After winning 2C audition, Kuznetsov aiming to ‘play better’

13 Comments

Less than a year ago, the Washington Capitals had no idea who would be their second-line center.

They know now.

It’s Evgeny Kuznetsov, the talented 23-year-old Russian who just signed a two-year extension with the club.

“I played good hockey but I have to play better,” Kuznetsov said, per CSN Washington. “I’ll try to focus on my game and what the coach tells me. If everybody does the right job probably something good will happen.”

Next season, the Caps could have a first line comprised of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, and a second line featuring Kuznetsov between Andre Burakovsky and Justin Williams.

“[Kuznetsov] filled a hole at second-line center that we’ve been trying to fill for a number of years,” Caps general manager Brian MacLellan said in May.

With a defense headlined by John Carlson and Matt Niskanen, and with Braden Holtby in goal, you’ll excuse Caps fans for finding it difficult to contain their excitement.

Related: Caps landing ‘affordable’ Williams a sign of the new free agency

After adding Richards, ‘Hawks still have questions at 2C

5 Comments

When the Chicago Blackhawks signed Brad Richards this summer, it was seen as a temporary solution to the team’s issues at second-line center. (The issue being they didn’t have a very good one, at least relative to some of the other Stanley Cup contenders in the Western Conference.)

But Richards, even if he does have nine points in 16 games, hasn’t really been the solution. In fact, coach Joel Quenneville has only seen fit to play the 34-year-old for around 12 minutes a night.

Meanwhile, another 2C candidate, Andrew Shaw, has similarly failed to impress the coach, particularly on the defensive side of the ledger.

“We’re still, last year, this year, trying to get that nailed, the part of his game where everyone can play the right way without the puck,” Quenneville said of Shaw, per CSN Chicago. “It’s not an easy job, playing low in your own end. But if you nail that, the other stuff takes care of itself.”

And so the 2C issue remains. Teuvo Teravainen is the future, but he’s being developed in the minors. The only other options at center are Peter Regin and Marcus Kruger. Maybe GM Stan Bowman could explore a trade, but he’d have to free up some cap space to go after, say, Arizona’s Antoine Vermette.

It may be the ‘Hawks just have to go with what they’ve got. They won the Stanley Cup in 2013 with an aging Michal Handzus in the 2C role. It’s certainly not out of the question they could do it with Richards.

Caps still haven’t identified their 2C

From the Washington Post, on the Capitals’ ongoing auditions to play second-line center — auditions that now, apparently, include Brooks Laich (just like old times):

Will it be Evgeny Kuznetsov, the natural center from Russia entering his first full NHL season? Or Andre Burakovsky, the summer experiment rising through the ranks? Or Marcus Johansson, shuttled to the wing Sunday to offer Laich a crack? Or even Laich, who after scoring an empty-netter and shaking off a knee injury said he, all along, considered himself best in the middle?

Per CSN Washington, today at practice it was Burakovsy centering the second line between Laich and Troy Brouwer, with Kuznetsov between Jason Chimera and Joel Ward on the third line. Johansson, meanwhile, was stuck playing left wing on the fourth line, centered by Michal Latta, with Chris Brown on the right side.

The problem for the Caps: not one of the four 2c candidates is ideally suited for the all-important position. Burakovsky and Kuznetsov are still young and learning, while Laich is 31 years old, his best days perhaps behind him. Johansson, obviously, hasn’t done much to impress new coach Barry Trotz.

The Caps play Wednesday in Buffalo, then conclude their preseason Thursday and Sunday with home games against Philadelphia and Carolina, respectively.

“We’ve got three games left here, so we really need to finalize what we’re going to do,” said Trotz.

Boudreau has ‘never coached a team in the NHL’ with a 2C like Kesler

20 Comments

“I’ve never coached a team in the NHL that’s had a second-line center that you’re going to have with Ryan Kesler. It’s a great [acquisition], and it gets you excited.”

That was Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau (per NHL.com), talking about his team’s big offseason acquisition from Vancouver. A former Selke Trophy winner, Kesler will play behind Anaheim’s top center, Hart Trophy finalist Ryan Getzlaf, giving the Ducks one of the top 1-2 center combinations in the NHL.

“This makes us a bona fide threat to become an elite team,” said Boudreau.

So, exciting times for Ducks fans, who saw firsthand what the Los Angeles Kings did with a one-two combo of Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter in these past playoffs.

But fans of the Washington Capitals may also have perked up at Boudreau’s remarks, given the cavalcade of second-line centers that auditioned in D.C. to play behind Nicklas Backstrom.

From Japers’ Rink:

The last time the Capitals entered an offseason knowing who the second-line center would be for the upcoming season was 2008, and Sergei Fedorov was playing for the Caps. Fedorov retired from the NHL after that 2008-09 season, and in each of the ensuing four and a half seasons the Capitals have had to find a new player to handle the second-line center spot.

The 2C spot is still up for grabs in Washington, with Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich and Evgeny Kuznetsov expected to compete for the role following the departure of Mikhail Grabovski to Long Island.

Chicago signs Richards — one year, $2M — to solve 2C problem

42 Comments

Chicago’s lack of a second-line center has been well documented — often times by our very own Jason Brough — so it came as no surprise today when the ‘Hawks decided to address the issue.

How they addressed it, though, is a bit of a stunner.

The ‘Hawks inked ex-Rangers center Brad Richards to a tidy one-year, $2 million deal, one that comes with a no-movement clause, per CapGeek. Financially speaking it’s a major win for Chicago, a team that was pressed right up against the salary cap but still able to bring in a quality middle man… at a very affordable price.

Richards, who became an unrestricted free agent 10 days ago following his buyout from the Rangers, is coming off a solid-if-unspectacular campaign in which he finished third among all Blueshirts skaters with 20 goals and 51 points. While the 34-year-old was a lightning rod for criticism given his $6.6 million cap hit, Richards is now working under far better financial terms — just $2 million  — and should be thrilled at the prospect of playing with any one of Chicago’s talented wingers: Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa or Brandon Saad.

The move will also be good from a familiarity standpoint as it returns Richards to the Western Conference, where he scored a career-high 91 points with Dallas during the 2009-10 campaign.

As for the finances, it’s easy to see why Richards chose to go where he did. He’s going to make an awful lot of money from his Rangers buyout ($3.05 million this year) so the option to take less salary to join a winner was out there. Few Cup contenders needed help at center more than Chicago, especially after St. Louis inked Paul Stastny in free agency earlier today.

Looking ahead, few will argue Chicago didn’t upgrade the 2C position in getting Richards over Michal Handzus, but it’ll still be interesting to see how Richards fits. There’s no denying he’s lost a step (which was one of the criticisms of Handzus) and, given Chicago’s speed up front, the ability to skate is at a premium.

Richards does, however, buy the ‘Hawks at least one year for prospect Teuvo Teravainen to cut his teeth at the AHL level and learn the nuances of playing center. That’s an important aspect of this deal.