What will Capitals roster look like next season?

14 Comments

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.

Darryl Sutter has retired from coaching

Getty
Leave a comment

Afters spending nearly two decades behind an NHL bench as a head coach Darryl Sutter is officially calling it a career.

That is what he recently told Sportsnet’s Eric Francis when the subject of the Washington Capitals’ suddenly vacant coaching spot was brought up.

Combined with his playing career that started in 1978 that is four decades in the NHL, and in Sutter’s mind that is enough.

Via Sportsnet:

“Forty years, that’s enough,” said Sutter, 59, when asked if he’d consider the Washington gig that became vacant when Barry Trotz resigned following this month’s Stanley Cup win.

“No way, I’d be too far away from the grandkids.”

During his coaching career Sutter spent time behind the bench with the Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings, taking the latter two to the Stanley Cup Final. His most successful tenure was definitely his time with the Kings where the team won the Stanley Cup in both 2011-12 and 2013-14.

He most recently coached the Kings during the 2016-17 season, after which he was let go as the organization attempted to retool following its second non-playoff season in a three-year stretch.

Sutter told Francis that he would have listened had the Flames called regarding their coaching vacancy when Glen Gulutzan was recently let go and replaced by former Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters.

At this point, though, he is happy with the life he now has.

Again, from Francis

He now insists following a winter of contemplation there’s no situation that could tempt him to leave his ranch to relocate once again with his wife, Wanda, and son, Chris.

“I love my schedule now – that’s the best way to put it,” he said.

“I enjoy watching the game on TV and I pull for certain players and I’m totally at peace with not coaching.

That’s for sure.”

With 634 wins during his coaching career Sutter ranks 14th on the NHL’s all-time wins list and is one of just 18 coaches to have won the Stanley Cup at least two times. Aside from Sutter, the only coaches with multiple Stanley Cup wins that are not currently in the Hall of Fame are Mike Sullivan and Joel Quenneville (both still active as NHL coaches) and Pete Green and Cecil Ivan, both of whom coached in the 1920s.

As a player, Sutter spent eight seasons as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, scoring 161 goals and 279 points in 406 career games.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Capitals will open 2018 season, raise banner against Bruins on Oct. 3

Getty
3 Comments

Given the rivalry between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, the fact they have met in the playoffs three years in a row, and the way the Capitals were scheduled for the Penguins’ banner raising game at the start of the 2016-17 season it seemed like a natural fit to have the two teams meet in Washington to open the 2018-19 season.

After all, the Capitals finally conquered their postseason demons to win their first Stanley Cup and went through their long-time rivals to make it happen. What better way for them to celebrate than to raise their banner with their long-time rivals in the house?

Nice thought for Capitals fans, but it will not be happening.

On Wednesday, the NHL announced all of the home openers for the 2018-19 season, and while they probably had the right color scheme for the Capitals’ opponent, they ended up picking a different team.

The Capitals announced that their banner raising home opener will take place on Oct. 3 against the Boston Bruins.

 

Just 24 hours later the Capitals will be in Pittsburgh for the second half of a back-to-back to open the Penguins’ season.

The complete NHL schedule will be released on Thursday.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Rasmus Dahlin could provide Buffalo with much-needed boost

Getty
1 Comment

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Former defenseman Mike Weber is all too familiar with the Sabres’ lean years while spending a majority of his eight NHL seasons in Buffalo.

There were high-priced free agents who failed to pan out and one draft-pick bust after another. Weber made the playoffs just twice, with Buffalo eliminated in the first round both times.

And then there was the so-called “tank season” in 2014-15, when Sabres fans openly rooted for the team to finish last for the right to draft either now-Oilers captain, Connor McDavid, or Buffalo’s eventual pick, Jack Eichel.

As it happens, Weber also enjoyed a glimpse into what could well be the Sabres’ more promising future following an eight-week stint with Frolunda, Sweden, last fall. Weber had an opportunity to play alongside defenseman Rasmus Dahlin , the highly touted 18-year-old projected to be selected by Buffalo with the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft on Friday night.

Perhaps, Weber said, things might finally be looking up in Buffalo.

“I really, truly believe you guys are going to be getting a once-in-a-lifetime kind of talent,” said Weber, now an assistant coach with Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League.

“This first overall pick puts a stamp on it, put whatever happened in the past in the past,” he added. “Hopefully, it’s something you guys can look back on at the suffering and rebuilding and tanking and all of this stuff where you can sit there and kind of laugh about it.”

Though “suffering” might be overly dramatic, it resonates in Buffalo because that’s the word former general manager Darcy Regier repeated numerous times during an end-of-season news conference in April 2013 where he braced fans for a top-to-bottom roster overhaul.

Five years, two GMs, four coaches and three last-place finishes later, the Sabres remain stagnant while in the midst of a franchise-worst seven-year playoff drought.

The team has not topped 35 wins in each of the past five years. And forward Ryan O'Reilly closed last season by suggesting a losing culture has crept into the locker room.

Dahlin has the potential of injecting hope in Buffalo with his exceptional skating and play-making abilities. Weber compares Dahlin’s speed to that of Senators captain Erik Karlsson, and shiftiness to former Red Wings star forward Pavel Datsyuk.

“I still bleed blue and gold,” Weber said, referring to Sabres colors. “And the possibility of him being a cornerstone going forward and helping the organization and the city win a championship is pretty special.”

Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman, who maintains a home in suburban Buffalo, can sense the buzz Dahlin has generated.

“Buffalo needs a boost, and the fans have been waiting a long time for it,” Bowman said. “People I know that have had tickets for a long time are excited.”

The Sabres have been in freefall since losing Game 7 of the 2007 Eastern Conference finals to eventual champion Carolina. Some of Buffalo’s bleakest moments:

BLACK SUNDAY

That’s what Sabres fans refer to July 1, 2007, when Buffalo lost co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere in free agency. Days later, rather than losing yet another star, the Sabres matched the Oilers’ qualifying offer to Thomas Vanek by re-signing the forward to a seven-year, $50 million contract. Buffalo has not won a playoff series since.

MONEY FOR NOTHING

In 2011, the Sabres made splashes by acquiring defenseman Robyn Regehr in a trade with Calgary, and signing defenseman Christian Ehrhoff to a 10-year, $40 million contract and forward Ville Leino to a six-year, $27 million deal. Regehr played just 105 games in Buffalo before being traded to Los Angeles. Leino and Ehrhoff played three seasons before the Sabres bought out their contacts.

TRADE WINDS

Former GM Tim Murray’s most significant trade in his rebuilding plan came on Feb. 11, 2015. He dealt defenseman Tyler Myers, forwards Drew Stafford, Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux and a first-round pick to Winnipeg to acquire forward Evander Kane, defenseman Zach Bogosian and prospect goalie Jason Kasdorf. Kane is now in San Jose. Kasdorf played just one game in Buffalo. Bogosian has combined to miss 108 games due to an assortment of injuries over the past three seasons.

POOR DRAFTS

Of the 15 players selected by Buffalo in the 2010 and `11 drafts, only four made the NHL and combined to play 144 career games for Buffalo. Of the 23 players Buffalo drafted from 2005-’07, only nine played in the NHL and none topped 400 games.

BAD BREAKS

Aside from losing the NHL draft lottery after finishing last in both 2014 and `15, the Sabres lost out to Toronto in the Mike Babcock coaching sweepstakes in May 2015. The Sabres thought they were closing in on a deal before Babcock announced he was going to take an extra day to reconsider. Babcock signed with Toronto and the Sabres hired Dan Bylsma, who was fired after two seasons.

FRANCHISE LOWS

In finishing last in 2013-14, Buffalo scored 150 goals, the fewest in the NHL’s post-expansion era. The following season, the Sabres scored 153 goals and were shut out a franchise-worst 14 times. This past year, the Sabres won 11 home games, matching their fewest in any season.

AP Hockey Writer Larry Lage contributed to this report.

Predators’ Austin Watson charged with domestic assault

Getty
3 Comments

Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson has been charged with domestic assault, according to the Tennessean.

He was arrested on Saturday night in Franklin, Tennessee, but he was released on a $4,500 bond. Watson is due to appear in court on June 28th.

Last year, Watson was one of four Preds players that took part in the “Unsilence the Violence” campaign that was launched by the team to end “violence against women through education”. In January of 2017, the organization pledged $500,000 to the YWCA’s violence prevention program.

The 26-year-old was drafted 18th overall by the Predators in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He’s been playing for Nashville since the 2012-13 season.

Here’s the Predators’ statement:

“We are aware of the incident involving Austin Watson on Saturday night.  We are still gathering facts and it is not appropriate for us to comment further at this time, but this is a matter that we are taking very seriously and will cooperate fully with the investigation by law enforcement. The Nashville Predators have and will continue to stand side by side with AMEND (sic) in the fight to end violence against women.”

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.