The Washington Capitals will probably enter the new season with limited changes to their personnel and the defense will likely be untouched, unless a rookie is promoted out of training camp.
The blue line guys have taken some heat in previous campaigns from the home fans and media alike. General Manager George McPhee frequently shuffles D-men in and out of the franchise. The current crop must have an exceptional season in order for the Caps to make the postseason.
Mike Green, John Carlson and Karl Alzner are the most consistent producers in the defensive department. Green is one of the best defensemen in the NHL, Carlson has the makings of being a superstar, and Alzner is a model of clear-headed skilful calmness. Mainstay John Erskine makes the cut too (mainly for his willingness to drop the gloves and lose a few teeth for the team), but he’s been in and out of form or injured over recent years. Beyond those four though, it gets a little dubious—especially when Green gets injured, and that happens a lot.
Jack Hillen, Steve Olesky and Tomas Kundratek are the most recent “new” defensemen on a team that has seen the likes of Joe Corvo, Tyler Sloan, Scott Hannan, Dennis Wideman and Roman Hamerlik all come and go since 2010. There were others too. That rate of turnover makes it difficult for a team to maintain its synergy. It may even be the reason why the Caps fail to deliver in the playoffs year after year—especially when you consider that they’ve struggled to fill the goaltending gap since Olaf Kolzig left after the 2007-08 season.
In comparison, the Caps’ offense is extremely solid. Alex Ovechkin has proven time and time again that he can win games regardless of the guys in front of his goalie. However, the Caps should be worried this year if any of their top defensemen are injured.
Hillen has chalked up a negative plus/minus rating in three of his five NHL seasons with the New York Islanders, Nashville Predators and the Capitals. Kundratek posted up a minus-five rating last term and only has 30 NHL games to his name. Olesky is truly an unknown quantity—a 27-year-old journeyman who had an ‘okay’ first ever NHL season in Washington last year.
NHL games are often squeakers with the odd goal here and there determining a team’s postseason fate. The Capitals have made it to the playoffs for the past six seasons based on their offensive powerhouse and the easy division they lived in. They are no longer in an easy division.
Defense wins Stanley Cups. The Capitals can win the Stanley Cup in the next two or three years, but they need to find—and hold on to—some exceptional players to back-up their top D-men.