The Biggest Questions for the Remainder of Washington Capitals' 2014 Offseason
The Washington Capitals failed to make the postseason in 2013-14, the first time the team had missed the playoffs since the 2006-07 campaign. It was pretty clear big changes would be in store for owner Ted Leonsis' club.
These changes came quickly, as Barry Trotz replaced Adam Oates behind Washington's bench, and Brian MacLellan was handed the keys as the team's general manager in the weeks following the Capitals' collapse.
From there, MacLellan wasted no time in bolstering his squad's defensive core by adding Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik to a pair of deals spanning a combined 12 years and over $67 million.
But despite the high-profile signings, there are a number of questions confronting the Caps in the final weeks before training camp begins.
Here's a look at Washington's biggest lingering issues going into the 2014-15 campaign.
How Many Prospects Are Slated to Make the Opening-Night Roster?
One of the hot topics of debate among diehards will be which current Capitals prospects deserve a roster spot in preparation for the season's opening clash against Montreal on October 9th.
Tom Wilson, Michael Latta, Connor Carrick and Nate Schmidt all made early impressions in D.C. last year, but with a deeper roster stocked with veteran talent, it'll be tough for more than one or two rookies to make the cut in 2014-15.
That being said, sniper Andre Burakovsky has a legitimate shot of at least earning a cup of coffee in the NHL, though the spring arrival of Evgeny Kuznetsov has likely made his path to the Verizon Center a little bit more difficult.
Outside of the 2013 first-rounder, the arrivals or Orpik and Niskanen all but rule out a new face on the back end, and with former Carolina stopper Justin Peters now on board, don't expect to see any more than a lone rookie in the lineup when the season kicks off.
What Does the Future Hold for Mike Green?
It isn't often that two-time Norris Trophy finalists become available before the age of 30, but that's exactly what seems to be in the cards for longtime cornerstone Mike Green.
With the signings of Niskanen and Orpik, coupled with the continued development of Karl Alzner and John Carlson, Green has become expendable, and despite his heavy cap hit, there will be takers for the offensively gifted blueliner.
Some, such as CSN Washington's Chuck Gormley, have suggested that there could be a logjam with five potential top-four options available for Trotz to play with until Green departs.
Green and Orlov struggled as a pair last season, which could mean a shuffling of the deck that could have Niskanen moving to the left with Green, and Alzner moving to the right on a third pairing with Orlov.
There has been plenty of trade speculation swirling around the Caps’ 28-year-old defenseman, the most recent coming out of Detroit, where the Red Wings targeted but failed to land right-handed blue liners Anton Stralman, Dan Boyle and Niskanen.
Of course, a coach would never complain about having too many quality NHL rearguards in the fold, but given that Green's owed more than $6 million in 2014-15, the final year of his three-year deal, one shouldn't consider buying the two-time First Team All-Star's signature No. 52 jersey anytime soon.
Washington simply won't be able to afford him if he does anything of note on the ice this season, and unless MacLellan truly believes this current roster is capable of realistically competing for a berth in the Stanley Cup Final, he'd be best served dealing Green long before the 2015 NHL trade deadline.
Will MacLellan Add Depth Down the Middle?
Since Mikhail Grabovski left town to sign a lucrative long-term deal with the Islanders, the role of No. 2 center has suddenly become vacant.
Yes, in-house prospects such as assistant captain and former 59-point man Brooks Laich and frequent first-liner Marcus Johansson are certainly options, but neither are ideal candidates to serve as a top-six pivot on a quality playoff team.
For now, it seems that MacLellan is satisfied with his current group of forwards, and if that continues to be the case, look for Kuznetsov to slide into the No. 2 spot down the middle.
He's fast enough to transition between all three zones of the rink and clearly has the vision and creativity to develop into a playmaking center, but as we saw in 2013-14, Kuznetsov's learning curve in the NHL may be steep at times.
If Kuznetsov, Laich and Johansson aren't to the coaching staff's liking at training camp, MacLellan could look elsewhere to finally give the Caps stability at center, but without much cap space in hand, a trade would need to be made in order to acquire an impact player.