Alex Ovechkin

Caps GM doesn’t fear possible arbitration for Holtby, Johansson

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“If you’ve got to go to arb, you’ve got to go to arb.”

No, that’s not a new slogan for fast food roast beef. Instead, it’s the amusing phrasing Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan used as he projected comfort with the possibility of Braden Holtby and Marcus Johansson going to salary arbitration, according to the Washington Post.

“I think we’ve made an aggressive offer with Holtby, hoping to get it done sooner than later,” MacLellan said. “I like what we’ve offered. We’ve offered a term deal with a good salary. The total dollars is pretty significant. Unfortunately, I guess you play it out. If you’ve got to go to arb, you’ve got to go to arb. It’s part of the process.”

The Washington Post notes that MacLellan described his offer to Johansson as “competitive.” Does that rank a little lower on the scale of negotiations than “aggressive,” though?

Contract talks don’t really go through the sometimes-tense arbitration process very often any longer. Each case would be fascinating if they made it that far, however.

A quick look at each RFA

Holtby is obviously the bigger name of the two, and with good reason after a breakout year.

The 25-year-old’s career numbers look excellent (especially an impressive .921 save percentage), and he really made an impression in 2014-15, going 41-20-10 with nine shutouts and a .923 save percentage. While his resume isn’t enormous – 73 of his 178 games played came this past season – his stats argue for a hefty raise from his bargain $1.85 million cap hit.

Johansson, 24, would be an interesting consideration in his own right, though.

The Swedish forward set career-highs with 20 goals and 47 points last season; he didn’t look out of place when he joined the Caps’ top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, either.

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Washington boasts about $10.9 million in cap space, but those two could eat a huge chunk of that breathing room. It sounds like MacLellan isn’t sweating the situation too much, though (at least publicly).

After winning 2C audition, Kuznetsov aiming to ‘play better’

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Less than a year ago, the Washington Capitals had no idea who would be their second-line center.

They know now.

It’s Evgeny Kuznetsov, the talented 23-year-old Russian who just signed a two-year extension with the club.

“I played good hockey but I have to play better,” Kuznetsov said, per CSN Washington. “I’ll try to focus on my game and what the coach tells me. If everybody does the right job probably something good will happen.”

Next season, the Caps could have a first line comprised of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, and a second line featuring Kuznetsov between Andre Burakovsky and Justin Williams.

“[Kuznetsov] filled a hole at second-line center that we’ve been trying to fill for a number of years,” Caps general manager Brian MacLellan said in May.

With a defense headlined by John Carlson and Matt Niskanen, and with Braden Holtby in goal, you’ll excuse Caps fans for finding it difficult to contain their excitement.

Related: Caps landing ‘affordable’ Williams a sign of the new free agency

Sharks sign Joel Ward to three-year deal

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The San Jose Sharks have signed unrestricted free agent forward Joel Ward to a three-year contract, the club announced Friday.

The 34-year-old Ward spent the last four seasons with the Washington Capitals. This past season, he scored 19 goals and 34 points in 82 regular season games and three goals and nine points in 14 playoff games.

His nine post-season points put him in a tie with Alex Ovechkin for the team lead in that category.

“Joel is a quality veteran player who can score but also plays an extremely hard-nosed brand of hockey,” said general manager Doug Wilson in a statement. “He meshes well with our core group of forwards and has a strong track record of playing his best hockey at crucial times of the season.”

“Joel is an identity player in that he plays exactly the way I want our team to play,” added Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer. “He’s big, strong, fast and hard to play against. That’s exactly what we are looking for.”

Related: UFA of the Day: Joel Ward

Is it too early to get excited about Crosby vs. Ovechkin again?

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Yes, we’ve been in this spot before.

For all the star power that the NHL boasts outside of Pittsburgh and Washington, it’s difficult to resist the siren call of a spike in the Sidney Crosby – Alex Ovechkin rivalry. It’s perfectly plausible that we’ll never get a sequel to that memorable 2009 playoff series.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s be honest: it’s been a while since the Penguins and Capitals were in a better position collectively to pull this off.

Serious firepower

It’s still strange to picture Phil Kessel in a Penguins uniform, firing home well-placed passes from Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin … but would it be that outrageous to imagine Kessel chasing Ovechkin in the Maurice Richard race now? As excited as Crosby and Malkin seem to be about the acquisition, Kessel and hockey fans should be especially thrilled.

Here’s the wrinkle that makes things even more fun: while the Penguins added the biggest name, Washington’s moves likely provide the Capitals with a deeper array of weapons.

Beyond the obvious in Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps now combine seasoned newcomers (Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie) with promising youngsters (Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky) to form a frightening forward group.

Hockey’s a team sport, and Crosby – Ovechkin can only be so riveting on their own … so how about Crosby, Malkin, Kessel and Kris Letang vs. Ovechkin, Backstrom, Williams, Oshie and Washington’s bevvy of pricey blueliners? Yeah, that sounds like appointment viewing.

While they’re still young

NHL TV Awards Show
via Getty Images

As strange as it sounds, the window might be closing on this rivalry, at least as a true showcase of two players who are seriously considered two of the best alive.*

Ovechkin will turn 30 on Sept. 17, and his hair is already looking a little grayer these days. Crosby turns 28 in August and people are already wondering if he’s starting to slow down.

No, the Penguins and Capitals haven’t totally mortgaged their futures this summer, yet the complexion of each franchise changed in some resounding ways in the past few days. You never know what might happen – we’ve been fooled before – but it’s tough not to picture an epic 2016 playoff series between these two players (and teams).

If nothing else, it’s fun to think about.

* – One could quibble about where the two rank among the elite, but they’re at least up there, right?

Oshie on trade from St. Louis: ‘Changes had to be made’

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With back-to-back first round playoff exits and the St. Louis Blues retaining its coaching staff, T.J. Oshie expected changes to the roster.

Oshie was dealt to the Washington Capitals on Thursday as part of a four-player trade.

“I felt like it was a very good possibility,” Oshie said. “I did feel with the players in that locker room that we were falling short, but that if we went back with the same team we would’ve done a good job and hopefully learned from some of our mistakes.

“After I found out that (Ken Hitchcock) was coming back, I figured there would be at least one or two moves that (GM Doug Armstrong) would want to make.”

Despite expecting change, Oshie thought the window on him being moved had passed.

“I thought something would possibly happen in the draft,” he said. “As a couple days passed, I just figured that I’d be staying in St. Louis. Got a call from Armstrong today, and my initial reaction was a little bit of shock even though I knew it was a possibility. Then after a few minutes, I started getting excited and actually really excited to go on to the next chapter of my career.”

Originally a first round pick of the Blues (24th overall in 2005), Oshie appeared in 443 regular season games with St. Louis scoring 110 goals and 310 points.

During the 10-minute conference call, Oshie also addressed his comments following the Blues’ 4-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on March 30. He had returned to the lineup after missing one game due to the flu.

Here’s what Oshie had to say via Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Dispatch back in March:

“I didn’t think the flu would be good for me,” he said, “but coming back in tonight and not having to sit through all the meetings and same old practices, it really felt good to get out there. I was excited again to do something as simple as change well for the next guy coming out.

“I can’t put one finger on it. I’ll just say it was nice for me coming in tonight. I was mentally fresh. Physically, I didn’t feel my best, but I think I was so sharp our there that my game looked a lot faster.”

On Monday morning, Oshie, when asked about the possibility of the Blues clinching, had joked, “We’ve got enough to focus on with Hitch’s video.”

The 28-year-old said on Thursday that he felt those comments were made into a bigger deal.

“I expected big things out of myself. I think the fans did as well,” he said. “There’s a lot of disappointment after the way we lost out. I feel like the media blew out of proportion the thing that I said about being refreshed after I missed (time) cause of the flu. I think fans thought that me and Hitch had a bad relationship or something like that. Changes had to be made.

“I couldn’t be more excited about going to Washington.”

With the trade to Washington, Oshie is looking forward to the possibility of playing alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

“It would be something I’ve never experienced before,” Oshie said. “I’ve always played with very good players, players that have played in the Olympics, but never players that have put up numbers like those two guys have.

“To get out there with them would be amazing. I’d be excited. I feel kind of like a kid in the candy store playing with that calibre of players.”