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31 in 31

Inside look at Washington Capitals

New coach Reirden, veteran core will attempt to repeat as Cup champs

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Washington Capitals.

Winning the Stanley Cup last season was so much fun, the Washington Capitals would love to do it again.

Of course, there are 30 other teams that would like to win it, and the Capitals know from experience how difficult it was to do it once. But after winning the Cup for the first time in their 43-season history, the Capitals understand what it takes, and with most of their roster returning, they believe repeating is a realistic goal.

 

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"We have basically the same team, so I think our chances to win one more time are just the same as last year," forward Andre Burakovsky said. "I think we have a good chance to win the Cup one more time [this season]."

The opportunity to repeat served as enticement for defensemen John Carlson (eight-year, $64 million contract; average annual value $8 million) and Michal Kempny (four years, $10 million; AAV $2.5 million) and forward Devante Smith-Pelly (one year, $1 million) to re-sign rather than leave as an unrestricted free agent. Defenseman Brook Orpik also returned (one year, $1 million) after being traded to the Colorado Avalanche, along with backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer, and subsequently having the final season on his contract bought out by the Avalanche.

Grubauer and fourth-line center Jay Beagle, who signed with the Vancouver Canucks, are the only departures from Washington's lineup from its clinching victory against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. 

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The most significant offseason change for the Capitals is at coach. Todd Reirden was named the successor to Barry Trotz on June 29, after Trotz resigned June 18 after being unable to agree with Washington on a new contract. Trotz was hired to coach the New York Islanders on June 21.

Though Reirden is a first-time NHL coach, the 47-year-old will give the Capitals continuity because he was on Trotz's staff the past four seasons: two as an assistant and the past two as associate. He inherits a team that went 49-26-7 and finished first in the Metropolitan Division for a third consecutive season. 

"The players are excited for the opportunity," Reirden said. "A number of them have taken less money to come back and be a part of something in doing this, and I think we have a really good group and have created a positive environment and culture here over the last four years that we'll continue to build on and work towards giving ourselves every chance we can to get back and do that again."

Washington reached another level during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, defeating its biggest rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, to advance past the second round for the first time since 1998 and bringing the first major pro sports championship to Washington since the Redskins won the Super Bowl following the 1991 NFL season. Reirden said he believes experiencing the good times and bad with this group -- the Capitals lost to Pittsburgh in the second round in 2016 and 2017 after winning the Presidents' Trophy each season -- will help him build on what they achieved last season.

"That's what I feel is really a distinct advantage of going through this situation and seeing it to a positive outcome," he said, "is that you beat adversity a number of times during the year, and unless you actually go through it with the players, it's tough for you to totally relate to them."

Before last season, the Capitals faced questions about whether their window to win the Cup was closing. Forward and captain Alex Ovechkin was about to turn 32 and several key players left last offseason, including forwards Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson and defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt. 

Video: Alex Ovechkin is named No. 2 on the list

But Ovechkin, who will turn 33 on Sept. 17, proved he has a lot left when he led the NHL with 49 goals last season and scored a League-leading 15 in the postseason on his way to winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the playoffs. Now, the Capitals are talking about how many more championships they can win with six of their top nine forwards, their top four defensemen and No. 1 goaltender Braden Holtby each under contract for at least two more seasons.

"We proved to ourselves this past year that we can do it, that we can play great hockey and a lot of familiar faces [are] coming back," said forward Tom Wilson, who was re-signed to a six-year, $31.02 million contract (average annual value $5.17 million) as a restricted free agent July 27. "One of the best things since I've been a part of the organization, the demands, the accountability, the expectation to win is always there.

"It's going to be on the core group, it's going to be on the leaders to execute that and to make sure that we keep moving forward in the right direction."

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