Looking to make the leap: Tom Wilson

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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.”

Johansson on brink of big raise, but his role with Caps might decline

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Marcus Johansson had his arbitration hearing today and whatever ruling gets handed down by Friday afternoon, it’s likely to be a substantial boost from his 2014-15 salary of roughly $2.2 million, but will he earn his next sum?

That’s open for debate and it doesn’t have as much to do with Johansson as it does with the changing makeup of the Capitals as Chuck Gormley argued for CSN Washington:

With Ovechkin and Andre Burakovsky slotted as the Caps’ first- and second-line left wings, and T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams slotted as their first- and second-line right wings, Johansson figures to start the season as a third-line left wing with centers Brooks Laich or Jay Beagle and right wing Tom Wilson.

His power-play time (2:55 per game last season, fourth on the club) could also dip because of the additions of Oshie and Williams.

And yet Johansson did record 20 goals and 47 points last season after finishing with 44 points in his previous campaign, so he could very well get somewhat close to his asking price from the arbitrator. Given that, Gormley wondered if the Capitals might end up walking away from Johansson’s contract. They would have the option of doing so provided that the arbitrator’s assigned salary is more than $3.8 million.

Keep in mind that Washington only has about $5 million worth of cap space to begin with and that’s excluding Justin Peters, who will presumably start the 2014-15 campaign in the minors, so the financial flexibility gained from a walk-away would be noteworthy.

At the same time, ending up with nothing in return for Johansson would be a tough pill to swallow. While a contract in the neighbor of $4 million isn’t ideal for someone playing on the third line, he would still have value to Washington in that role.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that Johansson and the Capitals can still agree to terms on their own before the arbitrator’s ruling.

Related: Arbitration looms, but Johansson not worried about future with Caps

Caps hand Chris Brown a two-year, two-way pact

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The Washington Capitals really beefed up on Thursday.

After making the Zac Sill signing official, the team also announced that Chris Brown agreed to a two-year, two-way contract.

Perhaps they’ll need Brown on nights when Sill and/or Tom Wilson need to ice their knuckles?

Brown hasn’t really piled up penalty minutes during his sparse NHL appearances (21 PIM in 22 career NHL games spread out over four seasons, most recently with the Capitals). He wasn’t shy about dropping the gloves last season, getting into six fights in the AHL during the 2014-15 regular season and two preseason bouts at the NHL level.

The 24-year-old showed a dash of scoring ability in the AHL last season, too, with 28 points in 64 contests as a member of the Hershey Bears. Brown also played five games with the Caps in 2014-15, scoring one goal.

Caps sign tough guy Sill to one-year, two-way deal

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Washington has brought in someone to lessen Tom Wilson and Michael Latta’s fight load — Zach Sill, who announced his one-year, two-way deal to the Truro Daily News on Wednesday.

“They came with an offer and it was a good one,” Sill said. “I think there’s a good chance I’ll be able to play there. They have a good strong team and it looks like a good situation to go into.”

The 27-year-old split last season between Pittsburgh and Toronto, finishing with four points in 63 games… and nine fights. Sill’s willingness to drop the gloves should make Washington an even feistier team next year; the Caps were tied for the eighth-most fighting majors (31) last year, thanks in large part to Wilson (who fought 12 times — once against Sill!) and Latta (who fought eight).

No word yet on the financial details of Sill’s deal.

Capitals trot out new third jerseys

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Alex Ovechkin wasn’t just on hand to do some interviews at the 2015 NHL Awards on Tuesday. He also served as a model for the Washington Capitals’ new third jerseys.

Here’s the write-up from Caps PR describing the alternate sweaters, in case “rock the red” doesn’t get the point across:

The primary color for the uniform is red and closely resembles the team’s jersey worn from 1974-75 through 1994-95. The original Capitals wordmark is featured on the front of the jersey with six stars above it and five stars beneath the numbers on each sleeve. The Capitals will wear blue pants and red helmets with their third jerseys. The new third jersey will replace the white third jersey the Capitals wore from 2011-12 to 2014-15.

The new duds certainly won Tom Wilson’s approval:

It sounds like the Capitals haven’t been shy about trying out new looks since Ovechkin came to town:

What do you think, is the red an improvement or should they instead stick with white?

For a full gallery, click here.