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Tom Wilson cashes in with $31 million extension

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The Washington Capitals will have you believe the value that Tom Wilson brings to their team is more than what you see on the stat sheet.

The classic “you can not always put a number on it” kind of player.

He is not a goal-scorer. He is not a big point-producer. He is probably never really going to score like a true top-line player. What he does do is kill penalties, and play a physical, defensive game where he throws his weight around and gets under the skin of opponents.

While it may not always be measured on the stat sheet, you can certainly put a dollar amount on it. At least as far as the Capitals are concerned.

That dollar amount is apparently a little more than $31 million over six years.

That is the contract the Capitals signed Wilson, a restricted free agent, to on Friday night. That contract comes out to a salary cap hit of $5.17 million per season and reportedly carries a modified no-trade clause years three through six of the contract.

“Tom is an invaluable member of our team and we are pleased that he will play a great part in our foreseeable future,” General manager Brian MacLellan said in a statement released by the team. “Tom is a unique player in this League. At 24 years of age, he has an impressive amount of experience and we believe that he will only continue to grow and improve as a player. With his ability to play in virtually any game situation, teams need players like Tom in order to succeed in the NHL.”

By re-signing Wilson the Capitals are bringing back almost all of the roster that won the Stanley Cup this past season (minus center Jay Beagle and backup goalie Philipp Grubauer). It is also a significant number for Wilson as it pays him almost $2 million more per season than playoff hero Lars Eller, and just a few hundred thousand less than T.J. Oshie.

The 2017-18 season was Wilson’s most productive in the NHL as he finished with a career-high 14 goals and 35 total points, while getting a significant amount of time on the team’s top line alongside Alex Ovechkin. It was the first time in his career that he scored more than seven goals and only the second time he topped 20 points (his previous career high before this season was 23).

If you are the Capitals the argument in favor of the contract is, again, that Wilson does other things that do not always show up on the stat sheet, and that at age 24 he might still be developing as a player. The former argument probably carries some weight (whether those things are worth more than $5 million per season is certainly up for debate), but the latter would probably be a tough sell. Wilson is entering what should be his prime years in the NHL and, including playoffs, has over 400 games of experience. While he may not be an older player, he is not exactly young when it comes to his development. What you see at this point is probably what you are going to get.

Again: These should be his peak years, and his best year offensively to this point while spending a lot of time alongside a living NHL legend was 14 goals and 35 points. How much more development is there?

When you pay a player more than $31 million over six years you are paying that player like a top-liner. There should be an expectation for top-line production along with the other stuff (defensive play, penalty killing, whatever other intangibles you want to talk about).

He is also one of the game’s … let’s say … controversial players given his style of play. He is not only physical, he often times skates a fine line with the NHL’s department of player safety that can get him into trouble. He was involved in a number of controversial plays in the Stanley Cup playoffs, including hits on Columbus’ Alexander Wennberg, Pittsburgh’s Brian Dumoulin and Zach Aston-Reese, and Vegas’ Jonathan Marchessault. The hit on Aston-Reese earned him a three-game suspension, was his third suspension of the 2017-18 season.

Still, he is a good defensive player, and he is a good penalty killer, and he is obviously a player the Capitals highly value.

How much his game continues to evolve offensively in future seasons will go a long way toward determining whether or not they are correct in that valuation of what he provides.

Related: On Tom Wilson, player safety, and avoiding suspensions

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.

Devante Smith-Pelly expected to re-sign with Capitals: Reports

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Devante Smith-Pelly, one of the Stanley Cup Final heroes for the Washington Capitals, was one of the more notable restricted free agents to not be given a qualifying offer earlier this week. By not receiving one from the Capitals he was eligible to become an unrestricted free agent and was free to begin speaking to other teams around the league.

Not even one week later it seems that he will be returning to the Capitals after all.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported on Wednesday afternoon that Smith-Pelly is closing in on a one-year contract to return to the Capitals, while Kevin Weekes and Bob McKenzie both added that it will pay him $1 million for the 2018-19 season. LeBrun also added that Smith-Pelly had more lucrative offers from two other teams but wanted to return to the Capitals.

Smith-Pelly had a difficult regular season for the Capitals that saw him score just seven goals and 16 total points. That is what made it so surprising that he played such a huge role in the playoffs as he matched his regular season goal total during the Capitals’ run to their first ever Stanley Cup. Among those seven goals were three in the Stanley Cup Final series against the Vegas Golden Knights, including one in each of the final three games of the series. His goal in the Capitals’ clinching Game 5 win tied the game mid-way through the third period, setting the stage for Lars Eller‘s winning goal just a couple of minutes later.

Smith-Pelly made $650,000 for the Capitals during the 2017-18 season. He signed with the team in free agency after the second year of a two-year contract with the New Jersey Devils was bought out.

More NHL Free Agency:
• PHT Power Rankings: The top-20 NHL Free Agents
• Ilya Kovalchuk, Kings agree to terms on three-year deal
• John Carlson gets $64 million payday as Capitals lock up defenseman

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.

Marc Bergevin’s tenure has slowly but surely made Canadiens worse

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Let’s go back in time a few years to the summer of 2012.

The Montreal Canadiens are coming off of a disappointing 2011-12 season that saw them miss the playoffs, change head coaches, and fire their general manager. To fill those vacancies they hired Marc Bergevin away from the Chicago Blackhawks to serve as their new GM and brought back Michel Therrien for his second stint behind the team’s bench.

The big hire here would be the Bergevin one because he was the one responsible for shaping the direction of the team and is still doing so today.

Despite the struggles on the ice during the 2011-12 season there was still a promising young core in place that he was inheriting in which to build around.

  • Max Pacioretty was 23 years old and coming off of his first 30-goal season.
  • P.K. Subban was 22 years old, already starting to blossom into a star, and was about to enter a season where he would go on to win the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.
  • They had a young franchise goalie in Carey Price.
  • They had a 22-year-old Lars Eller who had doubled his offensive production from his rookie season and a 20-year-old Brendan Gallagher set to make his debut the following season
  • On top of all that they had the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, a selection that would ultimately be used on Alex Galchenyuk.

At times over the past six seasons the Canadiens have had some success. They went to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2013-14, went to the second round in 2014-15, and topped the 100-point mark three times. It hasn’t been a totally disastrous few years. You could easily — and justifiably — make the argument that some of that success was driven in large part by having Price mask a lot of the team’s flaws and carry it further than it probably otherwise should have gone. But it was still success in the short-term.

The important question to ask at this point is if the Canadians organization is in a better place today than it was six years ago when Bergevin was hired to re-shape the organization. That is, after all, the goal of a GM: To make their organization better than they found it.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to argue that Bergevin has done that, while the young core that he inherited has slowly but surely been squandered.

This isn’t to say that there haven’t been good moves here and there.

Getting Pacioretty signed to a long-term contract extension that paid him less than $5 million per year was one of the biggest steals in the league. Signing Alexander Radulov in his return from the KHL added some desperately needed talent and creativity to a stagnant offense. Today, though, Pacioretty is entering the final year of his contract and is the subject of trade speculation. Radulov, having been unable to work out a new contract with the Canadiens after his one year with the team, is in Dallas and coming off of a career-best season that saw him score 28 goals and 72 points for the Stars.

And the rest of the players mentioned above? That group of Price, Subban, Galchenyuk, and Eller? Only Price remains, while the trio of Subban, Eller, and Galchenyuk has been traded for a package of players and assets that amounts to Shea Weber, Max Domi, Joni Ikonen and a yet-to-be-used 2018 second-round draft pick (No. 62 overall).

Look at those two groups of players and then ask yourself which group you would rather have on your team this season and in the immediate future with all of the circumstances considered.

It’s not that Weber and Domi are bad or can’t provide value for the Canadiens. But how are the Canadiens better for having them instead of what they had?

Look at the fact that P.K. Subban, who was traded straight up for Shea Weber after the 2015-16 season, is four years younger, has been more productive the past two years, and is a finalist for the Norris Trophy this season. Weber, meanwhile, is entering his age 33 season, coming off an injury shortened season, and is signed until he is 40 at more than $7.8 million per season. Combined with Price, the Canadiens now have two players, both of whom are already over the age of 30 and have likely already played their best hockey, signed through 2026 at a total salary cap hit of more than $18 million. You can’t fault them for signing Price because he has literally been the backbone of the team, but given the ages, salary structure, and positions they play it is a very unique core for a team to build around. Unique does not always mean good.

During that same offseason the Canadiens made the decision to trade skill for more grit and toughness (a trend they followed all season in their roster transactions) when they sent Lars Eller, still under contract for two more years at a salary cap hit of $3.5 million, to the Washington Capitals for two second round draft picks (one used to select Ikonen, the other one to be used this weekend).

They then turned around and traded two second-round draft picks in 2016 to Chicago for Andrew Shaw and signed him to a six-year, $23.4 million contract extension — in other words, slightly more money than they were paying Eller.

Again, it’s not that Shaw is necessarily a bad player, but are the Canadiens better today for it?

If nothing else the optics of it look bad after Eller played a massive role in helping the Capitals win the Stanley Cup this spring.

Last summer there was the free agent signing of Karl Alzner, giving the Canadiens what is currently one of the oldest defensive lineups in the league, and one that is severely lacking in mobility and offensive production. Between Weber, Alzner, Jeff Petry, Jordie Benn and David Schlemko the Canadiens will open this season with five defensemen age 30 or older. Together, they will take up nearly $22 million in salary cap space. That coincided with the trading of top prospect Mikhail Sergachev to Tampa Bay for Jonathan Drouin. The jury is still very much out on that trade but year one of the Drouin era in Montreal probably did not go as planned considering that Sergachev, an 18-year-old defenseman, finished the season just six points shy of Drouin’s offensive output.

Then there is the most recent move to trade Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes for Domi.

This comes after years of not really being sure what to do with Galchenyuk. Through all of it, Galchenyuk still managed to produce at a consistent top-six level as a player you could pencil in for 20 goals and 50 points every year. Domi, who is only a few months younger than Galchenyuk and about $1 million cheaper under the cap, is coming off a two-year stretch that has seen him score 18 goals in more than 140 games.

Keep in mind that Galchenyuk has scored fewer than 18 goals in a single season just once over the past four years, and that when when he scored 17 during the 2016-17 season … in only 61 games.

There are a lot of reasons to like Domi’s potential. There is reason to believe he could bounce back. It is, however, not a given and the question yet again must be asked … how are the Canadiens better after this? 

The answer, yet again, seems to be that they really aren’t.

And this has pretty much been the story of the Marc Bergevin era in Montreal: They’re not really that much worse, but they’re not really that much better.

Most of the trades (here is the full list) are inconsequential that don’t really hurt or help either team involved. But when it comes to the big moves involving the key players they all seem to end up making the Canadiens marginally worse or leave them in a slightly worse situation, whether it be from a talent perspective, a salary cap perspective, or some combination of the two.

None of them have really been a complete disaster (though, the Subban-for-Weber swap could drift that way depending how Weber ages in the coming years), but none of them have really done anything to improve the situation. Perhaps even more than the actual results is the thought process behind the moves, where grit and size seems to take precedence over skill and talent. It has left them with a mediocre team that lacks goal-scorers and skill and has committed an awful lot of money to get older and less skilled.

No general manager is perfect. Mistakes will happen and they will make bad evaluations from time to time. But when those little mistakes keep happening over and over again they eventually add up into one big mistake that leaves you in a hole that is difficult to get out of.

This should be concerning for Canadiens fans when they realize Pacioretty could be traded. Or that the Canadiens are open to potentially trading the No. 3 pick this year.  It is entirely possible one or both could get moved in the coming days.

If history is any indicator it probably won’t be a total disaster. But it probably won’t be great, either.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Vegas’ amazing run; Lars Eller’s historical night

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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.

• Despite not winning the Stanley Cup, the Vegas Golden Knights had an incredible inaugural season. (Sportsnet)

• The Washington Capitals celebrated in style last night, as they racked up a $100,000 bill at their post-Stanley Cup party. (TMZ)

• The Texas Stars beat the Toronto Marlies in Game 4 of the Calder Cup Final. This best-of-seven series is all tied up 2-2. (Canadian Press)

• The Capitals and their fans have gone through years of playoff heartbreak, but that finally all paid off on Thursday night. (Washington Post)

• The City of Washington finally gets to celebrate a major sports championship thanks to Alex Ovechkin and his teammates. (Sports Illustrated)

• Not only did Lars Eller score the game-winning goal to clinch the cup for the Caps, he also became the first player born in Denmark to hoist the Stanley Cup. (NHL.com)

T.J. Oshie got to share a Stanley Cup championship with his father, who’s been dealing with Alzheimer’s. What an emotional moment. (TSN.ca)

• Seeing the Capitals celebrate a championship victory at T-Mobile arena wasn’t exactly fun for the locals. (Las Vegas Sun)

• It’s been a great few hours for Alex Ovechkin. Not only because he’s now a Stanley Cup Champion, but also because he and his wife are expecting their first child. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• What does a Stanley Cup title mean to the fans in Washington? NBC Sports Washington breaks it down for us. (NBC Sports Washington)

• Up top, check out the highlights from the final game of the 2017-18 regular season. If you haven’t figured it out by now, the Capitals won the Stanley Cup.

• Young fan Keelan Moxley remembers what it was like to get a puck from Caps forward Brett Connolly before Game 2 of Washington’s first-round series against the Blue Jackets.

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.

Capitals end DC championship drought with first Stanley Cup win

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It finally happened. The Washington Capitals finally won their first-ever Stanley Cup after conjuring more magic than the Vegas Golden Knights.

After years of heartbreak for Alex Ovechkin, not to mention the franchise as a whole since being founded in 1974, the Capitals finally won it all.

One can imagine some exhales amid the screams for the team’s long-tortured fans, not to mention fans of D.C. sports in general. It’s been a long, long time since a Washington team took home a championship.

There was something symbolic, almost, about the clock briefly breaking during the late moments of the Capitals’ 4-3 win against the Golden Knights in Game 5. For fans of the Golden Knights, it likely felt like Vegas resisting the clock turning midnight on “Cinderella.” For those who’ve followed Ovechkin and the rest of these Caps through these trials and tribulations, breaking the curse meant breaking the clock.

For Vegas, it’s the first real taste of the soul-crushing heartbreak that comes with a playoff elimination that seemed to come out of left field. Thanks to some opportunistic plays and more than a few lucky breaks, the Golden Knights carried a 3-2 lead into the third period. It seemed like the bounces were finally (that word again) breaking their way again.

Instead, the Capitals refused to go home without the Stanley Cup.

To start the last rally, Devante Smith-Pelly scored his seventh goal of the postseason on a diving goal that would make Ovechkin proud. In a way, it was fitting that a player riding a great opportunity and some lucky breaks ultimately dealt such a painful blow to Vegas’ hopes. For the Golden Knights, it was the wrong kind of “finally,” as they finally saw their magic run out.

Less than three minutes later, Lars Eller continued his incredible playoff run by burying a loose puck behind Marc-Andre Fleury for what would be the Capitals’ Stanley Cup-winning goal.

Washington rarely seemed threatened after that, opening the door for an emotional celebration for Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom … and anyone else connected to the Capitals, really.

Ovechkin’s celebration was as glorious as you can imagine, if you could even imagine it. He ended up taking the Conn Smythe, edging out some other excellent Capitals choices, including Evgeny Kuznetsov. “The Great Eight” scored in Game 5, breaking the franchise record for goals in a single postseason with his 15th (sorry, John Druce).

Last summer, the Capitals dealt with “a Stanley Cup hangover without the Stanley Cup.” Considering that they broke this curse in Sin City, it probably won’t be tough to generate a real hangover while celebrating the real thing tonight.

Finally.

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.