What will Capitals roster look like next season?

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The Washington Capitals have been the Stanley Cup Champions for a few hours, which means it’s time for us to move on to next season (that’s just what we do). Anytime a team wins a championship, their roster goes through some changes because they can’t afford to keep everyone under the salary cap. It won’t be any different for the Caps.

Let’s begin by mentioning that this team already lost Marcus Johansson (trade), Justin Williams (free agency), Nate Schmidt (expansion draft) and Karl Alzner (free agency) last season. That’s a significant chunk of the roster that they simply couldn’t keep around heading into 2017-18.

This summer should be an interesting one for the Caps, as they have some key contracts to settle. We know that Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov are all locked up, but number one defenseman John Carlson is the biggest name that might be on his way out the door on July 1st.

Defense

This was the final year of Carlson’s contract that paid him a shade under $4 million per season. To keep him in Washington, the Capitals will likely have to shell out close to double that amount. After all, the 28-year-old is coming off a season in which he scored 15 goals and an incredible 68 points in 82 contests. He picked up another 20 points in 24 games during the postseason. Carlson also ate up some big minutes throughout the year, as he averaged 24:47 in the regular season and 25:38 in the playoffs.

He’s also shown that he can take a solid defense partner like Karl Alzner or Michal Kempny and turn them into something more (Alzner struggled mightily without him this year). Clearly, Carlson has to be the top priority for Washington GM Brian MacLellan heading into the off-season.

The Caps have $63.78 million committed to the cap next season. If reports suggesting the cap will jump to anywhere between $78-82 million, they’ll have the money to get it done. The issue, is that they only have 10 forwards and four defensemen under contract, so they still have to fill out a roster.

If they can bring Carlson back, they’ll have to find someone to play alongside him on the top pairing. Kempny had a strong postseason there, but how much will it cost to bring him back into the fold, and is that the type player they want playing that role for 82 games? Kempny, 27, made $900,000 this year. He can probably expect a raise based on his performance in the playoffs. Fellow free agent Jakub Jerabek may or may not be back. He was a healthy scratch for the final 22 games of Washington’s postseason run, anyway. And RFA Madison Bowey will also factor into the mix at some point.

Goalies

Things will also get interesting between the pipes. Braden Holtby struggled at times throughout the season, but he managed to find his game at the perfect moment. Holtby isn’t going anywhere. He has two years remaining on a contract that pays him $6.1 million per year and the Caps will likely look to extend him as soon as he’s eligible to sign a new contract on July 1st, 2019.

But backup netminder Philipp Grubauer is likely on his way out of Washington. Earlier this week, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported that the Islanders and Hurricanes were both interested in acquiring the 26-year-old. He’ll never be the full-time starter in Washington, so this could be his chance to become a number one goalie in the NHL. Also, re-signing a quality goaltender to be a backup will likely cost the Caps more than they’re willing to spend on that position.

The Caps could use Pheonix Copley as a backup until top prospect Ilya Samsonov is ready for the NHL, but what happens if Holtby struggles again? Grubauer stepped up in a big way when Holtby couldn’t find his game. They may not be able to survive another subpar season from their starter next year.

Forwards

The shake up with the forwards will likely be a lot less eventful. As we mentioned before, Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Lars Eller and Andrei Burakovsky are all under contract. Some of the regulars that need new contracts are: Devante Smith-Pelly (RFA), Tom Wilson (RFA) and Jay Beagle (UFA).

Smith-Pelly, who emerged as a playoff hero, only made $650,000 last season. If they want to keep him, they’ll have to give him a slight raise (something in the 1.2 to 1.5 million range, maybe?).

Having Beagle as a fourth-line center is an incredible luxury, as he’s able to win faceoffs and kill penalties at a high level. But those are services that another NHL team might overpay for come July 1st, which means the Caps might have to look elsewhere for that type of player. Beagle is useful, but replacing him shouldn’t keep MacLellan up at night.

The interesting deal will be Wilson’s. There’s no doubt that they’re going to keep him because after all, he skated on a line with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov in the playoffs. The AAV on his next contract will be intriguing to say the least. The 24-year-old chipped in with a respectable 14 goals and 35 points 78 games, but he brings much more to the table than just points. His ability to bring a physical element to the game is also valuable. Wilson is coming off a two-year deal worth a total of $4 million. Don’t be surprised if his next cap number is in the $3.5-$4 million range.

Coach

And we can’t forget that head coach Barry Trotz is another key free agent. The Caps rolled the dice by not extending him during the season, so bringing him back will cost them more than it would have a few months ago, but that likely won’t matter to them now.

MacLellan has a ton of work to do if he wants to make sure the Caps are legitimate contenders again next season, but he can probably just enjoy his team’s Stanley Cup triumph for the next few days.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Ovechkin to play role of NHL ambassador in China

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Alex Ovechkin will be taking a week away from his summer break to play a different kind of role in the NHL next month.

Ovi is heading to China as the NHL’s international ambassador on the week of Aug. 4. He will travel to Bejing, China’s capital, a trip that will include the Russian superstar holding youth hockey clinics, a media tour and business development meetings.

“It is a huge honor for me to be an ambassador for the entire Washington Capitals organization and the National Hockey League for this special trip to China,” Ovechkin said in a release from the Caps. “I think it is very important to spend time to help make people all over the world see how great a game hockey is. I can’t wait to spend time with all the hockey fans there and I hope to meet young kids who will be future NHL players. I can’t wait for this trip!”

The NHL continues to try and grow the game at the international level in places traditionally not hotbeds for hockey.

China has been seeing a lot of the NHL over the past three seasons. Although no preseason games are scheduled for the 2019-20 season, the NHL has played a total of four since 2017, with the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks contesting two games in 2017-18 and the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames playing the other two prior to last season.

The Stanley Cup found its way to the country for the first time last September, as well.

“We are very excited that Alex Ovechkin will be joining us in China this summer,” said David Proper, NHL Executive Vice President of Media and International Strategy. “Alex represents the best in sports, as he epitomizes that combination of great talent, great personality and great sportsmanship. He is the perfect person to represent the NHL’s efforts to grow hockey in China.”

China, with a population of over 1.3 billion, expects to expand its participation in winter sports, including hockey, to 300 million people by 2022.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Report: Police say Greg Johnson’s death an apparent suicide

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DETROIT (AP) — A police report says the death of former Nashville Predators captain Greg Johnson was an apparent suicide, according to the Detroit News.

The paper said Wednesday it had obtained a Rochester Police report, and that Johnson was found by his wife shortly before 10 a.m. on July 7. A gun and a single bullet were found near him. No suicide note was left.

The Oakland County Medical Examiner declined to discuss findings from an autopsy, according to the paper.

Johnson was with Nashville for the franchise’s first season in the league. He spent the last seven years of his career with the Predators. He also played for Detroit, Pittsburgh and Chicago during his 12 years in the NHL.

The Detroit News said Johnson’s agent, Tom Laidlaw, declined to discuss the specifics surrounding the former player’s death. Johnson was 48.

PHT Morning Skate: Penguins need summer miracle again; Devils begin new chapter

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Pens need to make another mid-summer magical change. (Pensburgh)

• Maple Leafs almost certain to lose any trade involving Mitch Marner. (Editor In Leaf)

Zack Kassian to get his chance to play alongside Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl. (The Hockey Writers)

Ryan Spooner heading to Switzerland next season. (Sportsnet)

• The RFA waiting game for big-name players is the norm now, in Winnipeg and the rest of the NHL. (Winnipeg Sun)

• Each team’s worst contract heading into the 2019-20 season. (Puck Prose)

• Biggest fantasy winners thus far in the offseason. (Yahoo Sports)

• Devils begin a new chapter with additions of Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban. (NHL.com)

• Oft-Overlooked Hurricanes On the Rise. (Featurd)

• The oddsmakers are taking the Colorado Avalanche seriously, and so should you. (The Hockey News)

• NHL Network analyst believes Andre Burakovsky will score ‘a minimum’ of 20 goals next season. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• The Nashville Predators should go all-in and trade for William Nylander. (Pred Lines)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Analyzing the Avalanche after Colorado re-signs J.T. Compher

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The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason continues to come into focus, even as we’re in more of a housekeeping mode, rather than a more exciting time of dramatic renovations.

Earlier, the Avalanche signed intriguing new addition Andre Burakovsky at a bargain $3.25 million rate. While I would’ve been even more excited if the Avalanche would have bought more term, it’s still a nice move, and Burakovsky’s still slated to be an RFA after this one-year re-up expires.

The medium-sized moves continued on Wednesday, with Colorado handing forward J.T. Compher an interesting four-year deal reportedly worth $3.5M per season.

Overall, it’s fairly easy to understand. Compher scored both 16 goals and assists on his way to 32 points last season, despite being limited to 66 games. He quietly logged a lot of minutes (17:29 TOI per game), and had some utility, although the Avalanche might be wise to ease some of his PK duties going forward.

You can dig deeper into certain numbers, or make some tough comparisons, and start to feel not-quite-as-good about Compher’s new contract.

After all, Compher possesses the same contract as now-former teammate Alex Kerfoot, who will carry $3.5M for four seasons with Toronto. On one hand, it’s not as though Colorado necessarily chose to keep Compher over Kerfoot; it’s very plausible that the analytics-savvy Maple Leafs wanted Kerfoot to make that Nazem KadriTyson Barrie deal work, in the first place. On the other hand, the comparisons are natural when you consider their identical deals. Comparing the two using visualizations including Evolving Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) makes this contract look less appealing:

via Evolving Hockey

Compher doesn’t need to equal or exceed Kerfoot’s value to be worth $3.5M per year to the Avalanche, though, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll be fine with this contract.

It does open up an opportunity to ponder where Colorado is, though.

The Avalanche still have a big-ticket item to re-sign, as Mikko Rantanen is one of the many RFAs heading for a big raise alongside the likes of Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. If Colorado can convince Rantanen to sign somewhere in the team-friendly range that the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy with Sebastian Aho, or the borderline insane deal the San Jose Sharks landed with Timo Meier, then Colorado would continue to look like one of the smartest people in the room.

But how many steps have the Avs taken after upsetting the Flames in Round 1 and pushing the Sharks hard in Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey projected next season’s lineup, figuring that Compher will center a third line with two sneaky-good analytics wingers in Colin Wilson and Joonas Donskoi, while Kadri could center a second line with Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky around him.

Losing Kerfoot stings, but on paper, that does seem like a middle-six that could ease some of the burden for that all-world trio of Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s also plausible that the Avs could try to move different pieces around to see if one of MacKinnon or Rantanen could carry their own line, thus diversifying the Avs’ attack.

Yet, with the Central Division continuing to look like a beastly group, it’s tough to say where Colorado fits. Is this team more wild-card material, or will a boosted supporting cast push them to a new level? There’s also the possibility that things don’t work out the same way as they did in 2018-19, from that MacKinnon line slowing to maybe the goaltending falling short.

Whatever value Compher ultimately brings, along with newcomers like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Donskoi, a mild itch for something bolder remains for some of us (I blame the NBA’s run where the West is revolutionized every week, seemingly). At least Avs fans can let their imaginations run wild, as there could be some space left over, even after Rantanen gets paid:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.