When the Washington Capitals selected Alex Ovechkin number one overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, nobody could have imagined the career he would have. 730 goals in, all that is left for the Russian superstar to do is to chase Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 goals and compete for another Stanley Cup to add to his illustrious resume. That’s exactly what the Capitals are doing; they’re largely the same team as they have been in recent years and they will continue to gear up in largely the same way to help Ovechkin chase the record and to win another Stanley Cup.
As the off-season moves into the slow period, some fans are clamoring for changes to the core group. Evgeny Kuznetsov is a hotly debated subject among DC faithful. This is without a doubt, the oldest Capitals team of the Ovechkin-era, but arguably one of the most complete. Kuznetsov, part of that core, won’t be going anywhere, not yet anyway, and if he plays at a level that he’s shown he is capable of playing at, the Capitals will once again compete for a Stanley Cup Championship.
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Without Brenden Dillon, a cap-causality, the left-side of the team’s defensive core is the biggest question mark. Dmitry Orlov is a sure-bet to not only anchor the top pairing with John Carlson, but a sure-bet to exceed expectations in the upcoming year. After that, the Caps look ready to turn to the unproven Martin Fehervary and to Michal Kempny, who is coming off of significant injuries to fill the void on the left side of the team’s blue-line.
Going into the season, that’s a good place to be. Why? It’s impossible to build a flawless team in the cap-era of the NHL and Brian MacLellan has proven he can make shrewd trade deadline acquisitions to solidify the team’s defensive core in recent years. Look no further than the 2017-2018 season that ended with Ovechkin holding the ultimate prize high above his head, and the trade deadline addition of Michal Kempny that preceded it. MacLellan has committed to becoming younger in the upcoming year and with this core group of players, that doesn’t leave much to work with. Daniel Sprong is one of those young players and Martin Fehervary seems to be the other that are poised for more ice-time.
Up against the cap and committed to fielding a competitive team for Alex Ovechkin, the Caps need to take chances on younger players to compliment an aging core. If the experiment with Fehervary and Kempny fails and the Capitals need help on the blue-line, then MacLellan gets on the phone and brings in help at the trade deadline. If it works, the Capitals get an effective, affordable defense and discover a crucial piece, Fehervary, of their defensive core moving forward.
Ted Leonsis understands the importance of building a competitive team around Alex Ovechkin and Brian MacLellan has done great work executing his vision for the franchise. For fans that are struggling to understand why this team looks so similar to the teams in recent years that have flamed out early in the playoffs, Leonsis explains it best when speaking to Emily Kaplan of ESPN about Ovechkin’s recent contract extension.
"“Alex not only made the commitment to us, but made it to Nick [Backstrom], then they embraced John Carlson,” Leonsis explained. “Keeping Alex, keeping Nick, keeping John Carlson, building a 20 to 25-year journey with these guys, with Alex as the bedrock, was the right thing for us to do. It’s a wonderful story.”"
Like it or not, the core group is here to stay. Brian MacLellan has been tasked with building around them, for better or for worse. If the Capitals once again struggle to go deep into the playoffs, some fans will demand drastic change. However, drastic change will not come. Brian MacLellan and the Capitals’ leadership group will once again make minor adjustments to the roster and go out and try to compete for a Stanley Cup.