Might Injuries Force the Caps to Wing It This Season?

Posted October 12, 2021

T.J. Oshie (Caps Outsider)

With injuries beginning to pile up, Head Coach Peter Laviolette will have to get creative with line construction ahead of Wednesday’s season opener against the New York Rangers. On the eve of another season of hockey in the nation’s capital, health is more of an issue than depth for the 2018 Stanley Cup champions. 

Alexander Ovechkin

Get ready for another five years of goals from the left point. The captain is back after signing a five-year, $47.5 million contract. Ovi returns to the nation’s capital just 164 goals from matching Wayne Gretzky’s goal record. By season’s end, the Russian should pass Marcel Dionne and Brett Hull, putting the Great Eight in fourth on the all-time scoring list. He needs 37 to pass Jaromir Jagr in third. A lower-body ailment could cost the goal-scorer some early games, but the organization doesn’t seem overly concerned about the injury.

T.J. Oshie

Osh Babe’s versatility and injuries at the center position could see number 77 shuffled around the lineup. He has spent time on the third line with rookie Hendrix Lapierre and fellow winger Conor Sheary. With four years left on the contract he signed in 2017, Oshie will continue to set up in the crease on the power play and get traffic in front of net in even-strength play. In six years with Washington, Oshie has scored 150 goals and 150 assists, and he’ll look to improve on the 43 points he put up during the shortened season.

Anthony Mantha

After scoring in each of his first four games for the Capitals, Mantha failed to light the lamp in his final 10 games. To end the season, the former Red Wing had just three points, all of which were helpers. In five playoff appearances, the 6-foot-4 winger had no goals and two assists. In four preseason games, Mantha logged two goals, one assist, 10 shots on goal and averaged 19:33 minutes per game. The Caps sent a lot to the Motor City to acquire Mantha’s services, so he’ll need to produce like a top-six winger this season to justify the price tag.

Tom Wilson

Tom Wilson is as polarizing a player you can get. Washington fans love the physical forward, and almost every other team can’t stand the guy. Underneath the fighting, suspension-inducing hits and rampaging, there is a hockey player who makes more than $5 million per year. Think he’s overpaid? Look at what Willy has done in The District: 221 points in 569 career games illustrate Wilson’s year-to-year improvements. Wilson will surely improve on the 33 points he scored in 47 regular season games last season.

Conor Sheary

General Manager Brian MacLellan has a way of finding diamonds in the rough, and Sheary is one of his crowning jewels. Signed for $735,000 in the 2020 offseason, Sheary logged 22 points in 53 regular season games while averaging just under 14 minutes a game. Playing on the second line most nights, Sheary quickly endeared himself to the coaching staff and earned a two-year, $3 million contract with the Capitals this offseason.

Daniel Sprong

Sprong was a point-per-every-other-game player for the team despite being in and out of Washington’s lineup last season. Wicked fast with an even quicker shot, Sprong was a tireless worker on the ice for Laviolette. In four preseason games, Sprong did not register a point but had 10 shots on net. He’s firmly on the opening-night roster, so his spot in the rotation is safe. He figures to be a bottom-six forward with the potential to move up if the Caps catch the injury bug.

Garnet Hathaway

One of the more aggressive players in the organization, Hathaway is a sneaky-good forechecker, gives 110% on every shift and plays the role of gnat perfectly. The Caps will gladly pay him $3 million over the next two years to pester the opposition and occasionally chip in on offense. Hathaway had six goals and 12 helpers in 56 regular season outings last year. He is one of the most effective fourth-liners in the league.

Carl Hagelin

The 33-year-old Swede was a healthy scratch in the team’s preseason finale, but he has been skating with Nic Dowd and Hathaway at practice. Beck Malenstyn, who played in place of Hagelin, was assigned on Monday to the Caps’ AHL affiliate. For now, it appears Hagelin will fill out the fourth line. With two years left on a $5.5 million contract, Hagelin might be the most overpaid player from a points-per-game perspective: the Swede had 16 points in 56 regular season games last season. Put another way, the Caps paid about $340,000 for each point Hagelin scored.