The Capitals are a hard team to nail down. They have made it to the playoffs in each of the last five seasons but failed to advance past the second round in any of those years. They have gone from being offense-dominant to defense-dominant, all with the same results: playoffs, but no Cup.
Let's recap. After a lackluster start to the season last year, the Capitals replaced Manager Bruce Boudreau with Dale Hunter. The defensive-minded Hunter got the team in the playoffs and handed the pipes to rookie Braden Holtby who carried them into a seven-game, second-round ousting. Not happy with being too lopsided, in what has become a carousel of managers, the front office replaced Hunter with Adam Oates.
So the question on everyone's lips (chapped lips) is: what kind of team will Adam Oates run? Most people expect him to bring a balanced approach to the Capitals, a change from the offensive-minded Bruce Boudreau and the defensive-minded Dale Hunter. What this means is that the Capitals should become a solid source of mid-range fantasy talent. Don't look here for a player that will juice up their stats at the expense of the rest of his team. The Caps' roster will be expected to shoulder a balanced workload.
The other big move for Washington this offseason was the trading of youngster Cody Eakin for the grizzled vet Mike Ribiero. The likely second-liner will work with Jason Chimera and Troy Brouwer to bolster the offense.
Pick your spots when drafting Capitals. Know their role and manage your expectations accordingly. A "balanced approach" to the game means load sharing and fantasy managers need to be aware of who is carrying what load in Washington. Unless you're taking Ovechkin, drafting a Capital is all about "know your pick."
THE BIG GUNS
Alexander Ovechkin (RW): Ovechkin has consistently been one of the top names in fantasy drafts the last several years. There is doubt on whether he should be this year. The talent is certainly there, but opposing teams are getting smarter as to how to defend Ovechkin. Ovi's goal numbers have been down the last two years, hanging around the upper 30's the last two years from the low 50's in years prior. He has also dropped 20 points from his totals in each of the last two years, notching 109 three years ago, 85 in 2010-2011, and 65 last year. Now, his 38 goals in 2011-2012 were good for fifth in the league, and he is still just 27, but question remains on whether he is an easy top-five choice this year; regardless, he shouldn't fall too far come draft day.
Nicklas Backstrom (C): Backstrom has had two consecutive disappointing seasons after signing a large contract with the Capitals before the 2010-2011 season. He missed half of last season due to a concussion suffered in early January, but managed 44 points and 95 shots in 42 games. This fall, he may be a cheap buy due to his low totals last year, but don't wait too long. He's a tremendous playmaker and there are worse players than Alexander Ovechkin to have on your wing. Look for Backstrom's goals to be in the mid-20's, shots in the upper 100's, and points just shy of 100 if he stays healthy.
ON THE RISE
Braden Holtby (G): Holtby was the new kid in town for the Caps last year and established himself as a formidable netminder in last Spring's playoffs Filling in for injured Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth, Holtby played in 14 playoff games with a save percentage of .933. He was 7-7 in that time. Extrapolate Holtby's playoff and regular season save percentages out, and he is in the top 5-6 net-minders in the league. It's unreasonable to conclude his playoff pace will sustain itself over a whole season, but Washington has a talented netminder here. With Vokoun gone, Holtby is the likely starter for the Caps. Holtby is unlikely to be flying off draft boards but managers in the know will tuck him away in the middle rounds.
John Carlson (D): Carlson was tied for eighth among defenseman in goals scored last season with nine and was tied for 19th in points with 32 among the same group. Carlson is a workhorse as well, playing in 82 games in each of the last two seasons while averaging over 21 minutes last year. Carlson has cracked 30 points in each of his first two full NHL seasons and is expected to further develop. He shouldered the offensive load from the blue line while Mike Green struggled all year and the Caps are hoping for more of the same from their budding American star. Look for goals just shy of 10, assists in the low 20's, and points in the mid-30s from Carlson this year.
TWO TO WATCH
Mike Ribiero (C): One of the league's more underrated playmakers, Ribiero joins the Caps after several productive seasons with Dallas. Ribiero is coming off consecutive 71 and 63-point seasons with the Stars and is expected to give Washington another center with the capability of potting more than 15 goals. Look for Ribiero to see power-play time with the team's top unit and challenge 60-65 points once more. He can be a good value provided you don't pay too much for him.
Dmitry Orlov (D): Another budding talent on the Washington blue line, Orlov one was of the more productive rookie defensemen last season, posting 19 points in 60 games. He is still behind John Carlson and Mike Green in terms of power-play time, but Orlov has definite upside. Remember his name in keeper leagues, as he showed himself to be a promising player last year as a rookie.
Brooks Laich (LW): Washington's on-ice leader, Laich is a fan favorite in DC and one of the team's most versatile forwards. Laich has played with Alexander Ovechkin as his winger in previous seasons, but Laich's true value lies in his leadership and work ethic. Unfortunately, those two facets of his game are not measurable by statistics. Laich potted 16 goals for the second-straight season, notching 41 total points. If he plays with the team's top six forwards, Laich could be a decent option in the later rounds of deeper leagues, but, for now, he's worth more to Washington than most rosters.
Filip Forsberg (F): The Caps made this 18-year old the No. 11 overall pick in this June's draft. A skilled, budding talent, Forsberg honed his craft in the Swedish First Division with Leskands. He'll likely play in Sweden again this season or with AHL Hershey should he sign. Regardless, he'll get a long look in training camp and the Caps will be eagerly awaiting the day he can line up alongside Nicklas Backstrom.