Braden Holtby

Ward’s agent makes it (very) clear that Washington is his first choice

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In a strange way, hearing a player’s agent say that his client would prefer returning to a team (rather than testing the free agent waters) is almost a bigger deal than the player saying so himself.

After all, there might be some temptation for said player to “say the right thing,” especially right after the emotional tug-of-war of a playoff series. So, yes, Joel Ward said that he’d like to return to the Washington Capitals a couple weeks ago, yet it’s a bit of an eyebrow-raiser that his agent Peter Cooney confirmed it so forcefully to the Washington Post on Tuesday.

“Washington is his first choice over going to unrestricted free agency,” Cooney said. “We would like to re-sign with Washington and come back. Our door is open for the Capitals, absolutely first and foremost.”

Cooney also said that “we’re not committed to going to unrestricted free agency,” another clear sign that they’d love to hear some offers from Washington between today and July 1.

Of course, after the sort of postseason the 34-year-old enjoyed, a plausible stream of offers could return any leverage lost – perceived or otherwise – from these comments. In some ways, this could put a little pressure on Capitals GM Brian MacLellan, too.

It’s not the simplest situation due to Ward’s age and the Capitals’ branching free agent paths, as the Post considers:

Coming off a starring postseason role in which he tied for the team lead with nine points, facing the end of a four-year deal annually worth $3 million, Ward figures to receive a raise, regardless of his destination. At 34 years old, this could be Ward’s last deal structured longer than two years, and MacLellan already predicted that term length would “be an issue,” provided Ward for asks for a three- or four-year contract, which seems all but certain.

(The article delves into more detail and is worth a read.)

On one hand, the Capitals head into the summer with a lot of cap space – somewhere around $20 million – yet they also have some key players needing new deals. Even beyond UFAs, Braden Holtby is likely to get a beefy raise, even with his restricted status. That pile of cash starts evaporate when you consider the questions MacLellan must eventually answer.

That’s the thing, though: Ward and his agent have made it perfectly clear that the ball is Washington’s court/puck is in their rink.

Related: Ward says he would love to stay in Washington.

PHT Morning Skate: Charitable beards and young Mike Babcock

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Even if you’re one of those cold souls who think that playoff beards are played out – really? – this story should warm your heart a bit: the Washington Capitals’ (copyrighted!) Beard-a-Thon raised more than $30K for the American Special Hockey Association. (Capitals)

Want to get your mind blown a little bit? Check out these photos of young and very young Mike Babcock. (BarDown)

Former WWE star CM Punk’s passion for the Chicago Blackhawks is no secret, but you can find out more about his fandom here. (The Hockey News)

Alex Killorn believes that his mom is more impressed with his degree than his NHL career. Well, it is from Harvard. (Tampa Bay Times)

More on Joel Quenneville’s decision to go with “fresh legs.” (CSNChicago.com)

The “ripple effect” of Babcock’s contract. (Sportsnet)

Clearing the defensive zone might not be so clearly beneficial. (Jen LC)

Free agents ‘going for max dollars’ will ‘hinder our ability to compete,’ says Caps GM

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Washington GM Brian MacLellan has a busy summer ahead.

Veterans Mike Green, Joel Ward, Eric Fehr, Jay Beagle, Tim Gleason and Curtis Glencross are all unrestricted come July 1, while young building blocks like Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Braden Holtby are all pending RFAs in need of new deals.

And this is probably why, during Monday’s end-of-year media availability, MacLellan not-so-subtly hinted that some players might need to take haircuts to stay in D.C.

“I think it’s important for players that they realize we’ve had a successful team,” MacLellan said, per the Washington Post. “If they believe we have a good chance moving forward to win a championship, they recognize that going for max dollars — which you could make the choice to do in certain situations — that it would hinder our ability to compete going forward.”

Johansson, Kutznetsov and Holtby will all be re-signed while Gleason and Glencross are likely done. Beagle and Fehr both sound like priorities, with MacLellan saying Beagle will “be an easier one to sign, I hope.”

Which leaves Green and Ward.

MacLellan’s “max dollars” reference is likely to those two, both of whom could generate significant interest on the open market. Green, who turns 30 in October, is no longer the Norris finalist of five years ago but still a quality offensive d-man; his 45 points this year put him 19th among all NHL blueliners and he remains one of the league’s better table-setters on the power play.

Green’s coming off a deal that paid $6.08M annually and, while it might be tough to get that much this time around, he’s still in the running for a nice payday. On a UFA d-man market that projects to be thin, Green — who’s also a coveted right-hand shot — could make a lot of cash, though he’s on record saying “it’s not about the money,” adding he’d like to remain a Capital “until the day I die or retire.”

“It’s probably going to be a little complicated,” MacLellan said of future Green negotiations. “There’s a lot of moving parts around that. The best thing I think we can do is keep in communication, tell him what we’re thinking, and he can tell us what he’s thinking.

“If it works out, that’d be great, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”

We wrote about Ward’s future last week, after he said he’d “love” to stay in Washington. The 34-year-old just wrapped the last of a four-year, $12 million deal and was full value for his $3M cap hit over the final two seasons. He scored a career-high 24 goals in 2013-14 and potted 19 this year, punctuated by yet another stellar playoff run.

Like Green, Ward could benefit from a relatively weak free agent class. There aren’t many goalscoring wingers available, and very few with Ward’s penchant for scoring in the postseason (Los Angeles’ Justin Williams, another pending UFA, would probably be in a similar scenario to Ward.)

And like with Green, MacLellan is hopeful Ward will be swayed by the positive vibes developed this year under Barry Trotz. You know, the whole we’re-building-something-here-so-take-less-money-to-stay approach.

“In the exit interviews you hear a lot of language of ‘this is the most fun I’ve ever had playing, this is the best team we’ve had, this is the most success we’ve experienced,'” MacLellan explained. “A lot of positive comments, so I’m assuming they all want to come back.”

Trotz: Capitals need to find ‘next level of killer instinct’

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Now that he’s had a chance to reflect on the Washington Capitals’ 3-1 series collapse in the second round, Barry Trotz has been able to put his first season as head coach of the squad into perspective.

He saw some real positives from Washington in 2014-15. Braden Holtby was able to play like an elite goaltender, rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov took big strides forward, and Trotz felt the team’s best players grew as leaders as well.

“I think we didn’t cower from things, we looked things in the face when adversity hit our way,” Trotz told the Washington Post. “We sort of dealt with it head on, and we didn’t make excuses. That’s what I think we learned.”

And yet Washington can’t escape the fact that it once again was unable to reach the Eastern Conference Final. Another year of the Alex Ovechkin has been lost. So additional lessons are required.

“We said, ‘What lessons can we learn?’ ” Trotz said. “If we can learn anything, it’s that we’re still going to have to find that next level of killer instinct. We have a team like the Rangers on the ropes and how this series got there didn’t really matter, but I didn’t think we played as well in a couple of our wins that we did win, and we played quite well in some of our losses. It really doesn’t matter. You still have an opportunity at certain points where if you can knock out a team, you’ve got to find that next level of hardness, killer instinct, whatever. And I think we recognized it.”

Whether they’ll be able to do that remains to be seen, but in the meantime they have some matters to address over the summer. Holtby, Kuznetsov, Nate Schmidt, and Marcus Johansson are all set to become restricted free agents and they also have quite a few players that could potentially walk, including forward Joel Ward and defenseman Mike Green.

Mike Green, a pending UFA, says it’s ‘not about the money’

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Caps fans still holding out hope that Mike Green can be re-signed may be buoyed by what the 29-year-old defenseman had to say today.

“I want to win the Cup,” he said, per the Washington Post’s Alex Prewitt. “It’s not about money.”

Green, a pending unrestricted free agent, has been quite open about his desire to remain with the Capitals.

“My heart is in Washington,” he said in March. “It always will be until something else happens. My focus is here. My focus is winning a championship here and giving that to the fans. As an organization, that’s what we want as a team. I’m a part of that until the day I die or retire.”

Then, in April, Green called this season’s version of the Caps “by far the best team we’ve had overall.”

Alas, Washington fell short again in the playoffs. (Thanks in part to an ill-advised penalty by Green.) And with the Caps already committed to four blue-liners through at least 2016-17 — Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner — unless Green is willing to provide a big discount, it remains hard to see him back next season.

Remember also that new contracts will be needed for pending restricted free agents Braden Holtby, Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov. And the Caps may try to re-sign UFA Joel Ward, too.

We don’t want to read too much into this, but one Capitals player was talking today as if Green would be moving on:

Green had 10 goals and 35 assists in 72 games this season.