Capitals Offseason Breakdown: Forwards

Posted on May 16, 2014 by Elliott Smith

This offseason shapes up to be one of the most critical in recent memory for the Washington Capitals, who are coming off a campaign during which they did not qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs and must find a new general manager and head coach.

During the next few weeks, the Capitals Report will take a look at the landscape of the team, noting strengths and what potential moves may be made to shore up potential weaknesses. After starting with goaltenders, we'll explore one of the Caps' areas of inconsistency -- their top six forwards.

Alexander Ovechkin
2013-14 stats: 78 games, 51 goals, 28 assists

The face of the franchise, Alex Ovechkin reverted back to his high-scoring form during the 2013-14 season while playing right wing. At times, he carried the Capitals on his back, with scoring binges that called to mind some of his MVP-caliber seasons. But on other occasions, teams were able to make Ovechkin a nonfactor, especially during even-strength play, and his lackluster defense resulted in a -35 plus-minus rating, one of the worst figures in the league. 

Ovechkin will be 29 when the 2014-15 season kicks off, and he remains one of the most dangerous scoring threats in the NHL. Certainly, the Capitals will try to bring in a coach who will use Ovechkin's singular talents while also trying to get him to buy in on playing base-level defense. There are often rumblings that the Caps should try to deal Ovechkin for a major haul, but that would be foolish at this point, considering he still has multiple productive years left. 

Nicklas Backstrom
2013-14: 82, 18, 61

An associate captain, Nicklas Backstrom had another solid, if not spectacular, season from his center position, teaming with Ovechkin for a majority of his production. Backstrom is one of the best passers in the league, and continued to produce for the Caps on the power play, but, like Ovechkin, his production at even strength was strangely inept. 

Backstrom would also be better served by taking a more aggressive approach. His shooting percentage was a career-low 9.2 percent, suggesting he may have more of pass-first mentality than he should -- a fact that opposing teams certainly notice. This will be a recurring theme, but Backstrom will also need to shore up his defense, as he posted a -20 plus-minus mark, and accumulated a career high in penalty minutes. 

Marcus Johansson
2013-14: 80, eight, 36

A 23-year-old former first-round draft pick, Marcus Johansson will need to make a leap forward during the 2014-15 season to erase some of the concerns about his sometimes erratic play. Of Johansson's eight tallies, only two occurred during even strength, as he seemed willing to defer to Ovechkin and Backstrom, often to the point that he became a nonfactor. 

The talent is there, but can the Capitals' new coach find a way to help Johansson bring it to the fore before another player usurps him? 

Troy Brouwer 
2013-14: 82, 25, 18

Troy Brouwer came on strong down the stretch to finish with a career-high 25 goals, good enough for second on the team. Brouwer is not going to bring a whole lot of flashy numbers to the rink, but he produced at a reasonable clip, is a good teammate, and played respectably on both the power play and penalty kill.

Brouwer seemed to fit former coach Adam Oates' system well, so it will be interesting to see whether the new staff will be as comfortable with Brouwer's skill set. 

Mikhail Grabovski
2013-14: 58, 13, 22

One of the biggest bright spots in the forward lineup, Mikhail Grabovski brought his experience to bear for Washington, working well on the third line before receiving a bump up to second. The issue surrounding Grabovski is whether he will he be back with the Capitals for the 2014-15 season.

The Caps would surely like to have him return, but as an unrestricted free agent, Grabovski said he was biding his time before he made a decision, waiting to see the final results of the general manager and coaching search. Other teams would pursue him in the free-agent market, and he may wind up receiving an offer that the Capitals would be hesitant to match. If he leaves, Washington would likely miss his steadying presence. 

Brooks Laich and Evgeny Kuznetsov
2013-14: 51, eight, seven and 17, three, six

These are two players at crossroads in their careers. Broks Laich looked to be one of the cornerstones of the franchise when he signed a six-year deal after the 2010-11 campaign, but he simply hasn't been able to stay healthy, and it might be time for Washington to cut its losses. Laich gutted his way through the 2013-14 season, but with the money he's owed and his lack of production during the past few seasons, the team could buy him out.

Evgeny Kuznetsov represents the Capitals' future. After coming over from the KHL late during the season -- four years after the Caps drafted him during the first round -- he gave fans tantalizing looks at his potential with strong play and a sense that the style of play in the NHL would not overwhelm him. He figures to be an integral part of the forward landscape for the 2014-15 season. 

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