Alexander Semin

With Capitals and Sabres in cap crunch, who gets moved to sign restricted free agents?

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With things having quieted down on the free agent front after a wild couple of days, the smoke is starting to clear and some teams are starting to see that their salary cap situations require some attention. Two of the biggest movers this summer have been the Buffalo Sabres and Washington Capitals. With all of those additions made to the roster via trades or signings, it comes at a price where they may have sacrifices to make elsewhere.

According to NHL salary tracking site CapGeek, the Capitals have the highest payroll in the NHL with $63,755,128 spent and the Sabres are second with $62,995,357 gone. The Caps have two important restricted free agents left to get signed while the Sabres have four. With the salary cap set at $64.3 million something’s got to give.

In Washington, they’ve got newly acquired Troy Brouwer and defenseman Karl Alzner still to get signed. While Brouwer’s deal could be inexpensive, Alzner may require a long term deal to keep him locked up. He and defensive partner John Carlson combined to be the Caps best defensive unit last season and with both guys having some offensive touch as well, Alzner’s value to the Caps is high. Who the Caps could find ways around on their roster to get under the cap enough to get them signed, however, isn’t quite so easy.

Checking in with CapGeek again there are some players who could be slotted out to make life easier. The obvious player to pick out is Alexander Semin. Semin will make $6 million next season and the hot and cold play he exhibits during the year and the maddening offensive zone penalties are enough to make any coach crazy. Of course, his offensive abilities are rare and the Capitals need his goal production.

There’s also forward Eric Fehr to consider. Fehr makes $2.2 million against the cap and now has Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer to compete with for essentially the same role on the team. Defenseman Tom Poti has two years left at $2.875 million against the cap on his contract and he’s been injured since last season. The Caps could get him back on to Long Term Injured Reserve to get the cap freedom they’re looking for.

In Buffalo, their answers to the cap fix may start with one they steal from Calgary last season. The Flames were able to send forward Ales Kotalik and his $3 million cap hit to the AHL to get that cap hit off the books. With the forward positions all spoken for with 13 forwards under contract, they may need Kotalik at the NHL level, but with three important defensemen (Andrej Sekera, Mike Weber, and Marc-Andre Gragnani) and a backup goalie (Jhonas Enroth) to get signed, sacrificing Kotalik may be needed. Forward Jochen Hecht and his $3.525 salary could also be someone to point to to be moved. Perhaps not necessarily to the AHL but to another team in need of a solid depth forward.

The more sneaky move for Buffalo to get their three defensemen signed could be to move a guy that’s already established. Shaone Morrisonn ($2.075 million) or Jordan Leopold (two years, $3 million per) could be attractive to other teams as a trade possibility and while Darcy Regier likely favors keeping Leopold, with Sekera and Weber waiting to be signed, they could make Morrisonn irrelevant.

For both general managers George McPhee and Darcy Regier, they’ve got tough decisions ahead and that’s all part of their job. It’s never personal when moves get made for clearing cap space, it’s always business. That might not mean much to the players that have to face the salary cap wrath, but if this summer has taught us anything it’s that the business cuts hard both ways.

Video: Drouin equalizes, but Rust strikes again 30 seconds later

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Bryan Rust is really having himself a series.

After opening the scoring in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Rust took matters into his own hands after Jonathan Drouin evened the score for Tampa Bay, notching his second goal of the game — just 30 seconds after Drouin scored — to put Pittsburgh back out in front, 2-1.

Before digging into the Rust goal (posted above), let’s take a moment to appreciate Drouin’s snipe, one that whizzed by Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray:

Now, back to Rust.

With that second goal he’s now racked up eight points for the playoffs, just three back of the 11 he put up over the course of the entire regular season. The former Notre Dame standout has become a major storyline, and now sits tied with Patric Hornqvist for the team lead in even-strength playoff goals.

Not bad for a guy that spent a fair chunk of the year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, eh?

Video: Rust opens scoring in Game 7

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What an Eastern Conference Final for Bryan Rust.

Rust scored his second goal of the series — and third point in as many games — to open the scoring on Friday night, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead over the Lighting at Consol.

After scoring just 11 points during the regular season, Rust — in just his second season at the NHL level — now has seven points in 16 playoff games, and has emerged as a vital bottom-six contributor in the process.

Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin notched assists on Rust’s goal, which came early in the second period. The Pens out-shot the Bolts 8-5 in the first period, but were unable to get one past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Oh, and speaking of Kunitz, he’s also produced extremely well in this series — he now has six points in his last five games.

Shock of Lightning: Stamkos will play

Steven Stamkos
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He’s in.

As if Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final couldn’t get any more dramatic, it has — Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who hasn’t played since Mar. 31, will make his playoff debut against the Penguins tonight.

Stamkos underwent vascular surgery in early April to correct a blood clotting issue, and has remained on blood thinners ever since. While there’s been no confirmation he’s off medication, he did tell Sportsnet he’d be able to return to the lineup once he was.

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Stamkos reiterated that he’s still on the same prescription of blood thinners he was given earlier this month. He takes a 12-hour dosage, twice a day, and it has been suggested to him that once he is cleared to stop taking the medication, Stamkos conceivably could return to the Lightning lineup almost immediately.

That’s why I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said.

Per NHL.com, Stamkos took the warmup and participated in line rushes centering Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan.

It’s been exactly eight weeks since Stamkos played his last game. At the time of his diagnosis, the Lightning said his timetable for recovery was 1-3 months.

To say his return will be a boost is a major understatement. Aside from the emotional factor, Stamkos led the Bolts in goals this year, with 36, and would presumably spark a power play that’s gone just 2-for-12 in the series.

 

Drama builds as Stamkos takes Game 7 warmup

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 26, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Lightning shutout the Devils 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Steve Stamkos took the team bus to tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7 in Pittsburgh. As TVA noted, it was the first time he’s arrived early for a game in these playoffs.

In his pregame presser, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper refused to answer any questions about Stamkos’ availability.

And then Stamkos took the warmup.

As such, the drama surrounding Tampa Bay’s captain has reached an all-time high. Stamkos, who’s been out of the lineup since early April due to blood clots, looks as though he’s on the verge of an emotional comeback as the Lightning try to win an ECF Game 7 — on the road — for a second consecutive season.

“If Stamkos is in the lineup, it’s our best foot forward,” Cooper said. “If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because he wasn’t eligible to play.”

No word if No. 91 is still on the blood thinning medication he’s been taking since undergoing vascular surgery on Apr. 4.

Stay tuned…