Predicting the Statistical Leaders for the Washington Capitals in 2014-15
After arguably the franchise's most disappointing season of the last decade, the Washington Capitals enter the 2014-15 campaign in search of redemption.
Armed with a proven commodity behind the bench in Barry Trotz, as well as a pair of expensive new pieces on the blue line, the Caps roster appears to be more well-rounded than in years past, but only time will tell whether this team has what it takes to make it out of the Metropolitan Division.
Despite the team's lack of collective success, the Capitals have regularly boasted statistical leaders (such as the league's two-time reigning goal champion), and with majority of Washington's cornerstones still in place, there's little reason to believe that will change under Trotz.
In preparation for what has to be the team's most important season of the Alex Ovechkin era in Washington, here's a look at who will lead the Caps in each major statistical category.
Plus-Minus: Joel Ward
As a member of Washington's most defensively responsible offensive unit, Joel Ward has a solid chance at leading the Caps in plus/minus for the second consecutive season.
In 2013-14, Ward's plus-7 rating was tied with Steve Oleksy and ranked tops among all forwards, and frequent linemate Jason Chimera sat fourth with a plus-4.
Assuming Trotz opts to keep Ward and Chimera together on a checking line with Eric Fehr, Brooks Laich or Jay Beagle, both wingers should be in contention to lead the Caps in plus/minus, despite often facing the opposition's most dangerous lines.
Ward enjoyed his first taste of NHL success under Trotz in Nashville, and given their familiarity, expect Ward to receive at least similar ice time to the more than 16 minutes a night he logged in 2013-14.
Penalty Minutes: Tom Wilson
This one is a slam dunk really, because on a team blessed with grit but without a true enforcer, Tom Wilson's the only safe bet to log at least 100 minutes in the box.
As a rookie in 2013-14, seeing less than an average of eight minutes of ice a night, Wilson racked up 151 penalty minutes and established himself as a power forward in the making.
Looking ahead, given Wilson's unique blend of speed, skill and size, one has to think the Caps can use him more effectively than simply having him drop the gloves on a weekly basis, so don't expect him to eclipse his total from last season.
However, as the team's most fearless fighter, there's no question that he'll answer the bell when needed, and that's why Wilson's a lock to lead the Caps in trips to the sin bin in 2014-15.
Goals: Alex Ovechkin
As the team's unquestioned top sniper, Alex Ovechkin could very well put up twice as many goals as anyone else on the Capitals, especially if Washington's power-play unit is anywhere close to as deadly as it was during each of the last two seasons.
With five seasons of 50 goals or more under his belt, as well as a league-leading 32 during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, Ovechkin's status as one of the best scorers of his era remains unquestioned.
However, after posting a putrid minus-35 rating in 2013-14, coupled with the arrival of a defensive mastermind in Trotz, one has to think there's a reasonable chance Ovechkin's offensive numbers will drop closer to the level they were at under Dale Hunter.
Nonetheless, Ovechkin will surely lead the Caps in goals and is a safe bet for at least 40 on the season. After potting 40 power-play markers over the last two seasons, it'd be absurd to think he won't get at least 15-20 over an 82-game schedule.
Assists: Nicklas Backstrom
While an argument could conceivably be made for Evgeny Kuznetsov potentially challenging Nicklas Backstrom for the team lead in assists, it would take a performance surely worthy of the Calder Memorial Trophy in order for the Russian rookie to do so.
That's because while Kuznetsov is undoubtedly one of the most skilled and gifted young forwards in the game, Backstrom's consistently been among the league's most potent setup men.
In addition, as the engine that drives Washington's league-best power play, Backstrom's guaranteed to pick up at least 20-30 points with the extra man after posting a league-leading 38 assists and 44 points in 2013-14.
Backstrom and Ovechkin will be counted upon to be more defensively responsible under Trotz, so both players may see declines in offensive production. But someone's got to lead the team in helpers, and unless he gets injured, count on that to be the Swedish playmaker.
Points: Nicklas Backstrom
No, Nicklas Backstrom has never lead the Capitals in scoring before, but assuming Ovechkin's even-strength time on ice declines under the more conservative Trotz, this may be the year for the two-time Swedish Olympian.
A former 100-point scorer who regularly finishes among the NHL's leaders in assists and points, Backstrom would likely be the top offensive weapon on half of the league's 30 teams, but he's often been overshadowed by the three-time NHL MVP he happens to play alongside.
If Ovechkin's production falls to somewhere closer to the 40-goal range, expect Backstrom to lead the team with roughly 75-80 points in 2014-15.
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