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Capitals already thinking Stanley Cup repeat

Will be challenging to keep roster intact, avoid championship hangover

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- T.J. Oshie was the first to mention the idea of a repeat at the rally following the Washington Capitals' Stanley Cup parade Tuesday, leading the massive crowd in a chant of "Back to back!".

Captain Alex Ovechkin echoed the sentiment a few minutes later.

The Capitals have had so much fun celebrating winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in their 43-season history, why wouldn't they want to do it again next season? 

"Yeah, why not?" Ovechkin said Wednesday. "I think with this team, with this chemistry that we have, we're capable of doing it."


[RELATED: Ovechkin's smile genuine since Capitals won Stanley Cup]


But the Capitals understand well how difficult it was to win the Cup once. Before breaking through this season, they hadn't advanced beyond the second round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 1998. 

So to be able to get through that grind again won't be easy. Before the Pittsburgh Penguins won in 2016 and 2017, no team had repeated as NHL champions since the Detroit Red Wings won the Cup in 1997 and 1998.

"It's got to be, I imagine, one of the hardest things," Oshie said. "Just think how hard it was for us to get this one. But we found something in each other during these playoffs that we weren't able to find before, so now we know it's there. It's not a question of if; it's just a question of … when. When can we get back to the playoffs and try to do this again? 

"I've been talking about it with a couple of the guys and you just kind of think, 'How can you go from this excitement and what we've been able to do together to losing again in the second round?' It just doesn't seem like something that this team will let happen again."

Video: Discussing the future in Washington

The first challenge of the Capitals' repeat quest will be keeping most of the roster intact. General manager Brian MacLellan has already begun talks with coach Barry Trotz, whose contract expires July 1.

As far as players, Washington's top priority is to re-sign defenseman John Carlson. If Carlson, who led NHL defensemen in points in the regular season with an NHL career-high 68 (15 goals, 53 assists) and in the playoffs with a Capitals record 20 (five goals 15 assists), hits the unrestricted free agent market July 1, he will be one of the most sought-after players.

It would be difficult for the Capitals to replace Carlson, 28, because he plays in all situations -- 5-on-5, first power-play unit and penalty kill. The defense pair of Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen was usually matched against opponents' top lines, but the second pair of Carlson and Michal Kempny was equally important.

Kempy, 27, also can become an unrestricted free agent, so the Capitals hope to re-sign him too. Tom Wilson, a potential restricted free agent with arbitration rights, is the only one of Washington's top nine forwards not under contract for next season.

"If we get can our top four D back, we're going to have the top six forwards, and [Lars] Eller at third-line center," MacLellan said. "I think that's a real good start to competing at a high level in the League."

Video: VGK@WSH, Gm4: Carlson blasts one-timer for PPG

While dealing with the aftermath of the Capitals' disappointing second-round loss to the Penguins last season, MacLellan compared it to having a Stanley Cup hangover without the Stanley Cup. Next season, they'll have to go through the real thing.

MacLellan noted, "This one's more enjoyable," but acknowledged there are real difficulties that come with it. The Capitals will enter training camp in September coming off the shortest offseason in their history, meaning less time to recover physically from the long season and get ready for another one.

MacLellan hopes the energy of the younger Capitals, including defenseman Christian Djoos, 23, and forwards Jakub Vrana, 22, and Chandler Stephenson, 24, will help them get through the start of the season. Washington also might be working in a new backup goaltender behind Braden Holtby with MacLellan saying he'll explore trade options for Philipp Grubauer, who would like a chance to be a No. 1.

Whoever returns will have to handle the nightly challenge from opponents seeking to knock off the Stanley Cup champions.

"I know the feeling of playing Pittsburgh the last couple years in the regular season for the first game (in 2016-17) or whatever," Niskanen said. "It was you really want to play well against the defending champs. You want to beat them. So we'll have some tough ones next year where we're going to have to be ready to go because teams are coming after us."

Video: Alan May on Caps winning the Stanley Cup, offseason

The Penguins mostly avoided the Stanley Cup hangover in 2016-17 before it caught up with them this season, when they went 20-19-3 in their first 42 games. The Capitals accept that they might deal with it too but believe they have what's needed to overcome it.

"It just feels like with this group of guys and the nucleus we have that we can do something special here for a while." Oshie said "I told [MacLellan] in my exit meeting [after last season], that I think this team can win, and we can win now and we can win a couple times.

"So we got the first one out of the way, and I'll tell you what: the summer's going to be short, but I want to get back and I want to do it again."

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