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Defining Success for the Capitals, Part 1: The Forwards

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Predicting what each player has to do in 2019-20 for the season to be deemed a success, starting with the forwards

Washington Capitals v New Jersey Devils Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

What makes a successful season? Obviously, the easiest answer for a team is “winning the Stanley Cup.” But what about for individual players? Outside of obvious cases such as James Neal’s terrible season last year or Aleksander Barkov’s near 100 point season, what defines a successful season (or the lack thereof) is often hard to define and changes from player to player.

Still, by taking into account player age, cap hit, past production and play (along with some non-quantitative data like health), we can begin to get a picture of what would constitute an overall good season for each of the Caps.

Let’s start with the offense.

Alexander Ovechkin
Success: 40+ goals, 80+ points

Ovechkin continues to defy time, as evidenced by his League-leading 51 goals last season. And that’s why he’s here: to score goals. Still, it’s best to assume he won’t do it again because he’ll be 34 years old in September and scoring 50 goals remains a very tough thing to do - but at the very least, 40 goals seems very doable. The issue is, if he wants to hit 80 points — which he should, getting paid over $9M — he’ll have to make it up with 40 assists, which he hasn’t done in his eight previous seasons, although he did come close with 38 in each of the last two seasons. If he can do that again, a goal total in the low 40s keeps him in the perfectly reasonable 80-point realm... and of course, never discount the possibility that he tops 50 goals yet again.

Nicklas Backstrom
Success: 70+ points

This isn’t too difficult a prediction to make, as Backstrom is ol’ reliable, scoring over 20 goals and over 50 assists his last four seasons while suppressing the other teams top six defensively. Basically, he just has to do it again in order to have a good season. That said, one could argue that Backstrom is just too good to not be a point per game player every season, so it would be nice to see him hit at least 80 points, and with this being a contract year for him, it’s very possible he hits those numbers. As long as he’s getting paid at his current rate, however, 70+ points is more than adequate value for the money - and anything over is just an added bonus.

Evgeny Kuznetsov
Success: 80+ points while also being reliable defensively

At this point we’re all aware of Kuznetsov’s skill; he could hit 100 points and no one would be surprised. But he absolutely needs to start improving in his own end to match that offensive capability; year by year he’s gotten worse at suppressing scoring chances against, and it puts a damper on his scoring success. His 72 points in 76 games last season would be great for most players, but somehow it felt like a bad year for Kuznetsov because those points were married to poor defensive play (and a lackluster performance overall that bled into the playoffs). Maybe the concussion he suffered played a part, as he was on a 100 point pace before that. Whatever the cause, it’d be great to see him step up his play away from the puck, improve his all-around performance, and get healthy in all senses of the word.

TJ Oshie
Success: Stay healthy and hit 50+ points

Oshie is lowkey one of the most important players on the Capitals team. He’s usually sitting near the top end of the league in GAR and WAR, and does a lot of things so well at all strengths. His major flaw? Health. He can’t ever seem to stay healthy, missing 37 games over the last four seasons with the Capitals (plus another handful in the playoffs last year due to a broken collarbone). More concerning is the fact that many of his injuries have been concussion-related, especially for a player of his age. Perhaps a reduction in ice time could help him avoid more serious injury going forward - because if he can stay healthy and be his usual amazing self hitting 50+ points, it’s a win.

Jakub Vrana
Success: 25+ goals, 25+ assists

Those marks actually may be a little on the low side for Vrana’s season to be seen as a success, considering he has the ability to hit way more than that, but if he continues to get minimal power-play time, it will be difficult to hit 30+ goals and 30+ assists like he has the potential to. Other than that, Vrana just needs to continue to be the beast he is at two-way play and using his burning speed and snipe of a shot to light up the score sheet. His bridge deal signed this offseason could end up burning the Caps, as Vrana is likely to come out on the other side worth at least $6 million, but in the meantime he’ll outplay his current contract over the next two years.

Tom Wilson
Success: Avoid suspensions, keep the PIMs down, and hit 45+ points

Wilson has showed up naysayers over the last two seasons, evolving from a fourth-line enforcer into a consistent top-six, arguably top-line, player capable of high production at even strength. His biggest issue has been frequent chats with the Department of Player Safety and spending too much time in the penalty box. Now that he is a top-six force — especially one with an increasingly key role on the penalty kill — he has to be on the ice as much as possible. He’s a rare combination of speed, size, and skill, like no one else in the league. He’s in the same boat as Vrana, meaning without top power play time his production will never be what he’s capable of, which is probably mid-50 points. But he can be worth his money if his even-strength production stays in the 40-45 point range, if he remains a beast on the penalty kill... and continues to live in the heads of his opponents (and their GMs).

Lars Eller
Success: 35+ points and consistency

Eller has been very reliable overall since arriving in DC, but he was uncharacteristically invisible during the first half of last season. Granted, a lot of players were out to lunch in the first couple of months due to the Cup hangover, but the Caps really need Eller to be a steady presence. A more consistent point production would go a long way, especially offensively since the loss of Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky. He has a sneaky offensive skill set that makes him one of the better depth centers in the league, but at his age he needs to bring it more often.

Carl Hagelin
Success: 25+ points, while bringing elite defense and penalty kill

If Hagelin had more offensive skill, that combined with his speed would make him one of the better top six wingers in the game — but that’s not why the Capitals traded for him in February and extended him in June. Hagelin is here to boost the team defensively, so his success will be based on limiting chances against and improving the penalty kill rather than putting up a ton of points. He is capable of some offensive production, though, as he did put up 11 points in 20 games with the Caps last year... but it’s very unlikely he’ll be over a 0.5 points per game playing on the third line this upcoming season, and he doesn’t have to do any more than that to be effective.

Richard Panik
Success: 15+ goals and 15+ assists

It’s going be very hard to replace Connolly’s 40+ point season last year so no one should expect Panik to, but it wouldn’t be too surprising if he actually did. Panik is a fast, smart, rugged forward that lives in the dangerous areas. His teammates on ice shooting percentage last year in Arizona was 8.51%, Connolly on the other hand was at 11.05%. Also worth noting Panik’s individual shooting percentage average is 12.9%, last year it was just 10%. For $2.65M, hitting 30+ points will be more than enough, just don’t be surprised if he puts up more.

Nic Dowd
Success: 20+ points

Dowd had an extremely underrated season last year. He was ranked 39th among all forwards in the league at 5v5 primary points per 60 minutes. That was better than guys like Jeff Skinner, Aleksander Barkov, and Filip Forsberg among other. Dowd was pretty darn lucky with an almost 104 PDO and he doesn’t have the skill to be on a 28 point pace like he was last season. But no reason he shouldn’t hover close to 20 points over a full season. If he can hit that than he’s more than out performing his contract.

Garnett Hathaway
Success: Help the PK, wear down opponents, 15+ points

It seemed out of nowhere that the Capitals signed a fourth liner to a four year contract worth $6M, but there is a reason. Hathaway is an extremely good defensive forward that’s great on the PK. It doesn’t hurt that he’s an absolute unit with some skill. He’s essentially what haters think Tom Wilson is. As long as he brings the physicality without hurting the team and chips in offensively he’s worth the money. Where he should really shine is in the playoffs, where physical forechecks can really wear down an opponent over a series.

Travis Boyd
Success: Bring offense to fourth line

Like Dowd, Boyd had a very underrated season last year playing on the fourth line. Over a 82 game season, he was pacing to hit over 30 points, all while playing in the bottom six, mainly the fourth line. He was ranked 61st among all forwards in the league in 5v5 points per 60 minutes, better than players like Ryan Johansen, Ryan O’Reilly, and Mikko Rantansen among others. He has very sneaky skills and always wins his board battles. As long as he keeps bringing that offensive touch to the fourth line he’s winning the season.

Brendan Leipsic
Success: 15+ points and bring spark

Boyd and Leipsic are probably going to be fighting for a fourth line spot and most likely split the season. And like Boyd, Leipsic has sneaky offensive skills, though he’s better defensively than Boyd. He also beats Boyd at the speed game. Reirden will probably play Boyd when he thinks the team needs more offense throughout the lineup and play Leipsic when the Capitals need more defensive help. As long as Leipsic steps up when he’s called upon and brings his energy he’s doing his job.

Defense, goaltending and some team metrics get a closer look later today... in the meantime, weigh in with your own thoughts on what will make for a successful season for the forwards in the comments!