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Who is the Caps' MVP at the bye week?

Who is the Caps' MVP at the bye week?

There's no hockey this week for Washington as the Caps are on their bye week. That gives us time to take a look at the team and evaluate how they look at this point in the season. Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent J.J. Regan offer their bye week grades for each aspect of the team. Today, they give their picks for MVP.

El-Bashir’s MVP: G.M. Brian MacLellan

There are several qualified candidates from which to choose. There’s Nicklas Backstrom, who’s fourth in the NHL in points. There’s Braden Holtby, who’s in the Vezina Trophy conversation again. And there’s T.J. Oshie, who carried the Caps’ offense early on.

But my pick for MVP is Brian MacLellan, who recognized his team’s biggest weakness after last year’s playoff ouster and did something about it. He traded for third line center Lars Eller and signed Boston Bruins castoff Brett Connolly to a one-year contract in the span of a few days last summer. 

The Caps hoped Eller and Connolly could provide a jolt to a bottom-six forward group was that was badly outplayed in the second round loss to the Penguins. Now, as the regular season enters its stretch run, that hope has turned into reality. 

Eller has anchored the third line, produced 10 goals and, prior to the bye, was deployed on the power play as a replacement for an injured Andre Burakovsky. Connolly, meanwhile, is up to 12 goals despite missing 14 games as a healthy scratch. Both Eller and Connolly struggled initially to fit in, but they now looked like fully integrated pieces on the NHL’s best team.

If the Caps go on to claim the franchise’s first Cup, Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and Holtby will, no doubt, be the headliners. But the team’s supporting cast, led by Eller and Connolly, is going to play a big role, too. 

And that supporting cast wouldn’t have been in place without MacLellan’s decisiveness during the offseason.

RELATED: Burakovsky skates in cast before practice

Regan's MVP: Nicklas Backstrom

Alex Ovechkin is the Caps' best player, but a reasonable argument could be made to say that Backstrom is actually the team's most important player. That has certainly been true this season.

Backstrom leads the Caps in points with 61. That's nine more points than the second-place Alex Ovechkin. He is also fourth in the NHL, trailing Connor McDavid by only six points.

But it's not just about stats. What sets Backstrom apart is his consistency.

Ovechkin went seven straights games without a goal from the end of November to the start of December, Evgeny Kuznetsov was sleep walking unitl January, T.J. Oshie was the MVP before he suffered an injury against Detroit in November, Marcus Johansson could not stop scoring in the team's Western Canada road trip but went through a lengthy dry spell afterward.

All the while, Backstrom was there, quietly producing just like he always does. The longest the veteran center has gone without a point this season is three games. That's it.

And even when he's not scoring, Backstrom remains incredibly important because of how he can limit the other team's offense. As great as he is offensively, he may be just as good defensively. That's a rare combination.

Seriously, Backstrom may be the most underappreciated player in the NHL, but not by me. He's the team MVP and in my mind, it's not close.

MORE CAPITALS: Sanford, Vrana rejoin the Caps

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Capitals 2017-18 Breakout Candidate: Brett Connolly

Capitals 2017-18 Breakout Candidate: Brett Connolly

As we skate toward the start of the 2017-18 NHL Regular Season, our CSN Capitals team of Jill Sorenson and Tarik El-Bashir detail and analyze the Capitals roster.

They will take a look at breakout candidates, prospects on the rise, players in need of improvement and a look at the rest of the Metropolitan Division, all leading up to the start of the NHL regular season.

Up first are the Capitals breakout candidates.

First, we previewed Tom Wilson.

Today we are looking at Brett Connolly.

YOU CAN WATCH TARIK AND JILL'S FULL BREAKDOWN OF BRETT CONNOLLY IN THE VIDEO PLAYER ABOVE.

2017-18 CAPITALS BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Brett Connolly

Position: Right Wing
Age: 25
NHL Seasons: 6 (276 games)
2016-17 Stats: 15 goals, 8 assists, +20 plus/minus

Tarik El-Bashir's Breakout Preview: 
After playing the last three seasons on one-year deals, Connolly finally has a little security after inking a two-year, $3 million contract with the Caps earlier this month.

It’s a hefty raise over the $850,000 he earned last season, and it’s emblematic of the higher expectations that he’ll shoulder in 2017-18.

Connolly’s first season in Washington was a strange one. It began with him sitting out as a healthy scratch, and it ended with him sitting out as a healthy scratch. But in between, the former first round pick was remarkably efficient, scoring a career-high 15 goals in 66 games, while skating fewer than 11 minutes per.

Next season, Connolly’s role and playing time are expected to increase … and so, too, are his numbers.

Jill Sorenson's Keys to Breakout:
1.  Maturity: "He's finally settling in and understands what it means to be a pro hockey player. He feels like this is a good fit for him. He's ready to handle the increased pressure and increased responsibillity."

2.  Comfort Level: "He feels like Washington is where he wants to be. He has a nose for the net, and with that comfort level now with this team, that natural scoring abillity I expect will come through."

Prediction: Total Points
Tarik: 21 goal, 16 assists
Jill: 20 goals, 18 assists

RELATED: TEN BEST CAPITALS PLAYERS OF ALL-TIME

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Capitals 2017-18 Breakout Candidate: Tom Wilson

Capitals 2017-18 Breakout Candidate: Tom Wilson

As we skate toward the start of the 2017-18 NHL Regular Season, our CSN Capitals team of Jill Sorenson and Tarik El-Bashir detail and analyze the Capitals roster.

They will take a look at breakout candidates, prospects on the rise, players in need of improvement and a look at the rest of the Metropolitan Division, all leading up to the start of the NHL regular season.

Up first are the Capitals breakout candidates. The first of the three selections is Tom Wilson. 

YOU CAN WATCH TARIK AND JILL'S FULL BREAKDOWN OF TOM WILSON IN THE VIDEO PLAYER ABOVE.

RELATED: TEN BEST CAPITALS PLAYERS OF ALL-TIME

2017-18 Capitals Breakout Candidate: Tom Wilson

Position: Right Wing
Age: 23
NHL Seasons: 4 (313 games)
2016-17 Stats: 7 goals, 12 assists, 133 penalty minutes

Tarik El-Bashir's Breakout Preview:
After mustering only seven goals in 82 regular season games, Tom Wilson scored three times against his hometown Maple Leafs in the opening round of the playoffs.

Was the offensive outburst a blip, or the start of a trend? The Caps, obviously, hope it’s the latter—and there’s reason to believe it could happen. The 23-year-old former first rounder is entering a contract year but, more important, he’s expected to play a bigger role in 2017-18. Bigger role + better linemates + more ice time = more goal production.

Makes sense, right?

Jill Sorenson's Keys to Breakout:
1.  Health: "This will be only his third season fully healthy. I look at that, from a chronological standpoint as a reason to up his production."
2.  Responsibility: "He would be a good addition on the power play in front of the net. he has that net-front pressence and they like when he plays on a line with Alex Ovechkin."

Prediction: Over/Under 18 Goals
Tarik: 18. Push.
Jill: 21. Over.