Making predictions at the beginning of a sports season can be risky. Injuries happen. Players disappoint. Sometimes a young player blossoms into an unexpected star.
But I think it is safe to predict that the Washington Capitals will be very good in the 2016-2017 National Hockey League (NHL) season. Here are some reasons:
●Last season, the Caps were the best team in the NHL regular season, winning 56 of their 82 games. The Caps outscored their opponents by a league-leading 59 goals.
●The team’s great 2015-2016 season was not the work of one or two players. Yes, superstar forward Alex Ovechkin led Washington with 50 goals. But four other players — Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie — had 50 or more points during the season. (Players earn a point for a goal or for a pass that leads to a goal.)
All those players are back this season. There is every reason to expect they will be terrific again. Add up-and-coming center Marcus Johansson (46 points last season) and wing Andre Burakovsky (38 points), and the Caps should have plenty of offensive firepower.
●Washington should be solid on defense, too. Braden Holtby returns in the goal. He was among the league leaders last season, allowing only 2.2 goals per game and blocking more than 92 percent of the shots on goal. Holtby is just 27 years old, so he should be coming into his prime.
●One more thing: Head Coach Barry Trotz is behind the Caps bench again. Trotz brings steady leadership. So Washington should be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference again this season.
Still, I can hear Caps fans crying, “What about the playoffs?” The Caps always seem to lose in the playoffs. For example, last spring they lost a hard-fought series in the second round to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Pittsburgh went on to win the Stanley Cup.
No major Washington sports team — that means the Redskins, Nationals, Wizards and Capitals — has played in a conference championship game since the Caps made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998.
But a lot of those teams have been fun to watch in the playoffs. The Nats have made it to the baseball playoffs three of the past five seasons, and the Redskins did the same last year. In addition, both local pro soccer teams — the Spirit and United — were playoff teams this season.
So instead of crying over all their near misses, maybe Washington sports fans should enjoy their teams that are very good.
Such as the Washington Capitals.
Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 21 sports books for kids. He hasn’t written any hockey books . . . yet.