Caps GM shares position that tops his UFA shopping list

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Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan already made some interesting comments about free agents who might leave town, but what about players who might join the fold?

The still-fairly-new-GM shared some interesting thoughts on the development of forwards such as Tom Wilson (he’s hoping to see the brutish winger become a top-six guy some day) and Andre Burakovsky, yet the position that tops his free-agent shopping list is awfully interesting. As he told the Washington Post’s Alex Prewitt, the Capitals are hoping to sign a first-line right wing.

Capitals fans are all-too-familiar with a revolving cast of linemates for the dynamic duo of Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. It’s actually been a theme even before the Capitals changed their management combo.

Sometimes, the Capitals have rolled with a power forward-type such as Joel Ward or Wilson. Other times, a “finesse” player would compliment them, such as Burakovsky or Marcus Johansson. (These “With or Without You” stats show how erratic things got for Ovechkin + Backstrom.)

Naturally, there are plenty of questions that arise, including “are you sure there’s even a suitable right win out there?” As you can see from this list, the choices fall off fast after Justin Williams and Martin St. Louis, two players who could conceivably stick with their current teams.

Still, plenty of things can change, and you can’t blame MacLellan for pointing out an obvious hope.

Speaking of hoping, Japers’ Rink did an amusing job of cobbling together Prewitt’s findings into what would seem to be MacLellan’s ideal top-six scenario:

Oh man, Dude Not On Roster can play.

What’s next for Ovechkin?

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It happened again; the Washington Capitals fostered high hopes, but Alex Ovechkin & Co. fell short of the conference finals.

That doesn’t mean he’s getting the same heat he once did for a playoff exit, however. Mike Milbury and Keith Jones believe that he didn’t have the same burst in Game 7, yet they acknowledged his hard work, as many others have:

(Meanwhile, Capitals head coach Barry Trotz was downright effusive about his high opinion of the work from Ovechkin and Washington’s other top players.)

Perhaps deep down it’s all about the humanizing affect of some gray hairs?

Will the returns diminish?

Of course, that graying hair brings up a troubling question: what if Ovechkin’s best days are behind him?

He’ll turn 30 during the offseason, and as blogger-turned-front-office-employee Eric Tulsky once pointed out, things tend to really slide when you pass the big three-oh:

In addition, we now have an estimate of how even strength scoring ability changes through a player’s 30’s. On average, players retain about 90% of their scoring through age 29, but the drop from there is pretty sharp — they hit 80% at age 31, 70% at age 32-33, and 60% at age 35.

The easy counter is that Ovechkin isn’t like other snipers.

He’s a special player who could very well live off of his ridiculous power-play shooting. Then again, there’s also the wear-and-tear of being one of the most physical star forwards of his generation. It’s estimated that Ovechkin has thrown 1,224 hits since 2009-10; that’s a ton of extra collisions, even if his opponent received the brunt of the impact in every instance. His reckless style might lose some of its appeal as he goes grayer.

What we know happens next and what we don’t

For one thing, it’s clear there will be no rest for the weary:

That might be a bit challenging for a guy who seemed spent after Game 7:

Anyway, the biggest question marks revolve around the makeup of a Capitals team that may look very different in 2015-16. The impression is that one or more of key free agents such as Joel Ward and Mike Green may not return. It’s also clear that RFA Braden Holtby’s impending raise could make Washington’s estimated $21 million in cap space look like an illusion.

As much as Barry Trotz may request even more defensive prowess, Washington would be wise to focus on giving Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom a little more support. Just look at the drop-off in production after those two:

2013-14:

Ovechkin – 79 points
Backstrom – 79 points
Joel Ward – 49 points
Marcus Johansson – 44 points
Troy Brouwer – 43 points

2014-15:

Ovechkin – 81 points
Backstrom – 78 points
John Carlson – 55 points
Johansson – 47 points
Mike Green – 45 points

It’s plausible that Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov might make big strides next season, but one could argue that the Caps should still shop for more offensive help.

***

Long story short, Ovechkin is likely to remain a star for some time, yet Washington has to hope that he defies broader stats about snipers falling sharply after they turn 30. It should be fascinating to see if all the talk about growth ends up being justified, especially for “The Great Eight.”

Video: Brooks Orpik levels Dan Boyle

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Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik has a reputation for landing bone-rattling hits. He did so against New York Rangers blueliner Dan Boyle during the third period of Game 7.

More than a few people believe Orpik should have received an elbowing or roughing penalty for the huge check, but there was no whistle:

Here’s the hit in GIF form:

It’s been a tough series for Boyle, who was shaken up by a Nicklas Backstrom hit just moments before the Capitals beat the buzzer to win Game 1:

Apparently Rick Nash isn’t happy about that hit:

Fehr replaces Glencross in Caps’ Game 7 lineup

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With their season on the line, the Washington Capitals are favoring a familiar face over a trade deadline find. Eric Fehr steps back in the Caps’ lineup in place of Curtis Glencross against the New York Rangers in Game 7.

Fehr, 29, has missed the past 10 games. He hasn’t scored in the three playoff contests he appeared in, but he showed decent scoring punch during the regular season, with 19 goals (including four game-winners) in 75 games.

Fehr also had 14 assists for a total of 33 points.

He’s a big body who’s currently slotted in a lower line combination, yet he’s shown a decent amount of aptitude skating with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom when given the opportunity.

Glencross, 32, has been quiet during the playoffs, managing a single goal in 10 games. He hasn’t really produced many chances, either, with just 14 shots on goal.

On paper, this is a minor swap, but you never know when a bit player might steal the spotlight.

Joel Ward doesn’t believe in ‘clutch’

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Tonight is a DEFINING MOMENT for Alex Ovechkin. He needs to STEP UP and be a GAME-CHANGER. If he’s really the greatest goal-scorer of his generation, he needs to PROVE IT.

Hands up if you’ve heard something along those lines the past couple of days.

Perhaps on PHT!

Over to Ovechkin’s teammate, Joel Ward, with the rebuttal.

“People talk and debate about it. I get it. I’m just trying to tell you: Hockey’s not that game,” Ward said, per the Washington Post. “People don’t understand, the sport of hockey is a different beast compared to other sports. You can’t just throw that deep ball in the corner, and it’s up to you to just go and grab it. Things happen. You make a pass, it banks off the boards differently, it goes off a guy’s skate, bounces over there. There’s a lot of variables that go into it. … Hockey is the ultimate beast, man. It’s a crazy sport.”

Indeed it is. Here’s how author Michael J. Mauboussin ranks the randomness of hockey compared to other sports:

source:

 

This isn’t to make excuses for Ovechkin before the game is even played. He obviously needs to play well.

But even if he plays well and does all the right things, he might not score and the Capitals might not win. That’s just the reality of the game. Especially these days. It’s why you hear stuff like this from the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh:

And it’s why coaches focus on process over results. The process can be controlled. The results, for the most part, can’t.

“Obviously we’d like to score and produce out there,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “I think we had some good looks last game that we should have put in. But we’ve just got to keep working hard and play the right way and hopefully it will help us.”

Hopefully.

Maybe.