With the 2022-23 season just around the corner - and training camp kicking off at the end of this week - we’re taking a look at what the Caps look like heading into this new campaign, get to know some of the new faces, and talk about the questions facing this squad.
Next up: the blueliners.
When looking at the roster for the upcoming season, there are probably the fewest surprises waiting on defense. Michael Kempny and Justin Schultz both departed via free agency (and both ended up with the Seattle Kraken) but otherwise the blueline remains pretty consistent.
As has been the case for the last five years or so, the team’s defense will be led by John Carlson. Now 32, the longtime Cap has put up huge offensive numbers since the team’s Cup season back in 2017-18, and kept things rolling last season with a whopping 71 points on the year. The team doesn’t necessarily need him to produce at that rate to have success this season... but it couldn’t hurt, especially since most of his other defensive ‘mates aren’t exactly known for explosive offense of their own (although Dmitry Orlov’s 12 goals marked a new career high for the Russian and provided a nice one-two punch from the team’s blueline).
The Caps will be in pretty good hands with that duo, who come with a decent supporting cast. If the team can get repeat performances from Nick Jensen and Trevor van Riemsdyk - both of whom had strong 2021-22 campaigns in their own right, albeit more defense-only - and get more consistency from Martin Fehervary, they should be in good shape. The only question mark, as it was last season, is in that sixth spot, which will be something of a competition between Matt Irwin, Lucas Johansen, and couple of new faces.
So let’s talk about those new guys. Unlike with the recent forward additions, neither Gabriel Carlsson nor Erik Gustafsson is considered a lock to make the team out of camp. They’ve both had issues finding a permanent spot in their respective lineups over the years, and neither provides a ton of offense - although 30-year-old Gustafsson has a bit of an edge in the offensive department and has more experience overall (both a positive and a negative on this aging team). It’ll be interesting to see if either is able to grab that sixth spot, or even hang on as a seventh defenseman.
The Dark Horse
Trevor van Riemsdyk. Carlson and Orlov tend to get a lot of the ink, and Fehervary is the exciting future of the blueline, but keep an TvR, who is coming off an underrated 2021-22 season. He’s never going to be an offensive powerhouse, but he has a kind of quiet, calming presence about him and he rarely seems to be out of position.
The Caps got some very good performances out of a lot of these guys last season - but can they keep it up this year? Will a solid netminding duo make them look even better, or will they start to rely on the goalies too much? Can Fehervary take a step forward and shake off the inconsistency of his rookie campaign?
The Caps’ defense, like the team in general, is on the older side - but unlike up front and in net, the age doesn’t necessarily translate to experience. That could have positive and negative implications; on the one hand, there’s less wear and tear, but the downside is not having the breadth of knowledge that someone like Carlson (887 games) or Orlov (643 games) has amassed.
Competition for that sixth spot will be key for the team’s plans going forward, and whether they’ll need to explore their options to fill out the defense later in the season. For now, though, Laviolette’s system and a (hopefully) better goaltending situation should have the team’s defense in pretty good hands.