Getty

Capitals have some huge decisions to make with key players

5 Comments

Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan is going to have one of the more complex juggling acts in the NHL over the next year.

His team is just one year removed from its first ever Stanley Cup and is still, as currently constructed, a championship contender that should be one of the best teams in the league this season. They still have their core of stars in place, and they have worked to improve the depth around them with the recent additions of Carl Hagelin (before the trade deadline this past season), Richard Panik, and Garnet Hathaway.

For this season, everything is in place right for another run at a championship.

It is what happens after this season when things will get complicated as Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby will be eligible for unrestricted free agency, while Alex Ovechkin will be set to enter the final year of his contract.

Those are three of the most important players in the history of the Capitals franchise and the backbone of the team that finally brought the Stanley Cup to the district.

It is almost kind of hard to believe that Backstrom and Ovechkin are so close to the end of their deals given how long those contracts were. Ovechkin signed a 13-year, $124 million contract that began during the 2008-09 season, while Backstrom signed a 10-year, $67 million contract for the start of the 2010-11 season. Given how much the Capitals have received in return from those two they might be two of the best contracts signed during the salary cap era (honestly, the only other contenders are the Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin duo in Pittsburgh).

Now they are starting to reach their end because father time is a relentless monster that is always chasing after each and everyone of us. Time really does fly.

MacLellan’s challenge will be figuring out how to keep them, and which one to let go if it should come to that.

Let’s start with the obvious one: As long as he wants to play in the NHL it is almost impossible to believe that Ovechkin will ever wear a sweater that is not the Capitals. He is one of the “one team” icons in the sport, and there is no way Ted Leonsis is going to let him chase Wayne Gretzky’s goal record (and perhaps even reach it) with another team. That is just not going to happen. He stays.

But there is nothing the Capitals can do with Ovechkin’s contract until next July. They can, however, sign Backstrom or Holtby at any point starting right now.

This is where the big decision might have to come in, because given the constraints of the salary cap it is hard to see how they can fit all three on the team beyond this season.

The Capitals have a lot of players signed to long-term contracts, and already have 15 players under contract for 2020-21 and 13 players under contract for the 2021-22 season. Trying to figure out what the salary cap is going to look like in either of those years is nearly impossible right now, but the Capitals already have $62 million committed to their 2020-21 roster and nearly $50 million for the year after.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

That is a lot, and they not only have to worry about re-signing their superstars, but also filling out the remainder of the roster around them.

When it comes to prioritizing between Backstrom and Holtby the most sensible investment would seem to be Backstrom. He is a No. 1 center, still one of the best players in the world, and should continue to be a top-line performer into his 30s.

Will he decline some? Almost certainly. But what he gives the Capitals will still be better than the alternatives they might realistically be able to acquire.

That leaves Holtby. The problem the Capitals will have with Holtby is you already saw what his next contract might look like this summer when Sergei Bobrovsky signed with the Florida Panthers. That is going to be a massive contract to squeeze in under the cap when taking into account Backstrom’s next deal (which will probably be a raise, and maybe a significant one, from his current contract) and the eventual extension for Ovechkin (almost certainly $10 million-plus per season).

The only real to realistically do that is going to be shipping out another significant player in a trade.

Tom Wilson? T.J. Oshie? Dmitry Orlov? Or perhaps a combination depth players that are signed to term. The Lars Eller, Hagelin, and Panik trio will combine for $9 million against the cap in each of the next four seasons, all for depth players well into their 30s. Will that be the best use of salary cap space? (This is the risk with signing depth players to long-term contracts.)

But that is IF the Capitals want to make that sort of a commitment to Holtby.

He has been one of the best goalies in the league during his career and is still capable of shining in big moments and carrying the team when he is on top of his game. But over the past two seasons (and including the Stanley Cup year, when he did not even enter the playoffs as the starter) those moments have not been as frequent. He has started to shown signs of slowing down, and investing a seven-or eight-year contract into a goalie that will be 31 years old in the first year of his next deal could be too big of a risk.

If the Capitals have to move on from one of their big-three, Holtby is the most logical choice. He is the one that is probably least likely to retain most of his current value in future seasons, and even though he has been a top-tier goalie for so many years he is also probably the one they have the best chance of replacing.

The Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Holtby era has been an incredible success in Washington, winning two Presidents’ Trophy and a Stanley Cup all in the past four years.

But with their current contracts coming to an end it is entirely possible that one of them — probably Holtby — will be finishing their career in a different uniform barring some other significant change elsewhere on the roster.

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.

Canucks-Wild stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Canucks-Wild stream
Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Thursday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Canucks and Wild. Live look-in coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Canucks-Wild Game 3 live look-in stream at 2:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After being shutout in Game 1, Vancouver responded with four goals from four of their playmakers — Tanner Pearson, J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, and Bo Horvat) to even the series. The Canucks led 4-1 before Kevin Fiala scored twice in the final three minutes.

Minnesota’s power play was of no assistance in Game 2. The extra man unit went 0-for-6. Vancouver had similar issues scoring once on seven opportunities.

Wild netminder Alex failed to follow up his Game 1 shutout with another strong performance. He allowed four goals on 28 during the Game 2 defeat.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Vancouver Canucks vs. Minnesota Wild
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Thursday, August 6, 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN (live look-in)
ON THE CALL: Chris Cuthbert, Louie DeBrusk
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Canucks-Wild live look-in stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild 3, Canucks 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Canucks 4, Wild 3 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, 2:30 p.m. ET (live look-in coverage on NBCSN)
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild, 10:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Fan-free playoff hockey still proving plenty intense

Leave a comment

Staging games in empty arenas after a virus-forced hiatus of more than four months, the NHL skated into this unprecedented postseason with plenty of questions about just how intense the action on the ice would be.

Four days into a most unusual Stanley Cup tournament, this much is clear: Playoff hockey is still playoff hockey, even without the roar of the crowd. The Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks, their qualifying round series even at one win apiece, have proven as much.

Both contests at Rogers Place in Edmonton have been testy, with the two teams jawing at each other at the end of Game 2.

”The guys play the exact same way. I spoke to several people before this, and they said, ‘Do you think it’s going to be playoff hockey?”’ Wild coach Dean Evason said. ”These guys, they’re kids, and even if they’re older guys, they’re kids. They’re playing the game for the right reasons. They’re the best in the world for a reason, because they absolutely love to play and they love to compete, and when that puck’s dropped in a playoff atmosphere, we’re all battling to win the Stanley Cup, which they’ve thought about their entire lives. There’s going to be that excitement level and there’s going to be that battle level that we’ve seen already.”

Even more strange with this postseason has been the bubble-city setup that has stationed both of these teams at the Sutton Place Hotel. The Wild routinely walk by the Canucks on their way to eat.

”It’s definitely different. You’re in an absolute war with a team, and then you ride the elevator with them,” Canucks defenseman Tyler Myers said on Wednesday.

Game 3 is on Thursday (2:30 p.m. EDT, NHL Network). The Canucks are banged up, with four forwards iffy. Tyler Toffoli and Adam Gaudette were hurt in Game 1 and held out of Game 2. Michael Ferland and Antoine Roussel left Game 2 with injuries.

The Canucks will likely go as far as their talented top-six group of forwards will take them, with the ”Lotto Line” of J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser making a significant impact so far.

Pettersson has impressed the Canucks with his tenacity, too, the frequent target of not-so-friendly hits from the Wild.

”I’m always impressed with his skill level, and I’ve been anxiously waiting to see how he does with this type of hockey, and it’s been impressive so far,” Canucks coach Travis Green said.

The Wraparound: Jets want to make Flames ‘scratch and claw for everything’

Leave a comment

The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2020 NHL Return to Play. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

• The NHL Bubble Wrap has your nightly roundup of all the postseason action.

• The Canadiens make a comeback and push the Penguins to the brink of elimination. 

Here are the updated round-robin standings and scenarios as of Thursday.

The Jets are staring down elimination Thursday night in Game 4 against the Flames (10:30 p.m. ET, CNBC; livestream). After a gutsy win to even the series on Monday, they laid an egg Tuesday, putting themselves one foot out of the bubble.

Calgary had answers to everything Winnipeg did, even scoring 18 and 159 seconds after the Jets recorded both of their goals in Game 3. Still without Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine, the Jets couldn’t avoid mistakes.

One Jet who is up for the challenge of winning the next two games is Connor Hellebuyck. The Vezina Trophy finalist has not played well through three games. His .852 even strength save percentage is 15th among all goalies who have played at least twice.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Hellebuyck has not looked himself in the series. A miscommunication handling the puck behind the net with defenseman Neal Pionk led to the Flames’ second goal. If the Jets are to have any shot, he’ll have to carry them on his back, much like he did during the regular season.

“It’s going to be everything for me,” Hellebuyck said. “I’ve got to use this, and I plan on using this. This was an upset for me [in Game 3]. I don’t see it being easy for them at all for the rest of the series, so they better scratch and claw for everything that they get.”

He could use a little help, of course. While Nikolaj Ehlers has been one of the early breakout players of the Qualifying Round, Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler, who combined for 60 goals during the regular season, have yet to light the lamp.

Everything has clicked for Calgary. Time is running out for the Jets.

NHL GAMES TODAY

Game 3: Canucks vs. Wild, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live look-in stream – (Series tied 1-1): How special have special teams been for the Wild? Through two games they have six goals. Zero have come at 5-on-5. Killing penalties hindered their offense in Game 2, which allowed the Canucks to even the series. For Vancouver, they’ll be without Micheal Ferland as he has headed home with suspected concussion issues. Tyler Toffoli may also miss a second straight game.

Round-robin: Capitals vs. Flyers, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestreamBrian Elliott is expected to start in net for the Flyers after Hart played against Boston. Elliott went 2-0-0 vs. the Caps this season, allowing just two goals in each of his wins (.926 SV%) – although Hart allowed just three combined goals in his two starts against Washington this season. Lars Eller has left the bubble to be with his wife for the birth of their second child.

Round-robin: Golden Knights vs. Blues, 6:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live look-in streamThe Blues have yet to score at even strength through two games (exhibition and round-robin). St. Louis will be without Ivan Barbashev after he left the bubble to go home for the birth of his first child.

Game 3: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream: – (Series tied 1-1): Only four playoff series have ever started with three straight shutouts, the last being the 2004 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Lightning and Islanders (four straight shutouts to start series). According to the Maple Leafs, Jake Muzzin will miss the rest of the series and remain in quarantine until he’s ready to return following an awkward collision in Game 2.

FRIDAY‘S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 4: Panthers vs. Islanders, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 4: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2:30 p.m. ET – live look-in NBCSN
Game 4: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 4: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 6:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 4: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. ET – live look-in NBCSN
Game 4: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN

Round-robin standings (ties broken by regular-season points percentage)

EAST
Lightning (2-0-0, 4 points)
Flyers (1-0-0, 2 points)
Capitals (0-0-1, 1 point)
Bruins (0-2-0, 0 points)

WEST
Avalanche (2-0-0, 4 points)
Golden Knights (1-0-0, 2 points)
Blues (0-1-0, 0 points)
Stars (0-2-0, 0 points)

PHT’s 2020 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Eastern Conference top seed round-robin preview
Penguins vs. Canadiens
Islanders vs. Panthers
Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets

Western Conference top seed round-robin preview
Jets vs. Flames
Oilers vs. Blackhawks
Predators vs. Coyotes
Wild vs. Canucks

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers in league’s Return to Play

1 Comment

It’s time to focus on the NHL games, including the 2020 NHL playoffs schedule. The 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers began on Saturday, Aug. 1 in the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto.

The top four teams in both conference will play a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The Stanley Cup Qualifiers will be best-of-5 series with the losing teams being entered into Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery.

Below is a full 2020 NHL playoffs schedule of both the round-robin and the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

EASTERN CONFERENCE (Scotiabank Arena)

Round-robin [Standings, scenarios]

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers 4, Bruins 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3
:
Lightning 3, Capitals 2 (SO) (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5:
Lightning 3, Bruins 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6:
Capitals vs. Flyers, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8:
Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9:
Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens (MTL leads series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens 3, Penguins 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Penguins 3, Canadiens 1 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Canadiens 4, Penguins 3 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers (CAR wins series 3-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Hurricanes 3, Rangers 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1 (recap)

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (NYI lead series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Islanders 2, Panthers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Islanders 4, Panthers 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Panthers 3, Islanders 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets 2, Maple Leafs 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Maple Leafs 3, Blue Jackets 0 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WESTERN CONFERENCE (Rogers Place)

Round-robin [Standings, scenarios]

Sunday, Aug. 2: Avalanche 2, Blues 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Golden Knights 4, Stars 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche 4, Stars 0
Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights vs. Blues, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, TBD

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks (CHI leads series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks 6, Oilers 4 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Oilers 6, Blackhawks 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Blackhawks 4, Oilers 3 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 6:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes (ARZ leads series 2-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Predators 4, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Coyotes 4, Predators 1 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET – (live look-in coverage on NBCSN)
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild 3, Canucks 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Canucks 4, Wild 3 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, 2:30 p.m. ET (live look-in coverage on NBCSN)
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild, 10:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD

(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets (CGY leads series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Flames 4, Jets 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets 3, Flames 2 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames 6, Jets 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets, 10:30 p.m. ET – CNBC
Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*, TBD

* – if necessary

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.