Lot’s of people have been talking about how it is “Washington’s Year to Win” which is absolutely true. Washington captured their second consecutive presidents trophy and their third in franchise history. The 2010 presidents trophy team ran into an extremely hot goalie in Jaroslav Halak and were eliminated by the 8th seed Montreal Canadiens in 7 games. Two 100+ point players in Alex Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom, a very good Alexander Semin, and an elite level Mike Green rounded out the core of that 2010 team. It was never enough to get past the second round with that group of players. 2016 Washington ran into the hottest team in the NHL who went on to win the Stanley Cup, the Pittsburgh Penguins. It is now 2017. Alex Ovechkin is 31 years old and Niklas Backstrom is already 29. Ovechkin is at the end of his prime while Backstrom is nearing it. The time is now for these guys to pull it together as a team and bring the cup to Washington for the first time.
Washington has six key UFA’s coming up at the end of this season. T.J. Oshie is coming off an excellent season and is going to want a long term deal at about 6-7 million bucks per year. Karl Alzner is heading to free agency as lots of teams are looking for a top 4 “stay at home” defenseman. Justin Williams is also on his way out the door as he is having an excellent season as a 35 year old. Kevin Shattenkirk is almost forsure heading to the Rangers this offseason. Daniel Winnik and Tom Wilson also need contracts this summer. Not to mention they need to pay Evgeni Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Dimtry Orlov, and Phillipp Grubauer as RFA’s this offseason. The time to win is now.
This is the best group of players Washington has ever assembled. Better than any of the other top contending teams they have had in the past. Adding Shattenkirk to a D-core of Alzner, Carlson, Orlov, Niskanen, and Orpik gives them the best in the league. Plus the fantastic goaltending of Braden Holtby and Phillipp Grubauer only makes it harder for teams to put pucks in the net. Their top 9 of Ovechkin, Backstrom, Williams, Oshie, Eller, Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, Johnansen, and Connolly is one of the strongest in the NHL. They average 3.23 goals per game as a team while only allowing 2.18 goals per game. Among the top two in the NHL in those categories.
They have always been a great regular season team but have never made it past the second round of the playoffs. Their first series is against Toronto which is a very inexperienced team and shouldn’t be that tough of a series for the Capitals. The Leafs are also banged up at the moment as Nikita Zaitsev and Freddy Andersen could possibly be out for the Leafs. One thing working against Washington in the Toronto series is the pressure that is on Washington. The Leafs have absolutely nothing to lose as they are way ahead of schedule in their rebuild and had an unexpectedly good season. Washington is trying to avoid another playoff failure as this is their best chance to win the cup.
Washington has been able to get out of the first round before but never the second. If they were to beat Toronto (which they most likely will) they would face either Pittsburgh or Columbus. If the Capitals can take out Toronto quickly and easily, they should be well rested for the next round against the Penguins or Blue Jackets. That series is very evenly matched and could very well be a long and brutal seven game series where the winning team comes out very tired giving Washington an advantage. Not to mention they have home ice for the entire playoffs.
If Washington is to fail to make it past the second or even third round, that could lead to Washington blowing up their group of core players. Having the same core of elite players not lead you to the promised land in over a decade is unacceptable. You could see players like Backstrom, Kuznetsov, or even Ovechkin get dealt in the offseason. The Capitals should not accept anything less than a visit to the cup final this season.