30 IN 30 - WASHINGTON CAPITALS (1st place regular season)
How frustrating must it be to be a Caps fan? Year after year this team runs roughshod over the competition in regular season play, but fails to get past the Conference semi-finals. Both the Penguins and Rangers appear to have their number in the postseason, eliminating the Caps in each of their last five playoff appearances. In an era when divisional playoff success means everything, Washington just can't learn their lesson. The back-to-back Presidents' trophy winners field an incredibly offensive lineup, lead by team captain Alex Ovechkin and premier set-up man Nicklas Backstrom. The Capitals managed to outscore their opponents by a whopping 81 goals this season. That differential sat 23 points higher than the runner up in the category, the Minnesota Wild, and 83 points higher than the lowest ranked playoff team, the Ottawa Senators. A pretty impressive feat. But with late season acquisition Kevin Shattenkirk likely headed to an Eastern Conference rival this offseason and little in the way of rookie help on the way, Capitals GM Brian MacLellan could be in store for a busy offseason. Expansion will force a decision both in net and on the back-end. Would a pre-draft trade hurt this lineup more than help it?
PROTECTION LIST STRUCTURE
The choice in structure for the Capitals is a no-brainer. The team plays four lines deep, and easily fills the maximum seven forward protection spots. Pending UFA T.J. Oshie will wisely sign an extension after the expansion draft and allow the Caps to retain a valuable checker in Jay Beagle. RFA Brett Connolly may receive media attention before the draft, but we give zero weight to a player's entry draft position when they're seven years removed from that top-10 moment.
On defence, Washington may remains in a difficult position. Shattenkirk is likely gone via free agency, Karl Alzner may be close behind, and pending RFAs Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt will be neck and neck for the last protection spot. Such a blow to back-end could produce an unfortunate ripple effect into the success of this forward group. Can the team use Philipp Grubauer as a favourable Vegas alternative or is the return on him as a moveable asset worth more than their 4th ranked defender?
ORLOV vs Schmidt
Quite frankly, Brooks Orpik is going nowhere fast with his $5.500M price tag at the ripe age of 36, allowing the team to leave him unexposed but without fear of selection. That means the third and final defence spot for the Cap will be between Orlov and Schmidt.
Dmitry Orlov is a hard player to miss on the ice. The short but stalky defender has a booming slapshot with a 'touch-the-sky' windup and a knack for creating offence. The 25 year-old Russian jumped over the 30 point hump this season, and firmly established himself as a top-four defender next to Matt Niskanen. For better or worse, Nate Schmidt has become the media darling instead, after his jump from bottom pair defender to John Carlson's right hand man. His much smaller sample size displays a comparable goal differential and possession rate to that of Orlov. But on closer look, the coaching staff appears to have protected Schmidt from the same defensive responsibility placed upon Orlov. His zone start percentages are heavily weighted in favour of the offensive and neutral zones, with a mere 26% coming from his defensive zone. By taking away the expected Corsi against totals generated through defensive zone placement, his overall Corsi percentage should predictably be higher than Orlov's. Nevertheless the Russian defender comes out on top. Right shot aside, Dmitry Orlov holds a longer track record of success in a top-four role and an equally as unfortunate RFA status (after career years from both). This forces us to place Orlov in our final protection slot, and risk a potential Nate Schmidt selection come draft day.
gOLDEN kNIGHTS fINAL sELECTION
Since day one we've had our eyes set on Philipp Grubauer as a Vegas Golden Knight. Our Rangers expansion preview, outlines our clear preference for Raanta and himself to man the goalie duties for the new team. Both goalies appear ready to handle starter duty, and the inclusion of both of them on the roster minimizes risk attached to drop off in performance.
The value attached to Grubauer should outweigh that of Nate Schmidt, meaning the Capitals will presumably keep the young defender even without protection. Management will have to decide what's worth more to them: (i) the return on a potential Grubauer trade, or (ii) Nate Schmidt. For a team looking to win now, allowing Vegas to select Grubauer mitigates the extent of Washington's expansion damage.