Cullen: Capitals due for a better offensive campaign

Scott Cullen

9/20/2011 12:04:55 PM

While there was a tone of defensive responsibility being thrown around when it came to the 2010-2011 Washington Capitals, but that improved defensive approach, combined with a mediocre power play, cost them offensive production.

Foremost among those whose production dipped was Alexander Ovechkin, who finished with a career-low 32 goals and 85 points, thanks in large part to his career-low shooting percentage (8.7%) and a dip in power play production. Ovechkin scored 24 points with the man advantage last season, the first time he had finished with fewer than 36 power play points.

As Ovechkin's production dipped, so too did that of his centre, Nicklas Backstrom, who plummeted from 101 points in 2009-2010 to 65 points last season. Like Ovechkin, Backstrom had a career-low shooting percentage (8.9%), so there is reason enough to expect a bounceback. Surely the 23-year-old should be closer to the rising star he appeared to be in his first three NHL seasons than the disappointment he was last year.

Much-maligned winger Alexander Semin is a real roll of the dice. In three of the last four seasons, he's played 65 games or fewer, so that injury risk hangs over his value, yet he's obscenely productive, averaging 1.09 points per game in the last three seasons, the fifth-highest rate among all wingers in the league (behind Ovechkin, Daniel Sedin, Zach Parise and Martin St. Louis).

Nearly as enigmatic as Semin, defenceman Mike Green was head-and-shoulders above other defencemen in point production in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, but dropped off a cliff last season, managing a modest 24 points in 49 games before a concussion derailed his season. Green's offensive ceiling is so much higher than most other defencemen that he remains appealing, but he could really use a bounceback season.

In a summer full of tweaks and veteran additions, the biggest for the Capitals was that of goaltender Tomas Vokoun. Since 2005-2006, Vokoun's .922 save percentage ranks fractions of a point behind Tim Thomas for the best save percentage in the game among goaltenders with at least 100 games played. Vokoun hasn't received a great deal of recognition due to the Florida Panthers' struggles as a team, but wins (and recognition) should come more easily in Washington.

Vokoun's arrival does put Michal Neuvirth into a backup role, even after a strong rookie campaign during which he was 27-12-4 with a 2.45 goals against average and .914 save percentage. 23-year-old Neuvirth is a terrific backup to have because he could easily fill the starter's role if Vokoun gets injured.

Durable Brooks Laich has missed just four games in the last four seasons but last year snapped a streak of three straight 20-goal campaigns. Laich is productive enough, with a good plus-minus (plus-30 over the last two seasons) to have value as long as he has left wing eligibility. At centre, his value is more along the fringe unless it's a deep league.

Veteran defenceman Dennis Wideman was an effective addition (seven points, plus-7 in 14 games) for the Capitals last season before a leg hematoma ended his year prematurely. He figures to be in a complementary role for the Caps, but has scored at least 10 goals and 35 points in three of the last four seasons.

21-year-old blueliner John Carlson is coming off an outstanding rookie season during which he scored 37 points and finished with a plus-21 rating. Since 1990-1991, only two other defencemen have had at least 35 points and a plus-20 rating as a rookie (Nicklas Lidstrom and Andrej Meszaros), so Carlson is one of the more promising young defencemen in the league.

Bringing in Troy Brouwer from Chicago will add some muscle to the Capitals' front line. He's scored 39 goals over the last two years in Chicago and while he's not the most mobile, he is a big body who can get to the net.

Essentially, 26-year-old Brouwer is hoped to be the next generation of what the Caps have been receiving from 39-year-old Mike Knuble. Knuble has scored at least 20 goals in each of the last eight seasons and even if he's lost a step, quickness has hardly been the hallmark of his game, so he should still be expected to contribute.

On a deep Capitals' defence, Roman Hamrlik doesn't figure to get the same kind of ice time that he received in Montreal last season, but he's been such a steady contributor for so long that he's a useful addition in deep leagues.

Digging deeper on the Capitals roster, playoff hero Joel Ward, who scored 13 points in 12 games for Nashville last year, could have some offensive upside, though he's a 30-year-old who hasn't scored more than 35 points in a season.

Looking for potential, centre Marcus Johansson is coming off a rookie season during which he put up 27 points in 69 games in a limited role, with 14 of those points coming in his last 26 games.

Washington used to be the darlings of fantasy hockey and last year's diminished production could help make their players more of a bargain come draft day and that upside makes them attractive.

NHL Depth Chart - Washington Capitals

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