Part 13 in my "State of the Franchise" series.
Feel free to leave comments; I'm always willing to take feedback and I readily accept that I'm not the next Charles Dickens, so any constructive criticism would be great.
Current Rankings List:
20. Tampa Bay
22. Los Angeles
25. New Jersey
30. San Jose
#18: Washington Capitals
Top Fws: Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Ribeiro
Top Ds: John Carlson, Mike Green
Top G: Braden Holtby
Top 3 Under-23s:
1. D John Carlson (22)
2. F Marcus Johansson (21)
3. D Karl Alzner (23)
Top 5 Prospects
1. F Evgeni Kuznetsov (20)
2. F Filip Forsberg (18)
3. F Stanislav Galiev (20)
4. F Thomas Wilson (18)
5. G Philipp Grubauer (20)
Prospect Pool Rating:
Bluechip Talent: B
The Caps have built a highly skilled team up the middle. A top 2 of Backstrom and Ribeiro is a lot better than what most teams have on just their first line alone. Johansson and Brooks Laich can all play center as well and there's depth behind them with grinders like Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle. The defense is deep and talented with 8 NHL caliber defensemen, although names like Mike Green and Roman Hamrlik have not played up to par due to injuries.
Beyond Alex Ovechkin, the Caps lack that top line winger and scoring wingers in general (although the converted Johansson and Laich can fill a top 6 role). The two goalies are still raw and inexperienced, and have suffered bouts of inconsistency. The biggest problem is that their top players have not been consistent: Ovechkin has gone from the league's deadliest scoring machine to a less-than PPG player, Green has not been able to develop anything substantial after 2 fantastic years, and depth players like Joel Ward and Jeff Schultz have been disappointing.
The Caps have two of the best young prospects in the entire NHL with Filip Forsberg and Yevgeni Kuznetsov. In general, they've managed to find some decent prospects on the wings, including bruiser Tom Wilson, slick playmaker Stanislav Galiev and small forward Chandler Stephenson. There's depth at the goaltending position, with Grubauer, Steffen Soberg, and Brandon Anderson all waiting in the wings.
There is really no NHL caliber talent anywhere after the first few prospects. Most of the team's prospects max out at the AHL level. Since most of the team's best prospects have already hit the NHL and the Caps have traded away valuable picks for players that could help them now, the development system is completely drained. To compound that fact, Yevgeni Kuznetsov, arguably the top player in the world outside of North America not playing in the NHL, has decided to stay in Russia for at least 2 more years.
The Capitals have been one of the better teams in the NHL for a few seasons now. Last year, after GM George McPhee signed names like Joel Ward and Tomas Vokoun to fill some big roles on the team, there was a lot of optimism to start the year. However, after a string of losses that threatened to knock the Caps out of postseason contention, McPhee decided to make a change behind the bench and brought in Dale Hunter. While he managed to get the Caps into the playoffs and Game 7 of the second round, the year ended with Washington failing to make a deep playoff run.
There is still time for the Caps to make a push. If Ovechkin can get back into something resembling the tour de force he was for 5 seasons, there is definitely reason to say the Caps are a contender. And the team is young; Marcus Johansson, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Braden Holtby are already key contributors and will continue to improve as they get older.
The Caps, facing weaker competition than they might have if they were located in the West, are likely to make the playoffs again next season. They'll have to learn to remain consistent in order to conserve their energy for the postseason.