Tag: Alex Ovechkin

Washington Capitals v New Jersey Devils

Capitals’ biggest question: Is this finally the year?


Of the 12 NHL teams that have never won the Stanley Cup, there may not be a more optimistic one heading into 2015-16 than the Washington Capitals. 

Here’s why:

— Alex Ovechkin just won his third straight Rocket Richard Trophy. At 29, he remains the NHL’s most dangerous goal-scorer. On top of that, the Caps appear to have found the right coach for the Russian superstar in Barry Trotz.

— The Caps also appear to have found a second-line center in young Evgeny Kuznetsov. If the 23-year-old continues to progress — and there’s no good reason he shouldn’t — Washington could have quite the 1-2 combo at center in Nicklas Backstrom and Kuznetsov.

— Defenseman John Carlson is emerging as one of the top blue-liners in the NHL. And at 25, he may get even better.

— Goalie Braden Holtby continues to post strong numbers. His .923 save percentage last season was tied with Pekka Rinne and one point better than Tuukka Rask.

Now throw in the additions of veterans T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams to go with youngsters Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky and Tom Wilson, and what emerges is a roster where a glaring weakness is pretty tough to find.

OK, sure, there are concerns. Like maybe the Caps will miss Mike Green more than they think. Ditto for Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer and/or Eric Fehr. If Washington’s young players don’t step up next season, it’s hard to picture this team hoisting the Cup.

But that’s true of any team, really.

“I’d say the next three or four years is the window,” GM Brian MacLellan said in May.

Given how quickly the landscape of a young man’s league can change, it may turn out to be a shorter window than that.

The Caps have a real opportunity in 2015-16. Can they finally get it done?

Related: Green calls this year’s Caps ‘the best team we’ve had overall’

Looking to make the leap: Tom Wilson

New York Islanders v Washington Capitals - Game Two

The numbers from Tom Wilson’s first two seasons in Washington pretty much explain his role.

Hits: 402

Penalty minutes: 323

Fights: 26

Goals: 7

While Wilson’s been effective as the energy-slash-enforcer guy, it’s probably not the role most imagined when the Caps made him the 16th overall pick in 2012. Taken ahead of the likes of Tomas Hertl and Teuvo Teravainen, the big-bodied Wilson — 6-foot-4, 210 pounds — should be able to do more.

Just ask his head coach.

“Willie is one of my favorites,” Barry Trotz told the Washington Post this offseason. “I think he’s got a great upside, but at the same time I don’t see him as a fourth line winger for the Washington Capitals.

“To me, he’s better than that.”

Wilson has appeared in plenty of games — only four players from his draft class have been in more — but hasn’t really played all that much, averaging 7:56 per game in his rookie year, then 10:56 as a sophomore, all of it in a predominantly fourth-line role. Part of that is age, having just turned 21 in March, and part of that stems from ex-head coach Adam Oates, who thrust Wilson into the muscle role to compensate for what he saw as a lack of team toughness.

Trotz, though, sees something more.

He gave Wilson top-line minutes last year alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and while the promotion was brief, it provided insight into what Trotz thinks of Wilson’s potential — a big-bodied power forward that can physically punish opponents and produce offensively.

“My goal will be pretty simple with Tom,” Trotz said, per CSN Washington. “Tom needs to elevate his game. We’ll talk about all those areas of where he can and how he’s going to do it and where we see him needing to get to.”

But is this the year it happens?

There is competition for top-six minutes, especially at wing. Washington’s added some veteran talent in Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie, meaning Wilson, a pending RFA, may not get a shot at his breakthrough until 2016-17.

Or perhaps beyond.

“We want to get Wilson more ice time next year. We need to bump him,” Caps GM Brian MacLellan said. “Maybe not next year, but the year after, we have to turn him into a top-six forward.

“We just need him making more plays, doing more with the puck, contributing offensively, and I think we can get that out of him.”

It’s Washington Capitals day at PHT

Alex Ovechkin

For the most part, Washington’s ’14-15 campaign was a success.

Under new head coach Barry Trotz, the Caps had 45 wins, 101 points, got back into the playoffs and won a series for the first time in three years.

All good things.

But in the end, success was fleeting. Once again, Washington lost a Game 7 to the Rangers — for the third time in four seasons — and, once again, Washington failed to get past Round 2 (for the 17th straight year). That rekindled talk of the Caps’ inability to come through in the clutch and, subsequently, talk of Alex Ovechkin’s inability to come through in the clutch.

In the end, though, you’d have to say the positives in Washington outweighed the negatives, thanks in large part to quality individual efforts.

Ovechkin had his highest goalscoring season in six years, netting 53 en route to winning the Maurice Richard Trophy. No. 1 goalie Braden Holtby posted career-highs across the board and narrowly missed out on being a Vezina finalist. John Carlson finished fifth in the NHL in d-man scoring, and top-10 in Norris voting.

Combine those with the growth shown by youngsters Evgeni Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky, and the year — even though it ended in disappointment — could be seen as a stepping stone to a brighter ’15-16.

Off-season recap

GM Brian MacLellan made some pretty aggressive moves this summer, specifically at wing. Former Conn Smythe winner Justin Williams was added in free agency and then, in a bit of a stunner, U.S. Olympic hero T.J. Oshie was acquired from St. Louis.

The team’s objective, MacLellan revealed early in the process, was to find right wingers capable of playing on the top line (next to Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom) and the second unit (next to Kuznetsov and Burakovsky).

So, mission accomplished — though it didn’t come without a price.

Washington lost a trio of veteran forwards this summer: Troy Brouwer was sent to the Blues in the Oshie deal, Eric Fehr signed in Pittsburgh, and Joel Ward inked with the Sharks. Longtime blueliner Mike Green also left in free agency, as did trade deadline pickups Tim Gleason and Curtis Glencross.

Those departures were partly due to the price of the aforementioned acquisitions, but also because MacLellan had some big-ticket players in house that needed new contracts.

Chief among those was Holtby, who was rewarded for his banner season with a big five-year, $30.5M extension. Significant money was also spent elsewhere: Kuznetsov was given $6M over two years, Marcus Johansson $3.75M over one (by way of arbitration), and checking forward Jay Beagle $5.25M over three.

At the draft, the Caps were relatively quiet with just four picks, though did raise some eyebrows by picking highly-touted Russian goalie Ilya Samsonov with their top selection, at No. 22 overall.

Ovechkin will ‘definitely’ go to South Korea for 2018 Winter Olympics

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 12 - Finland v Russia

Alex Ovechkin is vowing to represent Russia at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, whether the NHL commits to sending players or not.

“The same situation was with the [2014] Sochi Games, they said NHL could not be allowed to come,” Ovechkin told reporters Wednesday, per Russian News Agency TASS. “I hope the sides will reach an agreement.”

Ovechkin added, “Anyway, I and other players will definitely come [to the Olympics in 2018].”

He made the same vow prior to the 2014 Olympics. 

A deal to send NHLers to Sochi wasn’t reached until July of 2013, less than a year before the Games began.

Given how things went for Russia in 2014, it should come as no surprise that Ovechkin is desperate for another shot at Olympic glory.

Related: Donald Fehr says players want to be in both Olympics, World Cup

Quick: Pacioretty is ‘the most underrated player’

Max Pacioretty

Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick wrote the second part of his Elite Snipers 101 article and while it’s a great read from start to finish, his take on Montreal forward Max Pacioretty is perhaps what stands out the most.

Per The Players’ Tribune:

When I think of Max, I think of the most underrated player in the NHL. Only three players have scored more goals than him over the past three seasons — and these aren’t all pretty power play goals. Most of his goals come in 5-on-5 situations where space is tight, and I know he had 10 game-winners last season. Max is similar to Tavares in the way he works in dirty areas. It blows my mind that he’s not talked about more because he’s such a great scorer.

Fair enough, so let’s talk about him a bit.

First off, to Quick’s point: He is of course correct that there are just three players that have netted more goals than Pacioretty over the last three seasons: Alex Ovechkin (136), Steven Stamkos (97), and Joe Pavelski (94). Pacioretty is tied with Perry for fourth place with 91 markers over that span. Granted, Perry has played in five fewer games, but if that’s going to be brought up, then the fact that Pavelski has participated in 15 more contests than Pacioretty has to be raised as well.

Quick also brought up power-play goals and sure enough just 21 of Pacioretty’s 91 markers have been scored with the man advantage, which is significantly less than the players ahead of him. Still, if you want to just look at five-on-five markers over the last three seasons, then Pacioretty’s still tied for fourth place with 55, it’s just that now it’s Rick Nash (64), Perry (62), and Ovechkin (56) ahead of him.

Whatever method you’re using though, it’s clear that Pacioretty is one of the top snipers in the game today, but if he’s not as popular a subject as some of the other players that have been roughly as productive as him, then perhaps there’s a simple explanation. Unlike Ovechkin, Stamkos, Nash, or Perry, the Canadiens forward hasn’t had a monster campaign yet. He’s around their level in terms of overall production because he’s been consistently great in recent seasons, but he hasn’t finished in the top-three in goals yet or being a major contender for the Hart Trophy. Pacioretty also hasn’t made his mark in a playoff run yet.

That’s a theory at least, but it doesn’t take anything away from him. Meanwhile, Montreal has him at a $4.5 million annual cap hit through 2018-19 while Pavelski is at $6 million through 2018-19, Stamkos has one campaign left at $7.5 million, Perry is at roughly $8.6 million through 2020-21, and Ovechkin is at about $9.5 million through 2020-21.