T.J. Oshie

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Capitals have some huge decisions to make with key players

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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.

Q&A: Stars’ Tyler Seguin on Stanley Cup window, offseason motivation

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Tyler Seguin met Joe Pavelski for the first time this week as the two are in Lake Tahoe for the annual American Century Championship golf tournament. In a group together with T.J. Oshie of the Washington Capitals, the Dallas Stars forward will have plenty of time to get to know his newest teammate a little better nearly two weeks after Pavelski signed a three-year deal to leave the San Jose Sharks.

As Pavelski went through the free agency interview period at the end of June, Seguin, along with Jamie Benn, reached out via text on behalf of the Stars to answer any questions about the organization and the Dallas area.

“You try to not make it too much recruiting,” Seguin told NBC Sports on Thursday. “It’s not always been my style, but I just touched base with him about this tournament and obviously said I heard you’re in Dallas, if you have any questions [let me know]. We talked a little bit. We’re ecstatic that he joined our team, he’s a huge addition for us. Looking forward to the season and getting things started.”

Pavelski was one of three big additions by Stars general manager this offseason. Corey Perry and Andrej Sekera were also been brought in to add to depth up front and on the blue line.

Seguin said he is happy to have career shift-disturber Perry, who was bought out by the Anaheim Ducks in June, on his side. He’s also eager to have these additions help the Stars build off a strong year that saw them an overtime goal away from reaching the Western Conference Final.

“I think our team’s a competitor,” Seguin said. “I want people saying we’re a competitor. I want our expectations to be very high. I think we’ve always had excuses when it’s come to new coaches or a new staff. But there should be no more excuses. We had a good team last year and I think the Twitterverse said that we needed a couple more guys that could score goals, so we answered the Twitter bell as far as our acquisitions this year. You know, let’s go. We’re all-in, I’m all-in and looking forward to a great year.”

We caught up with Seguin this week to talk about his golf game, this past season in Dallas, the secret being out on Miro Heiskanen and more.

Enjoy.

PHT: How is your golf game these days?

SEGUIN: “Very average. I can play but I usually play around a 13, 14 handicap. I’m just out here for a good time, get to see people. It’s been exciting.”

PHT: How often do you get to go out during the season?

SEGUIN: “Actually more than you’d think. Living in Dallas, we’re members at a course out there, Dallas National. We see Tony Romo out there a bunch, played with him a couple of times. When we’re on the road we’ll probably play five, six times. But we’re only playing for fun, not too seriously.”

PHT: Your new teammate Joe Pavelski finished third in this tournament last year and 10th a few years ago. Is there someone on the Stars roster who could challenge him on the course?

SEGUIN: “Maybe Taylor Fedun could challenge him. Stephen Johns can hit a deep ball. Myself and Jamie Benn, we’ll go on a golf round and we might shoot an 80 or we might shoot a 92.”

PHT: Building off of this past season, what does it mean to you that Jim Nill goes out and adds someone like Joe Pavelski coming off a 38-goal year?

SEGUIN: “The thing is, especially with GMs, with teams you’re either going all-in and going for it or you’re kind of re-stocking. When you see a GM make moves like going to get a guy like Joe Pavelski he’s telling the whole team ‘Our window’s open, we’re going to win the Stanley Cup.’ That’s our objective. That’s our goal. That’s the expectation. As a player on the team you get even more excited when you see these moves happening in the summer. You’re always working hard in the gym, but you’re even more dialed in now because you know they’re all-in so you want to be all-in and make sure you don’t let your teammates down.”

PHT: With the way last season went, the stuff with Jim Lites, the second half push, the heartbreaking end in Game 7, are you a player who turns the page and looks forward or do you keep pieces with you to serve as motivation going?

SEGUIN: “I think it changes based on the player. For me personally, it’s changed every year. A couple years ago it was not making the playoffs and I was thinking about games in November when we lost to a team like Carolina at the time that we should have won that game. There’s things throughout the year that stay in your mind. Obviously this year there was being in Game 7 double overtime and losing to St. Louis and being one shot away. You know, me being the guy that’s usually supposed to get that shot in and then seeing St. Louis go all the way and win it, those are motivation tactics in my head that I use all summer. 

“As far as the noise outside, whether it’s the stuff that happened to me earlier in the year, I kind of let that stuff go, kind of sticks and stones sort of thing. I play for my teammates.”

PHT: Jim Montgomery had a strong first year behind the bench. What about Jim and his style is different from other coaches you’ve had?

SEGUIN: “The way he’s approachable, his personality, the way he knows when to be buddy-buddy and knows when to be a bit more of a drill sergeant. He had some growing times during this year with all of us like we did, but I’m comfortable with not having any more coaches in Dallas, I’ve had three already. I’m hoping Jim’s going to stick around for at least the rest of my deal, which is eight more years. I’m looking forward to making some noise.”

PHT: Finally, Miro Heiskanen had a tremendous rookie season. How impressed were you with the way he was able to play at such a young age?

SEGUIN: “Honestly, he got to a point this year that’s never really happened with me and that was I stopped being surprised. I was continuously being surprised by him and at the end of the season you’d see something happen and you’d just say that’s Miro. Me personally, I would have liked to have hid him in Dallas a couple more years and not have everyone know how good of a player he is, but he’s so good that everyone knew. He’s going to be a heck of a player for many years with the Dallas Stars.”

You can watch Seguin, Pavelski, Oshie, and NBC’s Jeremy Roenick and Kathryn Tappen, along other celebrities from the sports and entertainment world participate in the American Century Championship golf tournament this weekend from Lake Tahoe. Coverage begins Friday at 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and continues Saturday and Sunday on NBC at 3 p.m. ET. You can watch a live stream here.

MORE: Joe Pavelski on free agency process, January return to San Jose

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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.

Joe Pavelski on free agency process, January return to San Jose

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It’s been 10 days since Joe Pavelski signed with the Dallas Stars, officially ending his 13-season tenure with the San Jose Sharks. Some days that reality has hit him, while there are times where it still doesn’t seem real.

In two months time, when NHL training camps open and he’s donning the Stars’ green and white, that’s when Pavelski feels the move will finally sink in.

As he went through the free agency interview period at the end of June, Pavelski still held out hope that things would work out with the Sharks. But with the team tight up against the salary cap ceiling and with a handful of players to re-sign, that hope soon faded.

“The last possible moment you still kind of feel something’s going to come out of left field and happen and get done,” Pavelski told NBC Sports this week. “But as you get to that free agency window and you start talking to teams, you understand that this is real and you’re going to make an important decision and it’s not just for me, it’s for my family and everything that comes with it. We feel like we made a good one.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Nearly three months after suffering a nasty injury during Game 7 of San Jose’s Round 1 series against the Vegas Golden Knights, Pavelski said, “[I] feel like I’ve turned a corner” after needing eight staples in his head and being diagnosed with a concussion.

The Stars had no concerns about his health after signing Pavelski, who had never been through the free agency process before, to a three-year, $21 million deal. When he knew a return to San Jose wasn’t in the cards, he wanted to join a good team that would give him a chance to win. What they have in Dallas checked many of the boxes he was looking for: solid goaltending, good, young exciting defensemen, and a strong forward group that he’ll get to join. He’ll get a chance to get to know one of his new teammates, Tyler Seguin, a little better this weekend as the pair are in a group with T.J. Oshie of the Washington Capitals at the American Century Championship golf tournament in Lake Tahoe.

Jan. 11, 2020 will be a special date for Pavelski and his family. That’s when the Stars make their first visit to San Jose and the SAP Center crowd and his former teammates will shower him with plenty of love that evening. It’ll be a memorable night, one that the 34-year-old is expecting will be a tough one to get through, but he’s ready to experience the rollercoaster of emotions.

“I don’t know how it’s going to be,” Pavelski said. “Seeing different guys go through it, it looks like it could be a tough night. It’s one of those things, you’ve still got to play a hockey game and it’s going to be a lot of emotions.

“I’m really looking forward to going back. I owe so much to the city of San Jose and how they treated us. The bond is real. The emotions are real, and at the end of the day I’m really going to cherish my time in San Jose.”

You can watch Pavelski, Oshie, Seguin, and NBC’s Jeremy Roenick and Kathryn Tappen, along other celebrities from the sports and entertainment world participate in the American Century Championship golf tournament this weekend from Lake Tahoe. Coverage begins Friday at 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and continues Saturday and Sunday on NBC at 3 p.m. ET. You can watch a live stream here.

MORE: Pavelski, Perry missing pieces for Stars?

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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.

Capitals aren’t far from tough calls on Holtby, Backstrom, others

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The Washington Capitals’ core has been together for so long, it’s tough to imagine any key names leaving this team.

While winning that first-ever Stanley Cup eases some of the tensions of a possible end of an era (or at least parts of an era), the Capitals aren’t far from potentially making some tough decisions. As in: tougher decisions than trading Alex Burakovsky for cap considerations, which probably wasn’t that easy to begin with.

Consider that star center Nicklas Backstrom‘s bargain $6.7 million cap hit expires after next season, as does that of remarkably reliable starting goalie Braden Holtby, who could see an enormous raise from his team-friendly $6.1M cap hit.

Even Alex Ovechkin‘s once-seemingly-eternal contract is nearing an end; the superstar sniper’s $9.538M cap hit runs out after 2020-21, one season after Holtby and Backstrom are up.

In all three cases, it’s conceivable that players might work with the Capitals to try to keep the band together. Ovechkin’s situation is pretty fascinating; he’s already 33, and his career earnings are already above $103 million, according to Cap Friendly. Maybe he’d take a small cut to chase Wayne Gretzky’s goals record, and perhaps more rings? Would he instead opt to leave North America altogether?

Those rank among the most interesting Ovechkin-related questions, yet they’re down the line.

Holtby, 29, and Backstrom, 31, are more immediate concerns, and both have been underpaid compared to what they’d make on the open market for years now.

All things considered, it’s in net where the most drastic changes might happen. Sergei Bobrovsky‘s seven-year, $70M mammoth of a contract could really raise the bar for goalies at Holtby’s level, which is something even Capitals GM Brian MacLellan acknowledges, as NBC Sports Washington’s J.J. Regan pointed out on Tuesday.

“It’s a comparable,” MacLellan said of Bobrovsky’s new contract. “It’s a peer and they look like pretty similar players. They’ve had similar success and Holtby’s had a Stanley Cup on his resume.”

Indeed, there are some striking similarities between the two; in fact, with Holtby being almost exactly one year younger that Bob, he’ll also be the same as Bobrovsky if Holtby hits the free agent market in 2020. Holtby’s career save percentage (.918) is right behind that of Bobrovsky (.919), and while Bob has enjoyed bigger regular season moments (two Vezina trophies to one for Holtby), Holtby’s been the clutch performer. That’s not just leaning on Holtby’s Stanley Cup win, either; few netminders in NHL history have delivered in the postseason quite like Holtby has, as his career playoff percentage is a brilliant .928.

Really, the more you compare Holtby with Bobrovsky – and the other richest goalies in the NHL, like top earner Carey Price and his $10.5M cap hit – the more anxious the Capitals should get. It’s probably fair to even deem Holtby a touch bit underrated, and certainly underpaid.

Yet, the Capitals might not have the stomach to hand a lengthy, long-term investment in an aging goalie like Holtby. The Florida Panthers made a major gamble with Bobrovsky due in some way to desperation, and deep down, the Montreal Canadiens would take a mulligan on that Price deal, if they could.

Simply put, the aging curve is unkind to goalies, too. Maybe some goalies age better, at least based on past stars, but with skill and speed increasing at a high rate in the NHL during the past few seasons, it’s possible that goalies won’t be much luckier in battling Father Time than snipers or power forwards.

As Regan explores in-depth, the Capitals also have an appealing Plan B. Ilya Samsonov is a promising young goalie at age 22, and the pedigree of a first-round pick (22nd overall in 2015). While goalies are notoriously difficult to forecast, Samsonov generally draws positive reviews from those who watch prospects as a passion. Samsonov’s small sample size of AHL games hasn’t been world-beating yet, but his KHL numbers check out, so there’s a chance that he emerges to such a degree that the Capitals decide to go with a younger, cheaper option.

Overall, it seems like 2019-20 has the potential to make a big impact on that decision … although there’s at least the chance of an extension before that drama builds.

Back in May, Holtby said he would love the idea of signing an extension, as Regan reported.

“I would love that,” Holtby said. “That’s not something that I’m going to try and dwell on or whatever. I’m pretty realistic about what goes on in the business and such. My focus is going to be to put in everything I can this summer to make sure I’m ready to help this team win next year. Everything outside of that you let sort itself out. But it’s pretty clear that I love it here and love this team and the city, but that’s the motivation to work hard and make sure that I do everything I can to make sure we stay here.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

While most players say they love where they’re playing, it doesn’t hurt to hear Holtby say that he would prefer to stay. In the case of Bobrovsky and the Florida Panthers, Bobrovsky is heading into an uncertain (though sunny) situation, with a franchise that has been mired in irrelevance for decades.

Also: having two promising, if very different, goalie options to choose from for the future is the sort of “problem” most NHL teams would love to have.

Either way, it will be interesting to find out if the Capitals pay up to keep Holtby, go bold and cheap with Samsonov, or find some sort of compromise (like Pekka Rinne slowly passing the torch to Juuse Saros in Nashville?).

It will also be interesting to find out if the Capitals end up regretting certain previous bets. That’s unlikely to happen anytime soon with Evgeny Kuznetsov (27, $7.8M through 2024-25) and John Carlson surprised some with how emphatically he lived up to his raise to $8M (through 2025-26). But they took a serious risk with T.J. Oshie, in particular, as he’s already 32, yet his $5.75M AAV won’t expire until after the 2024-25 season.

If the Capitals are able to sign Holtby, Backstrom, and Ovechkin after their current deals expire, it might mean having to make other painful changes.

A lot can change between now and when they truly need to make those calls. After disappointing GMs with a modest bump to $81.5M for 2019-20, it’s possible that the ceiling could lift to unexpected heights for 2020-21, and so on.

Here’s advice to Capitals fans, then: cherish this next season, because it’s possible that this team is nearing a time of significant changes.

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.

Trade: Avalanche buy low on Burakovsky from Capitals

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The Colorado Avalanche are aggressively attempting to improve as a team on the rise. The Washington Capitals are trying to stay at a high level while navigating salary cap challenges. If that strikes you as a perfect combination for a trade, then you’re right.

The two teams made an interesting splash on Friday, as the Capitals sent the rights of intriguing forward Andre Burakovsky to the Avalanche for what amounts to a couple picks.

Here’s the exchange, confirmed by the Capitals:

Avalanche receive: Burakovsky, 24, who is an RFA. The Capitals extended a $3.25 million qualifying offer to Burakovsky earlier this week, so we’ll see where a final deal might land once Colorado gets cracking.

Capitals receive: 2020 second-round pick (Colorado’s pick), 2020 third-round pick (Arizona’s pick, which was part of the Carl Soderberg trade), and unsigned free agent forward Scott Kosmachuk.

Frustrations, and limitations, for Capitals

A bit more than a week ago, Capitals GM Brian McClellan discussed Burakovsky’s struggles in 2018-19, while also saying he’s a good player, as NBC Sports’ Brian McNally reported.

“Andre had a frustrating year this year, but I think he finished it up well,” MacLellan said. “I think from the trade deadline on, I thought he had a good playoffs. We like the player. There’s been some inconsistencies there, but when he’s on his game, he’s a good player.”

One could see where Washington was getting a little frustrated with Burakovsky.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

After generating 22 points in just 53 games as a teenage rookie in 2014-15, Burakovsky enjoyed his peak years in 2015-16 and 2016-17, scoring 38 and 35 points respectively.

Injuries have been an issue at times, making 2017-18’s 25 points easier to stomach, as Burakovsky was limited to 56 games played.

It must have been irritating to see his stats stagnate at 25 points in 76 games this past season, though. Most obviously, you could see the lost patience in Burakovsky in his ice time, as it slipped all the way down to just 11:08 per game in 2018-19 after he was a pretty steady 13+ minute per night guy before.

With the Capitals in a tight cap situation (Cap Friendly estimates $9.235M of room with 17 roster spots covered), and some big expenditures looming with Braden Holtby and Nicklas Backstrom about to enter contract years, this ultimately might have been necessary surgery for Washington. Especially if, frankly, Burakovsky was never really going to get out of the doghouse.

Still, Caps fans have room to wonder: could they have gotten more for Burakovsky if they acknowledged the inevitable and moved him during the trade deadline? This is … not exactly the strongest return for a player with such potential and pedigree (23rd overall in 2013). Especially if you compare that to, um, other not-so-great trades.

Is it too simplistic to say that Burakovsky ultimately “lost out” to Jakub Vrana, another fine first-round find the Capitals managed despite being a regular contender? To some extent, it will feel that way, as there were only so many prominent spots to earn on a Capitals club with entrenched forwards like Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie already (justifiably) claiming big minutes.

Avalanche are rising, but will have a busy summer

In case it wasn’t clear, I love this trade for the Avalanche.

It reminds me of the New Jersey Devils exploiting the Capitals’ previous cap troubles to land Marcus Johansson, so here’s hoping that Burakovsky — someone who’s dealt with injury challenges — will enjoy better health luck than Johansson had in New Jersey.

One can picture Burakovsky really taking off if given the minutes and opportunities he struggled to gain with Washington.

Again, aside from 2018-19, Burakovsky generated strong possession numbers, and his scoring totals are quite good when you realize that his ice time was usually pretty modest. Could he take off if the Avalanche use him as a much-needed supporting scorer behind the mega-line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog? Perhaps Burakovsky could even ascend to the top line so the Avalanche can enjoy better lineup balance? The possibilities are pretty dazzling.

One way or another, the Avalanche aren’t done yet.

For one thing, they figure to have the cap space to land a much bigger fish. In a lot of ways, they’re the snazziest landing spot for superstar Artemi Panarin, although we’ll have to see if the stars align (particularly, if Panarin prefers skiing to suntanning in, say, Florida?).

Beyond that, the Avalanche have some contracts to hash out. Burakovsky is an RFA with arbitration rights, while Rantanen could cost Colorado eight figures, depending upon how his negotiations play out.

Getting those contracts right won’t be simple, yet it’s still easy to see the Avalanche making big strides this offseason. Considering how they dominated the West’s top seed in the Flames in Round 1, and pushed the Sharks to the limit in Round 2 even before making upgrades — and considering how they were one of the biggest winners of the 2019 NHL Draft — the sky seems to be the limit for this Avs team.

Consider smart deals like this one for Burakovsky as jet fuel for such a rise, then.

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.