Sidney Crosby practicing with the Penguins and Canadiens defenseman Brett Kulak discussing testing positive for COVID-19 ranked among the biggest NHL training camp news on Friday. There are plenty of other tidbits, however, so let’s roll through various NHL training camp news.
Habs’ Kulak discusses testing positive for COVID-19
On Thursday, we heard from Canadiens defenseman Xavier Ouellet (as well as Winnipeg’s Anthony Bitetto) about his experiences testing positive for COVID-10. It turns out that Ouellet wasn’t the only Habs defenseman to test positive.
Kulak told Lu and others that he dealt with headaches, a lack of energy, and breathing issues. On the bright side, Kulak said that he’s feeling back to normal. That’s especially good since, you know, Kulak returned to practicing with his Canadiens teammates.
While Kulak doesn’t contribute a ton of offense (zero goals, seven assists in 57 games this season), he brings some value to the table for Montreal. Good things tend to outweigh the bad when Kulak is on the ice, evidenced by some positive multi-season RAPM results via Evolving Hockey:
(Again, just don’t expect Kulak to light up scoreboards.)
Sidney Crosby takes another positive training camp step by practicing with Penguins
It was already promising that Sidney Crosby got back to skating after missing some time. Even so, you had to couch some optimism until Crosby actually skated with Penguins teammates.
That happened on Friday, so don’t blame the Penguins for being excited. Apparently Crosby’s Penguins teammates even celebrated the occasion with some stick taps.
(If Crosby and others can stay healthy. That’s sadly always been a big if for this team.)
More NHL training camp news and notes
The good news is that the Capitals have Braden Holtby. For all we know, Holtby is Todd Reirden’s choice as starter, anyway. Regardless, it’s bad news that Ilya Samsonov‘s status remains murky. Samsonov vastly outplayed Holtby during the regular season, so even if Washington leans toward Holtby, it would at least be nice to have a Plan B who might deserve to be Plan A.
NHL teams hoping to get a playoff/return-to-play boost from the likes of Kirill Kaprizov (Wild), Ilya Sorokin (Islanders), and Alexander Romanov (Canadiens) seem to be out of luck. At least for what’s left of 2019-20 for the NHL, aka the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Kaprizov, Sorokin, Romanov and others can’t play yet — but can burn a year off ELCs
There is a wrinkle, though.
Such reports indicate that Kaprizov, Sorokin, Romanov and others could burn a year off of their entry-level contracts, even though they can’t participate in the NHL return to play to wrap up 2019-20.
Now, would it be logical to burn a year off of entry-level deals for the likes of Kaprizov, Sorokin, and Romanov? Probably not. Overall, there are likely too many drawbacks for the players, teams, or both.
Take Kaprizov and the Wild, for example.
If you want detail about the Kaprizov/Wild/KHL situation, Russo’s covered those bases multiple times at The Athletic, including here (sub required). But to simplify things, the Wild and/or Kaprizov probably won’t go for burning off 2019-20 from a two-year entry-level deal because:
The Wild would only really have Kaprizov signed for 2020-21. While that would finally draw him to the NHL, it would merely give them a single season to gauge Kaprizov’s value. And, with the COVID-19 pandemic looming as a continued threat to stability, who knows if they’d even get that season?
Considering that the 2020-21 NHL season might start in December or January, Kaprizov would be stuck idle since March. Meanwhile, the KHL aims to begin its 2020-21 season around September. Kaprizov would risk serious uncertainty for limited gain.
So … yeah, teams have some reason to at least consider burning a year off of entry-level deals for the likes of Kaprizov, Romanov, and Sorokin. But it just doesn’t seem like the wisest path, generally speaking.
With that out of the way, let’s take a quick look at Kaprizov and the Wild, Sorokin and the Islanders, Romanov and the Canadiens.
Waiting game continues for Wild, fans, Kaprizov
Plenty of people deem Kaprizov, 23, as the best player in hockey not playing in the NHL.
Kaprizov ranked first in the KHL in goals (33 in 57 games), also finishing close to the scoring title with 62 points. This was no fluke, as Kaprizov also scored the most goals (30) in the KHL during the 2018-19 season. Doing so at such a young age only leaves Wild fans even more anxious to see him.
And, unlike other young scorers, it doesn’t sound like many critique Kaprizov’s overall game. Back in May, The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin collected some rave reviews about Kaprizov, noting comparisons to “Artemi Panarin‘s mind” combined with Vladimir Tarasenko‘s tank-like body.
Sounds pretty good! The Wild should probably think about bringing Kaprizov over, eh? *Ducks*
But, yeah, a Wild team searching for good news and breakthrough talent could sure use Kaprizov. Maybe next season? Sadly, it sounds like at least a medium-sized maybe.
When you compare immediate concerns, Ilya Sorokin seems more like a luxury for the Islanders.
After all, the Islanders enjoyed another season of above-average goaltending. Semyon Varlamov was solid, and much like in 2018-19, Thomas Greiss provided comparable work to the Islanders’ would-be No.1. The sum result wasn’t at the level of what Greiss and Robin Lehner accomplished, but plenty of NHL teams must envy the Islanders’ goaltending.
So they don’t “need” Sorokin, seemingly.
But we’ve seen teams put together big playoff runs with rookie goalies intermittently since at least Ken Dryden swooped in, dominated, and leaned pensively on his goal stick for the dynasty-era Canadiens. That thought goes for goalies of various pedigrees, but particularly someone like Sorokin.
Besides, at 24, Sorokin’s getting to that age where the Islanders want to see what they have. Varlamov is 31, and Greiss is on an expiring contract and is 34.
However unlikely, a Sorokin-powered playoff run would’ve been the dream. Getting a better idea of where Sorokin ranks on the depth chart would have been nice, too.
Canadiens won’t get to make defense deeper with Romanov
How much of an impact would Alexander Romanov make for the Canadiens? Answers may vary.
The Ahtletic’s Scott Wheeler barely squeezed Romanov on his top 50 drafted prospects list at No. 48 (sub required). That said, Wheeler admitted that he’s lower on Romanov than many in the hockey world. This seems to be true, as Romanov placed 10th on The Hockey News’ future watch list, representing a meteoric rise from 45th the previous year.
Perhaps some of that variance comes down to how much weight given experts put on tournaments vs. season play.
The now-20-year-old defenseman earned top defenseman billing at the 2019 World Junior Championship, and excelled during the 2020 tournament, as well.
On the other hand, Romanov’s KHL stats have been modest, including a single goal over two KHL seasons (86 regular-season games).
But, in cases like Romanov’s, it’s often a debate regarding “How good?” The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin wrote that Romanov “looks like a future top-pair defenseman.” Wheeler sees Romanov more as a “sound defenseman” who could help in transition, yet probably won’t put up big numbers.
Either way, the Canadiens absolutely could use a player like Romanov. The better he ends up, the happier they are, of course. But even a steady presence would have helped against the Penguins.
Plenty of other prospects not involved in NHL return beyond Kaprizov, Romanov, and Sorokin
Naturally, there are noteworthy players who won’t get to participate in the NHL return to play beyond Kaprizov, Romanov, and Sorokin. This post isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but two other players come to mind:
Grigori Denisenko – The Panthers share some of the same space as the Wild and Canadiens as bubble-adjacent teams who could use a boost. Denisenko isn’t considered as surefire as Kaprizov, but there’s a lot to like about the 20-year-old forward. That said, this would hurt even more if Denisenko was a defenseman, because Florida is pretty brutal in that area.
Jack Dugan – Like Romanov at 48, Dugan snuck into Wheeler’s top 50 at 47 (Denisenko ranks at 36, Kaprizov sits at six). Wheeler ranks among those that wonder if Dugan would make an immediate impact for the Golden Knights out of the NCAA. Some wonder if Dugan can eventually become a top-six forward. In other words, this isn’t necessarily a Cale Makar-style instant success story.
But Dugan breaks from some of the others on this list in being a prospect for a more proven team. The Golden Knights rank among the top four Western Conference teams, thus they’ll participate in the Round Robin for Seeding. I’d argue that Vegas stands out as one of the best of even that smaller group.
So imagine if Dugan can merely give them a boost? It’s arguable that Dugan could be a bigger deal than maybe a better prospect for a more needy team.
We won’t get to find out, though. While it’s the safer move, it’s a letdown for teams hoping for Kaprizov, Sorokin, Romanov, Denisenko, Dugan, and others.
While the NHL’s Qualifying Round teams fight to make it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Round Robin is merely for seeding. Such a scenario presents the NHL’s Round Robin for Seeding teams (four in each conference) with many conundrums, including the age-old rest vs. rust debate.
PHT will take a look at such dilemmas for all eight teams in the NHL’s Round Robin for Seeding, starting with the East. We’re going East first because the Bruins a) won the Presidents’ Trophy and b) addressed such debates recently.
We might as well go in order as they would be ranked, too.
Debates for East top four teams heading into NHL’s Round Robin for Seeding
“Would we like to win all three games? Of course, in a perfect world, but I think with all teams there’s going to be some sort of a preseason mentality worked in with how the lineups are constructed every game,” Cassidy said, via Haggerty. “But if the [veteran players] want to play every game then I’m going to listen to them. It’s their bodies and they would know best. Then in the last game in the third period we’re going to shut our eyes and hope nobody gets hurt in those situations.”
The Bruins are in a heightened situation. While it stings that they may lose the top seeding they earned with 2019-20’s only 100-point season, this is also a roster brimming with veterans.
How should the team with the most to lose deal with the Round Robin for Seeding?
Imagine how badly things could play out for the Lightning. We all know that their historic 2018-19 season ended in a stunning first-round sweep. Kenan Thompson mocked it. Andrei Vasilevskiylooked really steamed.
What if the Lightning fall short under these strange circumstances?
It could cost Jon Cooper his job. And there’s the increased risk of scapegoating a lack of “preparedness” if the Lightning take a preseason approach to the Round Robin for Seeding.
You could definitely make the argument that the Lightning took a while to get back into their elite form in 2019-20, too.
But … the Lightning are smarter than to cave to bad takes, right?
Let’s not forget that the Lightning didn’t really take their feet off the gas during that 2018-19 regular season — not really. Rather than resting stars more aggressively, Nikita Kucherov and others chased history.
Cooper needs to find the right balance. If there’s any hint of failure in that regard, the vultures may start circling.
Zooming out, the most logical choice would be for the Capitals to promote rest.
Almost every major Capitals player is 30 or older, with the rare exception of breakthrough winger Jakub Vrana (24). There’s also some incentive to see if Ilya Samsonov (23) is still sharper than Braden Holtby (30).
But 34-year-old Alex Ovechkin doesn’t sit out a whole lot of games. Maybe the unique circumstances (and lack of a Maurice Richard Trophy to chase) might change Ovechkin’s approach, yet it’s not a slam-dunk to sit him. As Cassidy said, coaches will at times defer to players. It wouldn’t be shocking if such an approach occasionally backfires.
All things considered, the Capitals joust with the Bruins for the East Round Robin team with the most to gain from resting aging stars.
The knee-jerk reaction would be to say that the Flyers want to shake off rust.
For one thing, the Flyers boast several core players in the younger range. Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov are both 23, while Carter Hart is 21. The Flyers also are “playing with house money” as a team that could climb to the top spot if they end up hot during the Round Robin for Seeding.
But the Flyers have plenty of reason to be careful, too.
To start, the drop-off between Hart and Brian Elliott (or another goalie) looks pretty severe. You don’t necessarily want to increase injury risks with Hart, then.
Also, there are veterans to manage. Philly should aim to keep Claude Giroux (32) and Jakub Voracek (30) fresh, not to mention someone like Matt Niskanen (33). While Sean Couturier is only 27, he’s the sort of player you’ll lean on a ton in playoff situations. So you might want to tread lightly there.
Rather than overtaxing go-to guys, this could be an opportunity for others. Could Nolan Patrick crack the lineup if his migraine issues are behind him? Perhaps a prospect from Philly’s impressive farm system will make a jump?
The Flyers have a lot to like about this situation. Even so, they also need to avoid getting too greedy.
Barring two very big names (which we’ll discuss in the next section), the Capitals have a lot of their name-brand players signed long-term.
It remains to be seen if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, depending upon how each integral player ages. Nicklas Backstrom is already 32, making a five-year extension with a $9.2M AAV pretty scary. Looking at other players with term, T.J. Oshie is 33, Lars Eller is 30, and John Carlson is 30.
Of course, Carlson looks like a steal at $8M so far, and those players have aged like fine wine — at least at this point.
If this group sustains reasonably well as they hit 30 and beyond, then the Capitals should be able to put puzzle pieces together to compete. At some point, you’d expect the run of division titles to end. Then again, like Alex Ovechkin scoring all of the goals, it just seems to keep happening.
Long-term needs for Capitals
I hesitated ever so slightly to put Ovechkin in the core section because, frankly, his future is a little bit unsettled.
The 34-year-old sees what felt like a lifetime contract end after 2020-21. Will the Capitals ask Ovechkin to take a pay cut from $9.54M? Would Ovechkin demand even more money? He’d certainly have options in the hard-to-imagine scenario where the situation gets sticky.
But there are certainly a number of scenarios where this plays out poorly for the Capitals and/or Ovechkin. Including if he stays, but steeply declines with an aging team.
The Capitals also need to settle their situation in net. It’s difficult to shake the impression that pending UFA Braden Holtby might be out. The 30-year-old’s best chance at a big payday likely lies somewhere other than D.C.
I mean … I think. The Capitals have shown an eagerness to keep key players together, sometimes producing some surprises. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with Backstrom, and I also was mildly surprised when they brought Oshie back. None of this is to say that the moves were foolish; it’s just sometimes difficult to tell when a team might make the painful, cap-forced decision to let a cherished player walk away.
Because the danger is that the Capitals might squeeze out a much-needed injection of youth if they try to wrangle everyone. At his current trajectory, 24-year-old Jakub Vrana sure looks like he’ll be in line for a massive raise from $3.35M after 2020-21.
Letting Holtby go — and maybe getting lucky to shake loose a problem contract to Seattle — might be key in replenishing the ranks.
The Capitals either need to get creative to stay younger, or they might need to search for the Fountain of Youth.
Long-term strengths for Capitals
No doubt about it, the aging curve worries me for Washington. That said, it might not be ominous at the “guillotine hanging over your head” level.
For one thing, players like Backstrom could conceivably age well. He distinguishes himself as much for his hockey IQ as he does for his talent, so maybe Backstrom will parallel, say, Patrice Bergeron over the years.
Ilya Samsonov also represents a possible solution. He could end up being better than Holtby going forward, and as a 23-year-old who would be an RFA after 2020-21, the Capitals may also be able to extend Samsonov for a team-friendly price.
OK, the Capitals might be forced into such a scenario by cap realities. But, when you look at, say, the Blue Jackets waving goodbye to Sergei Bobrovsky and getting a better deal with young, cheap netminders, it’s certainly not a given that Washington won’t come out of the situation as winners.
In all honesty, Capitals management has earned a solid level of trust.
But considering how infrequently they’ve picked even as high as the teens in drafts, they’ve been able to unearth some gems here and there. And Brian MacLellan isn’t even trading them away as perilously as the Capitals once did with Filip Forsberg.
My guess is that the “bill is coming” for years of win-now approaches, so maybe that shrewdness will only go so far. Still, this franchise has consistently found ways to stay in the picture, and there’s some reason to believe that the party might go a few years longer.
With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Washington Capitals.
Carlson surprises as Capitals, NHL defensemen scoring leader
John Carlson began 2019-20 on a downright dizzying scoring pace, and really only slightly cooled off down the stretch.
It’s telling that, for all the strong offensive seasons the Capitals enjoyed, Carlson topped the team with 75 points.
Should he win the Norris Trophy? That’s a debate for another day.
To some extent, it almost feels beside the point. Carlson keeps raising the ceiling for what he can accomplish, and it’s really become a sight to behold.
Heading into the season, Carlson leading defensemen in scoring wouldn’t have been that huge of a surprise. The magnitude of his scoring dominance ranks as one of the biggest surprises for the Capitals, though. Carlson topped all blueliners by 10 points (75 to Roman Josi‘s 65), and Josi was 10 points ahead of third-ranking Victor Hedman (55).
Realizing that Carlson had about a month to tack on more points makes his accomplishments that much more astounding.
Ovechkin passes 700, in range of another Maurice Richard Trophy
Yes, yes, death, taxes, and Alex Ovechkin scoring lots of goals. I get that.
The “death” part of that is a reminder that Father Time eventually wins. With that in mind, Ovechkin tying David Pastrnak for the NHL lead with 48 goals at age 34 isn’t routine. It’s mind-blowing. Ovechkin’s .71 goals-per-game average this season represents his best rate since his matching .71 from 2008-09. When he was 23. Yeah.
Now, you can transition Ovechkin-related Capitals surprises to disappointments if you look away from the goals, all 700+ (706) of them.
A drop in playmaking explains how Ovechkin can score 48 goals and not lead the Capitals in scoring. He managed 19 assists for 67 points in 2019-20. That assist rate of .28 ranks as the second-worst of his illustrious career.
But if there’s one issue that towers as a disappointment — one that could at times derail strengths for Capitals — it was a rough, rough season for Braden Holtby.
Holtby managed a 25-14-6 record in large part because of his team’s scoring ways. Holtby produced an ugly .897 save percentage, and Hockey Reference’s version of GSAA puts him at an ugly -16.76. For context, only Jimmy Howard (-22.12) ranked lower by that metric.
Zooming out on his entire career, I’d argue that Holtby’s probably been underrated at times. Yet, those past accomplishments might cloud future judgments for the pending UFA. He’s struggled quite a bit during the regular season for the past three years, really.
Could the Capitals produce surprises in going with younger goalie Ilya Samsonov, who was solid in 2019-20? Would Holtby leaving be a bigger disappointment, or would the Capitals be the ones suffering if they handed him an ill-advised contract? After extending Nicklas Backstrom, it was that much clearer that someone has to go eventually.
Might Holtby once again rebound in the playoffs, as he did so masterfully during that curse-breaking, Cup-winning run in 2017-18? Also … why does that run feel like it happened a decade ago?
We could see more twists and turns — so, yes, surprises and disappointments — involving Holtby and the Capitals before this is all over.