Washington Capitals Season Preview

Justin K. Aller

We check in with the Washington Capitals and look at Mikhail Grabovski, John Erskine and life outside of the Southeast Division.

Welcome to the final part of our series of previewing the new 'Metropolitan' Division by interviewing SBN writers and asking some general questions to get caught up on what our divisional foes did this summer, and how their fans are feeling about their chances in 2013-14.

In case you missed the earlier pieces and want to keep up:

We saved an old friend for last with the Washington Capitals and my buddy Rob, a writer at Japers Rink, was nice enough to answer my questions.

#1 - Give a 4-sentence preview of your 2013-14 team.

Everyone and their brother is waiting for the Caps to collapse now that they aren't in the comfy confines of the Southeast Division and I hate to break it to you, but it's not going to happen. Having added essentially an entire second line in Mikhail Grabovski, Martin Erat, and a healthy Brooks Laich, the Caps have better offensive and two-way depth in their forward ranks than they've ever had in the Ovechkin era (they surely won't score like the '09-'10 rendition), a defensive corps that boasts a 1-3 that rivals any team in the league, much less the division, and a young goalie that is increasingly looking like the real deal (if not a Vezina winner). Adam Oates had the team clicking late last season, and while they probably benefited from some puck luck, they'll still be a very tough team to beat. They may not look like a Cup-Favorite, especially when you look at the D past the top three, but they are going to easily make the playoffs if they have even a modicum of health... before they do what they do.

#2 - What is your team's biggest addition and why?

Easy, Mikhail Grabovski. For Ovechkin's entire career the Caps have needed a second line center to help carry the scoring load and take some pressure off the top line. They had brief glimpses of a way-past-his-prime Sergei Fedorov and 32 year old power-play-specialist Mike Ribeiro. For the first time the Caps have a second line center that is in his prime, and he seems to have all the traits the team has struggled with for the last few seasons (namely, speed and solid puck possession numbers).

#3 - What is your team's biggest loss from last season?

The biggest loss on paper is surely Mike Ribeiro, but as noted above the Caps have replaced him with Grabovski. Ribeiro's loss will surely be felt on the power play as there isn't a player on the roster that can replace his passing and creativity on that unit. The Caps, and their fans, are hoping that the upgrade at ES that Grabovski will provide can balance that out, but it's certainly a concern for a team whose offense was carried by the PP unit last year.

#4 - Which player on your team do you see being a pleasant surprise?

The "surprise" aspect of the question makes this tough. Most of the roster is known to the Caps, and the new guy, Grabovski, has such high expectations that it'd be hard for him to be a surprise. Given that, I'll go with Erat. Caps fans barely got a look at him last year and so I don't think we really know what to expect of him, but when I look at the guy he has all the tools to succeed in Adam Oates' system and really help address the Caps' weaknesses of the last several years (secondary scoring, mobility, quality two-way play). I think a healthy Erat is really going to take the sting off of trading away a first round prospect

#5 - What's your biggest worry regarding your team as this season begins?

John Erskine is going to play top-four defensive minutes, meaning he'll have to defend the opponents' top-six forwards on a regular basis. He didn't do it well last year and there's no reason to think he'll do it any better this year.

#6 - If you had to predict a finishing position (1st through 8th) in the division for your team today for 2013-14, which place would it be?

Everyone seems to have the Pens slotted in first and the Rangers slotted in second, but there's no reason to think that Vigneault will be able to replicate his Vancouver success in New York, especially without the same talent up front. Rick Nash is nice, but he's not as good as either Sedin, much less both. The depth after Nash is also not there, and Patrick Stepan isn't even signed yet. When it comes down to it, the Rangers are still a team that is top-heavy on offense, top-heavy on defense (with a Marc Staal that will never be the same) and reliant on Henrik Lundqvist (which, admittedly, is not the worst guy to rely on). After adding Grabovski, the Caps became the second best team in the division.

#7 - Which player will you revere less after the season is over - Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin?

[Redacted] (ed. note: Rob had to self-censor a little, but I assure you he's looking forward to watching Crosby play this season and the Olympics for Canada).

#8 - Give me one player in the division (who's not on your team) that you think is poised for a big-time year.

Sean Couturier. Dude came in and played exceptional defense at an age when that rarely ever happens. He's shown offensive chops throughout his career but hasn't had a ton of opportunities to showcase them in the NHL. With Giroux and Lecavalier he'll still be stuck behind a couple quality veteran pivots, but I think this year he starts to live up to the hype and show people just how good he is.

#9 - As a division rival there's naturally a lot of tension and animosity when the competitive portion of the season begins... So before that, I challenge you to pay a compliment to the Penguins, Sidney Crosby, city of Pittsburgh, its residents, anything you'd like.

Pittsburgh has the best NFL team ever and a beautiful baseball stadium that is far too good for its occupants, plus the city looked pretty awesome in the Dark Knight Rises, and with the confluence of rivers it really has some pretty scenery when it's not covered in soot and slush.

#10 - If you had to guess, what is a potential division name that was left on the drawing board before the geniuses in the NHL picked 'Metropolitan' as the best idea?

I'm sure [he] wanted to go with the Bettman Division but scrapped the idea when he realized he couldn't name all four divisions the Bettman Division

Thanks to Rob for answering our questions and be sure again to check out Japers Rink!

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