Could the Caps capitalize on cap space this summer?

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After perusing the Washington Capitals’ future salary cap commitments, one thing jumped out at me: GM George McPhee holds nearly as much power in deciding Alex Ovechkin’s legacy as Alex does himself.

Quite simply, many people judge great players by how many championships they’ve won. It’s not fair, but it happens often (just ask Charles Barkley or Jeremy Roenick). There’s a great chance that Ovechkin could raise the Cup this summer, but if not, his chances to do so later will be affected immensely by McPhee’s decisions.

Although Alex Semin’s future will be interesting to watch (sure, he extended but he only did so for next season), the biggest question is how much criminally underrated playmaker Nicklas Backstrom will cost. Ovechkin’s blazing star power overshadows Backstrom a lot like Crosby’s keeps Evgeni Malkin (relatively) under the radar. While I’m sure that Backstrom benefits hugely from lining up with Ovie, the talented Swede isn’t a slouch, either. He scored 88 points last season and already has 80 this year. Japers Rink even brought up the possibility of a Selke nomination for Backstrom, something that is almost unimaginable for either one of his talented Russian counterparts.

The question with Backstrom is: will he go for a shorter deal (and thus a bigger annual cap hit) or one of those crazy lifetime contracts? If he somehow made it to restricted free agency, another GM should throw the house at Backstrom.


Once Backstrom’s contract is settled, the Caps could have some room to add a major piece. Jose Theodore’s humorous $4.5 million cap hit will dissolve after this season and a few medium sized deals will expire as well. Washington could go after a big name veteran goalie like Marty Turco or even Evgeni Nabokov or perhaps take a crack at a top-flight defenseman. Heck, they could even go wild with offense and attempt to lure awkward assassin Patrick Marleau out of San Jose. Caps fans, consider this list your dream sheet. The Caps can then fill smaller roles with cheap veterans and their many promising prospects.

One more quick thought on the Caps’ cap: people really love to rag on Mike Green but his contract ($5.25 million annual cap hit) is a moderate steal. Considering his insane point production he’s basically a cheaper, younger Dan Boyle. Now, without further adieu, here’s a handy breakdown of next year’s situation. Keep in mind this stuff is subject to change.

2010-11 cap commitments as of today (some figures were rounded up to keep it simple):

Forwards (6 of required 12): Ovechkin (9.54); Semin (6); Knuble (2.8); Laich (2.06); Chimera (1.875); Steckel (1.1); Bradley (1)

Defense (5 of 6): Green (5.25); Poti (3.5); Erskine (1.25); Carlson (846K); Sloan (700k)

Goalies (1 of 2): Varlamov (822k)

Cap space: slightly more than $20 million
Cap space with Karl Alzner, probable call-up: about $18.3 million
Cap space with Alzner and possible call-up Michal Neuvirth: About $17.5 million

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    The Buzzer: Bergeron’s at it again, Nash’s resurgence continues

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    Players of the Night:

    Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins: Bergeron did it again. The perennial Selke contender showed off his scoring prowess (again), scoring his second hat trick in 12 days. He now has nine goals and five assists in his past eight games. The Bruins have run up a 15-game point streak (11-0-4).

    Rick Nash, New York Rangers: Nash scored twice for the second consecutive game in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Nash now has four goals in this past two games after putting up a goose egg in his previous 12.

    Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: MacKinnon’s successes this season have been well documented, and he kept that narrative going with two more goals — his 21st and 22nd — and an assist in the Avs 5-3 win over the San Jose Sharks.

    Highlights of the Night:

    Bergeron’s hat trick came after some trickery by Brad Marchand:

    A Double Dustin:

    Robin Lehner made this dandy of a save. Unfortunately, he allowed a goal moments later. Still, this save.

    Bonehead play of the Night:

    Dustin Brown strikes again. This time in the wrong category. Someone’s getting suspended.

    Factoids of the Night:

    MISC:

    Scores:

    Devils 4, Capitals 3 (OT)

    Bruins 5, Islanders 2

    Blue Jackets 2, Stars 1 (SO)

    Rangers 4, Sabres 3

    Blues 4, Senators 1

    Golden Knights 4, Lightning 1

    Flyers 3, Maple Leafs 2 (OT)

    Predators 3, Coyotes 2 (SO)

    Avalanche 5, Sharks 3

    Penguins 3, Kings 1


    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

    Hornqvist, DeSmith help lift the Penguins past the Kings 3-1

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins annual jaunt up the west coast didn’t start according to plan on Wednesday.

    The Pens dropped a 5-3 decision to the Anaheim Ducks and had to quickly rest and recover for a date with the Los Angeles Kings 24 hours later.

    The odds weren’t favoring them, but the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions pulled one out of their hats in a 3-1 win in the City of Angels on Thursday, handing the Kings their fifth straight loss.

    The Penguins handed Casey DeSmith his first NHL start and the New Hampshire native stepped up in the absence of Matt Murray, who missed his first game after the passing of his father on Tuesday.

    DeSmith filled in admirably making 28 saves in his first NHL win, and he got some timely goal support, including two markers from Patric Hornqvist.

    Hornqvist alleviated some of the first-start jitters on DeSmith as he opened the scoring 43 seconds into the first period.

    The lead lasted until the 14:10 mark of the second period when Adrian Kempe made a slick deke on DeSmith to tie the game 1-1.

    Evgeni Malkin broke the deadlock with another early period goal for the Penguins.

    Pittsburgh went on the offensive off the opening faceoff, and after a point shot was blocked in front, Malkin grabbed the rebound in the slot and fired his 21st home on a wrist shot past Jonathan Quick.

    Malkin finished the game with a goal and an assist.

    Hornqvist added some insurance just after the midway point of the third, making it 3-1 on the power play with his second of the night.

    Meanwhile, Dustin Brown was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct after boarding Justin Schultz in the third period.

    Schultz had to leave the game and did not return.

    Schultz said he was fine after the game and that he did not suffer a concussion on the play.


    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck-

    Rick Nash scores twice as Rangers edge Sabres 4-3

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    Prior to Tuesday’s win, New York Rangers forward Rick Nash had gone 12 games without a goal.

    They had lost three straight and the man they needed to start scoring again simply couldn’t.

    But on Tuesday in a 5-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers, Nash found his stride.

    And on Thursday night he notched two more in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on NBCSN.

    Nash opened the scoring for the Rangers 1:24 into the game, taking advantage of a defensive mishap by Jake McCabe, who couldn’t handle a puck as the last man back and allowed Nash in on a breakaway.

    The Sabres would respond by periods’ end, starting their first of three comebacks on the night.

    Kyle Okposo brought the game to level terms with 1:19 remaining in the first period, completing a tic-tac-toe play on the power play.

    The Sabres came into the game with the 31st ranking on the man-advantage, but managed to score twice with it in Thursday’s game.

    The Rangers regained the lead through J.T. Miller in the second period.

    New York just went through a power play without registering a shot on goal, but Miller was able to grab the puck at the right circle moments after the Sabres’ penalty had expired and rifled a wrist shot bar down behind Lehner at 8:26.

    The Sabres engineered their second comeback of the game, tying it 2-2 the game later in the period from an unlikely source.

    Justin Falk had gone 101 games without putting a puck in the back of the net. Not since March 6, 2015 had Falk seen his name in that category on the scoresheet.

    But he shed that monkey off his back on a point shot low along the ice that beat Lundqvist through the five-hole with 2:50 remaining in the frame.

    Nash scored his second at the 6:49 mark of the third period, following by Buffalo’s third successful comeback attempt at 14:59 when Rasmus Ristolainen’s shot found its way through a crowd and behind Lundqvist for a 3-3 tie.

    Pavel Buchnevich scored the winner 1:03 later, finishing off a nice feed from Mika Zibanejad for his 12th and the Rangers second straight win.


    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

    WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Los Angeles Kings

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    PROJECTED LINES

    Pittsburgh Penguins

    Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

    Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

    Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

    Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

    Brian DumoulinKris Letang

    Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

    Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

    Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

    [NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Sabres vs. Rangers; Penguins vs. Kings]

    Los Angeles Kings

    Adrian KempeAnze KopitarDustin Brown

    Tanner PearsonTrevor LewisTyler Toffoli

    Alex IafalloNick ShoreMarian Gaborik

    Kyle Clifford — Michael Amadio — Jonny Brodzinski

    Derek ForbortDrew Doughty

    Jake MuzzinAlec Martinez

    Kevin Gravel — Christian Folin

    Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick