Washington Capitals Roundtable: Points Record, Roster Holes, Trade Deadline

Feb 11, 2016; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (8) celebrates his third goal of the game with defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) and forward Nicklas Backstrom (19) during the second period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Capitals have several important decisions to make leading up to this year’s trade deadline. A few members of Stars and Sticks discussed what they think the team should do.

The Washington Capitals have taken the league by storm during the 2015-16 regular season, setting an NHL record for the fastest team to 39 wins (in just 52 games). If they can keep up their winning pace, they will have a chance to challenge the NHL record of 131 points held by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings.

The Capitals have had so much success due to the unprecedented depth on the team, at least for this organization. There are very few holes, if any on this squad, and that is something that one way or another has not been the case in Washington prior to this year.

We have already examined several paths that Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan could take to improve his team even further. There will be plenty of teams selling off their assets at the deadline, though the line dividing sellers and buyers is more cloudy than ever this season.

Though Brooks Orpik is returning on Tuesday from a long-term lower body injury, there is reason to think that the Caps could target another defenseman, possibly even an established top-four blue liner for the playoff run.

Without further ado, take a look at what he had to say and make sure to let us know what you think as well!

Q1: The Capitals are off to the best start statistically in league history (39 wins in 52 games). Do they break the NHL record of 131 points?

Brad: I think that at some point this team has to slow down, even just a little bit, so probably not. It would probably be, in a way, good for the team to go through at least one down stretch at some point so that they can work their way through it. Of course, they haven’t played anything close to their best hockey since the blizzard, so maybe they are just that good.

Ben: The math looks tough, even for the Caps, to get to 131 points. They have to go 24-5-0, or something similar to it. They cannot lose more than five regulation games and I just don’t see it. But that shouldn’t diminish what they are doing. This team is historically good.

Alex: I think that its unlikely, but its important to realize that this is an accolade that isn’t quite on the Capitals’ collective mind. I believe this year’s Capitals truly embody the “one game at a time” mentality and strive to focus on winning for the night and not breaking records or being “the first NHL team to do (insert record here)”. Statistically it is unlikely that the Capitals will lose only 5 more games for the rest of the season, so I’m going to have to go with no. But that should not take away from how amazing this year has been for the team.

Q2: If there is a hole in the lineup as it currently stands, what is it?

Brad: The top six is perfect as is. Andre Burakovsky was the only question mark, and he has been tremendous. While the bottom six could always use another veteran, I think the only possible hole that you could identify would be Brooks Laich’s spot on the fourth line. He’s been an outstanding player for the Capitals over the years and deserves to be appreciated, but he has just six points this year. Even despite his $4.5 million price tag, that is a pretty bad number. Defensively, I think Taylor Chorney proved that he is a legit 6/7 defenseman that can be trusted, especially with Orpik coming back.

Ben: The top six is ideal right now and I wouldn’t touch it. The defense, assuming a healthy and productive Brooks Orpik, looks strong enough to me. If anything, they could probably stand to upgrade the top pair with John Carlson having a so-so year and uncertainty surrounding Orpik, but the cost to get an upgrade over either one is not worth it, nor are there any realistic trade targets for the Caps’ top pair. If they were to get another piece to play on the third line with Marcus Johansson, they could be downright lethal (as if they aren’t already).

Alex: It seems like nitpicking, and I hate to say it, but I would say you could find a bit of a hole on our 4th line. That hole has a name, and it is Brooks Laich. Brooks hasn’t been playing particularly bad, but I think the bigger issue is his massive paycheck given the potential for a more reliable 4th liner. In his defense, he is good on the penalty kill and is a great leader that is beloved in the locker room. I own a Brooks jersey have always loved what he brings to the team identity, so I by no means dislike him as a Capital, I just think he may be the only thing on the team that could realistically be called “dead weight”. Once again, this is kind of nitpicking, but I would like to see a bit more from Brooks going forward.

Q3: If you were GM, would you go after a forward/defenseman/neither?

Brad: You can never have enough depth, especially come playoff time. But one of the most important parts of this year’s squad has been the youth movement. The young guns have played well enough to earn a permanent spot in the lineup for the most part, and it would be a shame to see their ice time taken away if they are doing just what the team needs and more.

Ben: I would probably target a proven scoring forward, if anything. Radim Vrbata and Andrew Ladd would look amazing in red. As far as defense is concerned, I would probably leave it alone. They already have a well-established group of starters and Taylor Chorney and Aaron Ness are good enough as depth defensemen. The Caps shouldn’t do anything drastic just for the sake of making a move, but if a great deal presents itself that’s too good to pass up and doesn’t require trading Jakub Vrana or Madison Bowey, they should consider it.

Alex: Given the amount of depth in this Capitals team and the current line distribution, I am inclined to say neither one is a necessary target. I’m thinking a short term contract with someone that can be used on lower lines depending on Orpik’s play now that he is returning and could potentially be used as trade bait paired with another player like Laich. This is just a hypothetical, though, and I don’t think either needs to be sought out.

[Why the Capitals should not trade Jakub Vrana]

Q4: In a hypothetical scenario where the Capitals acquire a top-four defenseman (a la Dan Hamhuis) on top of Brooks Orpik being healthy, who sits out of Orlov and Schmidt?

Brad: I think Orlov would probably be the one to sit in this case. Schmidt has proven his worth and it is clear the coaching staff trusts him considering he has been on the top pairing for much of the year. Orlov definitely does not deserve to sit at all, but he would be the one to sit if the situation came up.

Ben: I would probably rotate Schmidt and Orlov in and out of the lineup to keep them fresh and because it wouldn’t be fair to sit either one. Do the Caps really want to go down this road? They would risk alienating whoever has to sit, and frankly a third pair of Schmidt/Orlov would crush it in the playoffs.

Alex: Orlov, without a doubt. It isn’t like Orlov has been playing badly, but I think Schimdt has been way to good to not utilize fully. Such is life when a team has depth as great as the Capitals do. One positive to the situation would be Trotz’s ability to shuffle lines according to performance or in a worst case scenario where a D-man gets injured.

 

Now, let us know what you think! Can the Capitals break the record? Should they go for broke at the deadline? Leave a comment with your answers!