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30 in 30

Inside look at Washington Capitals

Small changes made in pursuit of elusive playoff success

by Katie Brown / Correspondent is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 30 teams throughout August. Today, the Washington Capitals.

The Washington Capitals had the best regular season in their history, won the Presidents' Trophy and were favored to win the Stanley Cup but had another early exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, eliminated by the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in the Eastern Conference Second Round.

The Capitals decided to take a page out the Penguins' book and this offseason focused on fine-tuning their bottom six forwards, building a stronger top nine, and adding some speed to a lineup headlined by left wing Alex Ovechkin, center Nicklas Backstrom and goalie Braden Holtby.

"It's turned into a top-nine league," Washington general manager Brian MacLellan said in May. "I don't know that we had a pure top nine. Maybe we had a top eight or a top seven and a half or however you want to value that, but I think we were a little short on the top nine. I think you need two-way guys, guys who can play both ways."

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Washington traded a second-round pick in the 2017 and 2018 NHL Drafts to the Montreal Canadiens for forward Lars Eller on June 24. He is expected to center the third line, a position that operated much like a revolving door last season.

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"I'm sure I'm going to get some good wingers that we're going to go out and I'm going to have fun playing with and create a lot of offense but at the same time be responsible defensively," Eller said. "There's nothing like winning and building winning chemistry and culture with your teammates. I hope to be able to accomplish that in Washington and do my part."

The Capitals were active in free agency the past two offseasons, but other than acquiring Eller and re-signing their restricted free agents, there wasn't a lot of money left to go around and they were content to stand by, adding one more player, free agent forward Brett Connolly, who signed a one-year, $850,000 contract on July 1.

Connolly could fit in on the third or fourth line for coach Barry Trotz, but that won't be decided until training camp. There are two positions open in the bottom six, holes left by free agents Jason Chimera (New York Islanders) and Mike Richards (unsigned).

"Brett's got some upside to his game, he's got skill and offensive ability that hasn't fully come through yet in our minds and probably his mind too," MacLellan said in July. "Hopefully we can take advantage of it. He's got good size (6-foot-2, 193 pounds), he skates well, he's got good hands, he shoots the puck well."

Chimera played seven seasons for Washington and scored 20 goals last season, but signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Islanders on July 1.

MacLellan said Chimera was a casualty of NHL salary cap space. Though he was a player they would have liked to keep, it was hard to allocate money for him when there were restricted free agents who needed to be re-signed.

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Forward Tom Wilson signed a two-year, $4 million contract on June 30, and forward Marcus Johansson filed for arbitration but signed a three-year, $13.75 million contract July 20 before his hearing. Defenseman Dmitry Orlov has yet to sign but talks are ongoing.

Washington parted with defenseman Mike Weber, acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 23. He is an unrestricted free agent and will attend Blues training camp on a professional tryout.

The Capitals opted not to give a qualifying offer to forward Michael Latta, who signed a one-year, $600,000 contract with the Los Angeles Kings.

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