The Washington Capitals begin the new NHL season tonight at the United Center against the Chicago Blackhawks with the same baggage they’ve dragged with them for every season opener since 2008: A superior regular season followed by a dismal postseason.
The Caps have made the playoffs for the past six seasons, but that was while bathing in the sunshine of the easiest division in the NHL. With the Southeast Division in the history books, the Metropolitan Division looms big and tall with its Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers among others. The Caps must take everything to the next level by having their star players perform at 100 percent if they want to be alive in May and June.
Let’s face it, it’s just a matter of time before the Caps get their hands on the Stanley Cup. I’m not jinxing anything by making that statement. There is too much fairly-young talent on the team, with long and sturdy contracts, for them not to be champions one day.
Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green are the most talented trio of NHL players to have never won the Cup. Is this the year? Maybe—if all three of them step up to the plate and the new second line featuring Mikhail Grabovski is a hit. Grabovski is the latest second-line center thrown into the mix by General Manager George McPhee. Finally getting that second line gelling and producing is also a huge factor this season.
McPhee has been GM since 1997-98, which was the last and only time the Capitals made it to the Stanley Cup Final. He’s endured criticism over the years and most recently took a beating on social media when the club traded the talented Mathieu Perreault to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday. It was a surprising move in that McPhee has now put his faith in a 19-year-old junior (Tom Wilson) over a proven team player who I recently tipped to have his best season as a Cap.
But, what do I know? I know that Wilson is a gamble. However, it could be a gamble that pays off—big time. The same way that young defenseman John Carlson paid off when the Caps employed his services right out of the juniors. Wilson is strong, big, agile, competitive, a quick-learner and seemingly happy to drop the gloves and go at it for two or three minutes as he did against the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday. He may start out on the fourth line and end up on the second line.
The Capitals have their superstars, they have their goalie (Braden Holtby is No. 1), they have depth on the forward lines and an adequate defense on the starting roster. Coach Adam Oates has enjoyed a much longer build-up to the new season compared to the last season’s lockout hindered campaign. The key to Oates’ and the Caps’ success this season hinges on the team’s ability to take all of its jigsaw puzzle players and get them interlocked into place—scoring goals and winning games.
There is a lot of optimism that this year may be the year that the Caps’ Stanley Cup dreams come true. On paper, the Caps make the playoffs and have a superior postseason run. On paper.