used a compliance buyout to sever ties with his contract. Schultz has since latched on with the Los Angeles Kings (www.si.com).
Washington signed Tomas Kundratek to a 2 year deal over the summer (www.nhl.com). The team views Kundratek as a young defensive prospect with a great deal of potential upside.
According to SI.com, the Capitals also signed Karl Alzner, a key defenseman, to a new 4 year contract. Alzner is a talented defensive player, and his new contract was a priority for the team during the offseason.
Finally, the latest acquisition took place over the past 24 hours, with Mikhail Grabovski agreeing to join Washington on a 1 year contract worth $3 million (www.washingtonpost.com). Grabovski is a skilled offensive player at the center position, but he has an attitude problem.
In a story covered widely in the media, when he was given a compliance buyout by the Toronto Maple Leafs, he lashed out and cursed out the management and coaching staff. Then he made those feelings public by going to the media and further bashing the management and the organization.
There is no question that those comments and the unprofessionalism Grabovski showed hurt his chances on the free agent market of getting a long term contract. The reaction in Washington is that they got Grabovski to replace Ribeiro on the second line, and some fans and media beat reporters covering the team do not think Grabovski is an adequate replacement for Ribeiro.
The signing of Grabovski leaves the team with $2.6 million in salary cap room, and they still have to sign Marcus Johansson, who is an important offensive player to this team (www.washingtonpost.com).
The roster is pretty much complete so breaking down each position and comparing it to the Devils roster should be fun.
The Capitals line up with: Jason Chimera, Martin Erat, and Aaron Volpatti at this position. Though, according to The Washington Post, now with the signing of Grabovski creating a bit of a log jam at the center position, the team may move Brooks Laich over to left wing. I think that would be a smart move because it would bolster the depth at this position and allow Laich to contribute offensively.
In comparison, the Devils line up with: Patrik Elias, Ryan Clowe, Andrei Loktionov, and Rotislav Olesz. That is a pretty solid group at this position, and in some ways I like the Devils personnel better.
I like Elias better than Chimera on the top line, I prefer Clowe to Erat, and I prefer Loktionov to Volpatti. If Brooks Laich is moved to left wing and is healthy, that bolsters the group, but as it is presently constituted, I give the Devils the advantage.
The Capitals line up at right wing with: Alex Ovechkin, Troy Brouwer, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward. That is a very good group especially the first two guys. Ovechkin is a premier offensive talent in the NHL. He had 32 goals and 24 assists in 48 games in the shortened 2013 season (www.nhl.com). When you think about those numbers, they are staggering.
The Devils counter with: Stephen Gionta, Michael Ryder, Jaromir Jagr, and Steve Bernier. This group is solid, I like the goal scoring potential of Ryder and Jagr, and the aggressive and hustling play of Gionta and Bernier. This is a balanced group. In the end I would give the Capitals the edge because of Ovechkin and Brouwer.
The center position is the strongest position on the roster for Washington: Nicklas Backstrom, Grabovski, Jay Beagle, Brooks Laich, Johansson, and Mathieu Perreault.
Now, this lineup assumes that they keep Laich at center, which would likely relegate him to a third line center role which may be more of a defensive role in their system (www.washingtonpost.com). It also assumes that they will agree to terms with Johansson on a contract with limited cap space.
They may have to give Johansson a multi-year deal with more money in the subsequent years to offset the limited cap room they have right now. I think he will return.
The Devils will counter with: Dainius Zubrus, Travis Zajac, Ryan Carter, and Adam Henrique. This is a capable group with some potentially gifted offensive players when healthy, but the Capitals have the decided advantage at this position.
The Capitals protect their goaltender with the following: Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, John Erskine, Jack Hillen, and Steve Oleksy. They also have some young players like the before mentioned Kundratek that will see ice time this season. They brought in Tyson Strachan from the Florida Panthers to add further depth to the defensive end.
This group, most notably, the first six players, are talented defensive hockey players. Green is causing the Washington fans some worry because of the injuries and declining performance in recent years. They just made a big investment in Alzner, so they must believe in his capability.
The Devils line up at the defense end with: Andy Greene, Adam Larsson, Peter Harrold, Eric Gelinas, Mark Fayne, Bryce Salvador, Anton Volchenkov, and Marek Zidlicky. This is a good group of defensive players and a good blend of youth and experience, but most of this group is coming off a down performance in 2013.
Therefore, I would give the edge here to the Capitals.
Washington has what I would term, very shaky goaltending, the current starter is Braden Holtby. He is young, just 23 years old and has 3 years of NHL experience. He was 23-12 with a 2.58 GAA in the regular season, and 3-4 with a 2.22 GAA in the postseason in 2013 (www.si.com).
He has been known to let in some soft goals, and some goals at very inopportune times in the sequence of a respective game.
The backup is Michal Neuvirth who some within the media covering the team believe could get a shot at the starting job if Holtby struggles early in 2013-14.
The Devils of course tend their goal net with Martin Broduer a future Hall of Famer and among the all-time great goaltenders in the rich history of the NHL. He is still playing well for his age, and I expect that to continue this season now that he has a young but very capable backup in Cory Schneider, who is the heir apparent to Brodeur at this position for the Devils in the future.
Schneider should see a fair amount of ice time, which will keep Brodeur rested and fresher for his starts.
The Devils have a certain advantage in the goaltending area.
The Capitals are coming off a 27 win season in the condensed 2013 format, won their division and made a playoff run. They have made incremental upgrades to the roster, but I think the Grabovski signing is a big positive for this team.
The Devils are coming off a very difficult season with injuries to key players, free agency losses, and an unexpected retirement of a star player. They missed the playoffs and just recently underwent an ownership change. So the Devils are in a different position in their cycle as a franchise, but I think the games with the Capitals will be very intense and well contested.
In the end, it is going to be very interesting for this budding rivalry to take a new direction as both teams are now divisional opponents. I look forward to the start of the season, and to your feedback on this analysis of both teams.