Welcome back to "Capital Letters," an aptly titled and sporadic feature in which I answer any and all questions regarding the local professional hockey team. Please send all questions to @AdamVingan and follow me anyway because my mother will think that I'm more popular.
Winter Storm Octavia, as named by The Weather Channel, has left us snowed in. Instead of watching "Live with Kelly and Michael" and eating Chocolate Cheerios, I decided to answer your questions.
Here are said questions.
@AdamVingan do you think Ovi or Backy will lead the team in points this year?
— Nick (@CapsNickyT) February 17, 2015
Ovechkin and Backstrom currently lead the NHL in goals and assists with 36 and 43, respectively. Not since San Jose's Jonathan Cheechoo (56 goals) and Joe Thornton (96 assists, 72 of which came after the Boston Bruins traded him to the Sharks) in 2005-06 has one team finished a season with the leader in each category. Backstrom currently has a two-point advantage over Ovechkin, 59-57.
Simply based on their current paces, Backstrom will finish the season with 85 points (23 goals, 62 assists) and Ovechkin with 82 (52 goals, 30 assists), which would be the first time since 2003-04, the season prior to Ovechkin's debut, that someone other than him finished atop Washington's scoring leaderboard. (He and Backstrom each had 79 points last season, tying for the team lead.)
In case you're curious, the last member of the Capitals to lead the team in points was Robert Lang, who was traded to the Detroit Red Wings in February 2004 while tied for the league lead with 74 points.
If you'll allow me to quote noted literary force Eminem, "I'd count my blessings, but I [stink] at math," so I may not be the best person to break this down scientifically. (For that, I'd ask Jon Press or Peter Hassett.) What I can tell you is that Backstrom has assisted on 45.8 percent of Ovechkin's goals since entering the NHL in 2007-08, including 25 of 36 this season, so it will be a tight race. I'm going to give the slight edge to Backstrom, though, for no other reason than I'd like to look smart in April if it happens.
@AdamVingan Can this team do well in the playoffs with a rookie at center?
— Todd Goren (@toddgoren) February 17, 2015
Todd's question is one that Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan is certainly contemplating himself as the March 2 trade deadline looms. MacLellan said last month that the play of Washington's cadre of young forwards -- Tom Wilson, Andre Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Michael Latta -- would influence his method.
Seeing as one of those four currently plays center, let's focus our attention on him. Of the aforementioned youngsters, Kuznetsov has been the most impressive since the Capitals returned from the All-Star break. In 11 games since Jan. 27, Kuznetsov has eight even-strength points (including one 4-on-4 assist) after recording seven in his previous 44 games. His seven 5-on-5 points leave him tied with Ovechkin for the team lead over that span.
His possession statistics since that date, though, are not as impressive with a 44.2 even-strength Corsi percentage, a measurement of shot attempts (shots on goal, missed shots and blocked shots) taken by the Capitals when he is on the ice.
From a purely point-producing standpoint, we are starting to see glimpses of the dynamic player that the Capitals drafted in 2010. He has settled into his role as second-line center and gradually earned the trust of coach Barry Trotz in defensive-zone situations. If Kuznetsov continues to progress in such a way, then I think Trotz and MacLellan would feel comfortable with him as their second-line center in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Of course, if the opportunity to add a more seasoned forward presents itself, then the Capitals will surely consider it.
@AdamVingan you think green gets traded? if not, will we be able to resign him?
— andy fish (@wvufish) February 17, 2015
Here is the $64,000 Question, or more appropriately, the $6,250,000 Question, because that's how much Green's salary is this season. As a pending unrestricted free agent that happens to be an elusive right-handed defenseman, Green is enticing to other teams, but frankly, it wouldn't make sense to trade him unless MacLellan is absolutely blown away by a package that would immediately help the Capitals.
“We’re in the business to win,” MacLellan told Mike Vogel last month. “What message would it send? If we continue on the path that we’re on, I look at us as a serious contender to win our division. What message does that send to the team if you’re sending Mike Green away for a prospect and a pick heading into the playoffs? I’m not going to do that. I want to win. He’s a part of our team. It’s a luxury to have him as a fifth defenseman who can move up and who is a first power play guy.”
Think about the Capitals' third pairing if Green is traded. The status of Dmitry Orlov's injured wrist that has kept him on injured reserve all season is still uncertain and Nate Schmidt's scapular fracture continues to heal, though he is "hoping and praying" for a possible return this weekend for the Hershey Bears. That would leave a duo of Jack Hillen and either Steve Oleksy or Cameron Schilling, which wouldn't elicit the same respect from opposing teams as Green would.
With a legitimate chance to win the Metropolitan Division in a wide-open Eastern Conference, I don't believe Green will be traded. I also don't believe he will be re-signed since his contract preferences will likely be too expensive for the Capitals to commit to.
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