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Capitals added players with playoffs in mind

by Katie Brown / NHL.com

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals spent this offseason trying to fix what went wrong in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when they were eliminated by the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Second Round after holding a 3-1 series lead.

Since selecting Alex Ovechkin with the first pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, Washington has been one win from advancing to the Eastern Conference Final three times (2009, 2012, 2015), but the Capitals haven't been able to earn that victory.

Ovechkin turns 30 on Sept. 17, so the time for Washington is now.

"I felt the window to win with him was 10 years old," Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said in July. "He's a fantastic player. He plays hard all the time, and I feel I haven't met my commitment to him, that we would build a team that would be able to win Stanley Cups.

"The difference between winning and losing is just so small, so I do not think our window as an organization is closing."

Ovechkin scored 53 goals last season to become the sixth player in NHL history with six 50-goal seasons. With Ovechkin able to produce at an elite level, the onus is on general manager Brian MacLellan to help the Capitals make the most of Ovechkin's prime.

MacLellan was vocal about wanting to upgrade Washington's top six forwards after the Capitals were eliminated, then he added Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie seven weeks later.

Williams, who signed a two-year, $6.5 million contract July 1, has won the Stanley Cup three times, twice with the Los Angeles Kings, including in 2014 when he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy, and once with the Carolina Hurricanes. His 14 points (seven goals) in Game 7 are the most in NHL history. Perhaps more important to the Capitals, Williams' teams are 7-0.

"Justin is a proven winner, and we feel he will be a great addition to our club," MacLellan said. "We felt it was important for our team to add someone of his caliber, as a hockey player and as a veteran leader."

The Capitals acquired Oshie on July 2 in a trade with the St. Louis Blues for forward Troy Brouwer, goalie prospect Pheonix Copley and a third-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Either Oshie or Williams could play on the top line with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

With slightly more than $20 million in salary-cap space entering the offseason, the Capitals re-signed goalie Braden Holtby and forwards Jay Beagle and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Holtby's five-year, $30.5 million contract, reached following a July 23 arbitration hearing, cemented his place as the franchise goalie.

"You see what he accomplished last year and the effect he's had on our team," MacLellan said of Holtby, who was 41-20-10 with a 2.22 goals-against average, a .923 save percentage and nine shutouts in 73 regular-season games, then had a 1.71 GAA and .944 save percentage in 13 playoff games. "He's a perfect fit for what we think we have. He's a good teammate, a good person, and I think he's just touching the surface of what he could become.

"I think the certainty of having him in our lineup over the next … whatever time we have, the window to win a championship, is why we're excited about signing him."

Goaltender Philipp Grubauer, primed for an NHL role, signed a two-year, $1.5 million contract June 15. He's the top candidate to back up Holtby.

The Capitals gave Beagle a three-year, $5.25 million contract, and Kuznetsov signed a two-year, $6 million contract. Forward Marcus Johansson was awarded a one-year, $3.75 million contract following a July 29 arbitration hearing.

Defenseman Mike Green became a free agent for the first time and signed a three-year, $18 million contract with the Detroit Red Wings, where he likely will fill a top-four role and get prime power-play minutes.

The Capitals will continue with John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner as their top four defensemen.

Veteran unrestricted free agent forwards Joel Ward and Eric Fehr found themselves playing elsewhere in part because of Washington's salary-cap constraints. Fehr signed a two-year contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Ward signed with the San Jose Sharks for three years.

Defenseman John Erskine, who missed all of last season recovering from neck surgery, was not offered a contract and is a UFA.

The departures of Brouwer, Fehr and Ward, who were three of Washington's top six penalty-killing forwards in recent seasons, mean there will be shorthanded minutes to replace.

With $530,705 in remaining cap space, according to war-on-ice.com, it's unlikely the Capitals will make any more additions to the roster.

"We're exploring a couple things. but I would say we're done for now," MacLellan said Aug. 3. "There were trade discussions going on in or around the draft, maybe those players are still available, but I would say we're pretty set for now. We could fit a cheaper player in if we chose to right now; it's just a matter of what impact it [has] on players that we've chosen to play right now. We could possibly add; we could not."

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