The 2015-16 season followed a similar script to that of so many past incarnations of the Washington Capitals: dominate in the regular season, draw a postseason matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, be out by mid-May. Playoff disappointment aside, however, there is a sense around the team that they’re still close -- and that small tweaks to the depth, rather than sweeping changes, are needed to keep the Caps in contention this year.
That’s exactly what Brian MacLellan set out to do over the offseason, shoring up the center depth with the draft day acquisition of Lars Eller from Montreal and then adding free agent Brett Connolly as a third-/fourth-line winger. Those two moves aside, the main focus of the summer was on signing restricted free agents Marcus Johansson and Dmitry Orlov ... and not much else, which means the team that will open the season looks similar to the one that ended it in the spring. And that’s a good thing.
Can Braden Holtby replicate (or even top) the success of his Vezina Trophy-winning 2015-16 season, and how important is it that he do so?
How much of an impact will the additions of Eller and Connolly have on the team’s bottom six?
This is the second year of the team’s self-described two-year window to win a Cup; is the window really closing?
BEST CASE SCENARIO
The additions of Eller and Connolly finally give the Caps four forward lines that all produce on a consistent basis. Special teams continue to hum along, and Holtby follows up his Vezina win with a strong start AND finish to his season. The Caps are able to keep their foot on the pedal heading into the playoffs, and finally vanquish their second-round demons to make it to the Conference Final and beyond. This is the year.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
Setting aside the potential for a major injury to a key player, the worst case scenario would see the 2016-17 Caps repeat their disappointing second half from 2015-16 but extend it to the whole season, revealing that what we thought was just complacency is actually just who they really are. The league finally figures out their dominant power play, causing the offense to dip dramatically.
But none of that compares to the possibility that the team has a dominant regular season and a disappointing flameout in the playoffs.