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Capitals face tough salary cap questions after re-signing Hagelin

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The Washington Capitals made a shrewd move in trading away Matt Niskanen for Radko Gudas, as the deal made Washington younger, cheaper, and possibly even better on defense. They used some of that newfound cap space to re-sign Carl Hagelin on Sunday, but the deal makes you wonder who might get lost in the salary cap shuffle.

First, the deal: the Capitals signed Hagelin, 30, to a four-year contract worth $11 million, which clocks in at a $2.75M cap hit.

The Capitals acquired Hagelin in a trade from the Los Angeles Kings that costs Washington its 2019 third-rounder (89th overall, via Cap Friendly). There was a conditional sixth-rounder, but the conditions were not met.

Hagelin’s speed and possession game proved to be a very nice fit for the Capitals, although his already declining offense may only sag more if the Swede hits the aging curve hard.

Hagelin went from the Penguins to the Kings, and then the Kings to the Capitals this season. He generated five goals and 19 points over 58 regular-season games, with his best work coming in Washington (three goals, 11 points in 20 games). Hagelin only managed an assist during Washington’s seven-game Round 1 series against the Hurricanes.

At this point in his career, it’s not as much about the points. Instead, it’s about Hagelin’s foot speed and overall play, two factors that are clearly very appealing to the Caps.

Overall, this is a reasonable deal, albeit with some concern over term.

The other concern, again, is who might this push out of Washington? Even with the considerable money savings from getting rid of Niskanen’s $5.75M for Gudas ($2.345M after Philly retained some salary), the Capitals have some decisions to make.

According to Cap Friendly, the Capitals have about $10.736M in cap space remaining, at least if the ceiling ends up being $83M. (Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that there are at least some rumblings about it being closer to $82M, depending upon how escrow works out.)

The Capitals’ $72.264M in spending goes to 17 roster spots, and there are some substantial players who need new deals, or will hit the free agent market.

RFAs

UFAs

Things have been tumultuous with Burakovsky, but the 24-year-old is a nice talent. Would the Capitals lean toward moving his rights, or try to find a bridge deal?

The Capitals at least have Burakovsky as an RFA, although he is arbitration-eligible. The tougher situation might be with Connolly, who would be a UFA at 27. Connolly’s shown why he was a first-rounder (sixth overall by the Lightning in 2010), as he scored 22 goals and 46 points in 51 games last season. Those numbers are strong out of context, but they’re remarkable when you realize that Connolly only averaged 13:20 TOI per game in 2018-19.

For some context, Connolly generated 2.66 points per 60 minutes at even-strength this season, according to Natural Stat Trick. Connolly’s points-per-minute rate was the 18th-best in the NHL this past season for players who logged at least 100 minutes, better than Evgeny Kuznetsov (2.47) and Alex Ovechkin (2.39).

(Interestingly, Hagelin is the only Capitals player who generated a better rate, at least if you limit it to the 20 games he played with the Capitals, as Hagelin scored 2.72 points-per-60.)

So, more than worries about Hagelin aging – which will happen, but we’ll see how detrimental that process will be – the real misgiving would be wondering who can’t stay because Hagelin stayed put.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that Hagelin means no Connolly, or no Burakovsky. It’s plausible that Connolly, in particular, was going to be a luxury Washington would need to say goodbye to, no matter what. Sometimes that’s just the painful reality of the salary cap era.

Still, Hagelin’s taking up $2.75M from 2019-20 through 2022-23, so it does cost Washington that much space.

Overall, the Capitals’ situation remains challenging, and it really solidifies the thought that they really needed to part ways with Niskanen. Not only did they go cheaper for 2019-20, but Gudas’ contract runs out after next season, while Washington would have been on the hook for Niskanen at $5.75M through 2020-21.

That’s highly important, because two prominent Capitals enter contract years in 2019-20: Braden Holtby (29, $6.1M) and Nicklas Backstrom (31, $6.7M).

Unless the Capitals have something bold planned, such as a rather severe leap from goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov, you’d think both Holtby and Backstrom would be getting big raises.

So that makes a difficult situation even more complicated, as the Capitals don’t want to tie up too much money when those bargain contracts are coming up. Heck, even Alex Ovechkin’s situation will be something to watch, as the 33-year-old’s seemingly eternal $9.54M cap hit runs out after 2020-21.

In other words, the Capitals provided an answer by re-signing Hagelin, but they have plenty of other, tougher questions lingering, and by opening that window, they might have closed a door for another would-be player.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Berube belief validated; Stars can’t rest on ‘that’s just hockey’

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.

Here’s the NBC Sports Stanley Cup playoff update for May 7

• ‘That’s just hockey’ won’t cut it for the Dallas Stars in Game 7. (SportsDay)

• Berube’s belief in his team was validated in the Blues’ Game 6 win. (NHL.com)

• Blues regrouped after Game 5 dud. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• The man who braved the rain to watch his Dallas Stars outside American Airlines Center was handed tickets to Games 5 and 6. (NHL.com)

• A look at head coaching options for newly-minted Oilers GM Ken Holland. (Oilers Nation)

• It looks like Cal Clutterbuck will go under the knife to fix his back. (IslandersPointBlank)

• Don Cherry just can’t keep the Carolina Hurricanes out of his mouth. (News & Observer)

• A very good deep-dive about Mitch Marner and his next contract. (Faceoff Circle)

• KHL stars set to feature for the Maple Leafs. (TSN)

• Ageless wonder Zdeno Chara is following in the footsteps of another ageless wonder. (Sportsnet)

• Handshake lines, one of the hardest things to do in hockey. (Sin.Bin Vegas)

• Americans take home gold at sled hockey worlds. (NBC Sports Olympics)

• It appears to be the end of the line for Devante Smith-Pelly‘s time in Washington. (NBC Sports Washington)

• Seattle’s new NHL team features an ownership group with some interesting claims to fame. (Seattle Times)

• Did anyone’s draft stock change at the U18s? (EP Rinkside)


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

PHT Morning Skate: Jones standing out for Blue Jackets; Karlsson closer to 100 percent

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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.

Here’s the NBC Sports playoff update for April 30

• Bruce Cassidy switched up his lines at Monday’s practice, putting David Pastrnak with Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson. [NBC Boston]

• The Bruins sound off on that noisy Columbus cannon. [Boston.com]

• As he’s done many times before, Seth Jones stood out for the Blue Jackets in Game 2. [1st Ohio Battery]

• “Though the only way for the Islanders to climb out of this hole is to first acknowledge their work through the opening two games was not sufficient before committing to improved attention to detail beginning with Wednesday’s Game 3, the team seemed to believe it had played well enough to merit a different result.” [New York Post]

Petr Mrazek is considered “day-to-day,” which is good news, according to Rod Brind’Amour. Alex Nedeljkovic has ben recalled from AHL Charlotte. [News and Observer]

Miro Heiskanen has been a star for the Dallas Stars this season. No wonder GM Jim Nill didn’t want to include him in any trade. [NHL.com]

• On Patrick Maroon, who is making his hometown proud. [Dispatch]

• Jared Bednar’s calm demeanor behind the Colorado Avalanche has had a positive affect on his players. [Denver Post]

Erik Karlsson is getting closer and closer to 100 percent. [Mercury News]

John Tavares, Sean Couturier, Matt Murray, Mark Stone, and Carter Hart are among the names who will represent Canada at next month’s IIHF World Championship. [Hockey Canada]

• Sounds like the Edmonton Oilers GM search is down to Mark Hunter, Kelly McCrimmon and Sean Burke. [Edmonton Journal]

Devante Smith-Pelly talks about his up and down season with the Washington Capitals and his future. [Japers’ Rink]

• Good read on Aito Iguchi, the young Japanese viral sensation who is heading toward his goal of playing in the NHL. [Sportsnet]

• It’s time to look forward for the Vegas Golden Knights. [Sin Bin Vegas]

• Stanley Cup playoff parity is here to stay. [Seattle Times]

• The NWHL is expected to expand its schedule for the 2019-20 season, giving teams 24 games to play. [The Ice Garden]

• Finally, here’s episode five of “Puckland” as the ECHL’s Maine Mariners make final roster changes and introduce the official team at a fan event:

————

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.

Stanley Cup champion Capitals to visit Trump at White House

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By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals will get a chance to celebrate their Stanley Cup championship with President Donald Trump at the White House on Monday. One player has already said he won’t attend.

Minutes after the Capitals beat the New Jersey Devils 4-1 on Tuesday night, forward Brett Connolly said he would skip the ceremony.

”I said what I needed to say,” said Connolly, who had hinted that he would not attend before the White House sent the invitation. ”Respectfully, decline. That’s all I will say about it. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. It’s obviously a big deal and gains a lot of attention, but I have been in full support of an old teammate that I am really good friends with and I agreed with.”

Connolly, who is Canadian, did not identify the player.

The most obvious choice is forward Devante Smith-Pelly, who is currently in the minors. He had told Postmedia in Canada during the Stanley Cup final that he wouldn’t go to the White House.

Ovechkin and his teammates are continuing the NHL tradition of visiting the sitting president after some recent champions in other leagues have chosen not to.

The Russian-born captain and playoff MVP said he was excited about the White House trip after the game and planned to attend.

”I can’t wait,” Ovechkin had said in June. ”I never been there. I want to take pictures around it. It will be fun.”

The Capitals are Washington’s first champions in the four major North American sports leagues since the NFL’s Redskins in 1992, also the last hometown pro team to visit the White House.

This visit has political undertones given that special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia and whether the president obstructed the investigation. Ovechkin has been a vocal supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and fellow countrymen Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov are also on the team.

After posting on Instagram about Putin in November 2017, Ovechkin said it was not political while adding that he had a good relationship with Putin.

”I just support my president and just support my country because I’m from there, and you know, if people from U.S. came to Russia, they care about what happen in the U.S.,” Ovechkin said. ”So, I care about what happening in Russia because it’s my home and it’s where I’m from.”

The 2017 champion Pittsburgh Penguins visited the White House and Trump. Back-to-back Cup-winning coach Mike Sullivan said at the White House in October 2017 that the team’s visit was not political and the Penguins were ”simply honoring our championship and the accomplishments of this group of players over this season or the last two seasons.”

The NBA’s Golden State Warriors decided not to go to the White House after either of their past two championships. Several players met with former President Barack Obama before facing the Washington Wizards in February.

The NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles had a visit planned, but only two players planned to go to the White House to celebrate their Super Bowl win, and Trump rescinded their invitation on the eve of the gathering. After the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl in February, defensive back Devin McCourty said he wouldn’t go if the team visited Trump, which it did in 2017 – absent quarterback Tom Brady and others.

Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox are scheduled to celebrate their World Series championship at the White House on May 9.

They won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history last June against the Vegas Golden Knights.

”It will be fun,” center Nicklas Backstrom said of the White House trip on Tuesday night. ”It’s exciting. Any time you get an invitation from the president and be at the White House, it’s going to be a great experience, I think.”

Goaltender Braden Holtby said at the time the Capitals would make a team decision about the White House and ”weigh the positives and negatives of everything.”

”In any situation like that, you want to make sure you’re doing what’s right for what you believe in and that should take thought – and weigh a group decision,” Holtby said.

AP White House reporter Darlene Superville and AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan in Newark, New Jersey, contributed.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Trade: Capitals bank on Hagelin having more left in the tank

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The Washington Capitals acquired Carl Hagelin from the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday, hoping a former fixture of the Pittsburgh Penguins can help them repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Here’s the full deal:

Capitals receive: Carl Hagelin

Kings receive: 2019 third-round pick, conditional sixth-round pick in 2020.

The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reports that the Kings will retain 50 percent of Hagelin’s salary/cap hit, which would be the second time a team retained a portion of the winger’s salary, as the Penguins retained a small chunk of his cap hit earlier this season in the Tanner Pearson trade.

Washington likely looks at Hagelin as a replacement for Devante Smith-Pelly, who cleared waivers on Thursday.

Kings add fuel to rebuild

While the Kings take on a portion of Hagelin’s contract for the remainder of 2018-19, he’s set to be a UFA, so this is a short-term cost for Los Angeles.

When you look back at the two Hagelin deals Los Angeles was involved with, they essentially turned Pearson into cap space and picks. Pearson carries a $3.75M cap hit through 2020-21, which isn’t particularly useful for a rebuilding team.

The Kings’ biggest building block for the future came in getting the Maple Leafs’ first-rounder (and two prospects) for Jake Muzzin, but this Hagelin swap buffs up the quantity for Los Angeles. Along with having their original seven picks in 2019, the Kings now have Toronto’s first-rounder, Washington’s third, and the Flames’ fourth (so 10 overall).

Capitals’ side

Washington very much needed the Kings to retain salary in this move, as Hagelin’s reduced cap hit ($1.875M) leaves the Capitals with about $116,682 in projected cap space for the trade deadline.

During some of his best recent days, Hagelin was the “H” on the Penguins’ “HBK” line, provided speedy support to compliment Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel. Hagelin also faced the Capitals as a good fit for the New York Rangers, so Washington has plenty of firsthand experience with Hagelin.

It sure seems like those playoff battles took their toll on the 30-year-old, however. After being limited to three points in 16 games with the Penguins, Hagelin didn’t have much more luck with the Kings, managing only five points in 22 games.

Naturally, production isn’t everything, and that point makes Hagelin more interesting.

Along with bringing valuable speed and battle-tested experience to the table, Hagelin checks a lot of the possession boxes, even as his scoring has dipped in 2018-19.

Considering the snug cap situation the Capitals are in, this addition makes a lot of sense. It also furthers the Kings’ goals of building toward the future by tearing down the present. Rate this as a modest win-win for both sides, with Hagelin’s playoff work determining how it will really matter for the Caps.

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.