Jakub Vrana

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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 Stanley Cup Tracker: Caviar in the Cup, Red Square visit, tour of Czech Republic

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The PHT Stanley Cup tracker will keep tabs on how the Washington Capitals spend their summer celebrating

Last time in the chronicles of the Cup, Alex Ovechkin had taken the mug home to Russia, where it visited the World Cup and where Ovechkin’s dad, Mikhail, got to lift Lord Stanley for the first time.

Of course, no trip to Russia would be complete without a trip to Red Square. Ovechkin, obviously aware of this, showed up to the iconic setting unprompted with the Cup.

It’s not certain what the most expensive thing that has been eaten out of the mug bit of the Stanley Cup — cereal, expensive booze, etc., has all made its way into the bowl — but we’ll assume filling it with caviar is right up there.

Michal Kempny, fresh of signing a new deal with the Capitals, got his chance to take Stanley home to the Czech Republic.

Kempny’s hometown of Hodonin was treated to a good time in the Cup’s first foray into the eastern portion of the country.

Of course, the Cup got to ride shotgun again as Kempny head to his hometown rink for a meetup with fans and a Q&A.

The Cup wasn’t done in the Czech Republic after Kempny’s time with it, however.

Hockey’s holy grail then headed to the nation’s capital of Prague to see Jakub Vrana.

Vrana was joined by Kempny and Andre Burakovsky during his day, and also had Washington Wizards point guard Tomas Satoransky join in on the fun.

And, of course, mom and dad got their chance.

The Cup tour will take a much-needed break this week as it makes it’s way back to domestic soil. In two week’s time, Stanley will visit Minnesota and North Dakota, including time spent with Matt Niskanen and T.J. Oshie.

Lord Stanley’s itinerary can be found here.


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

Ovechkin, Holtby set to guest on The Tonight Show

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There will be some must-see TV on Monday night.

Alex Ovechkin, made famous in recent hours by such exploits a this and this, and Braden Holtby, who has done this, and this in roughly the same timeframe, will stumble their way onto the set of NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on Monday.

The two 2018 Stanley Cup champions will grace the legendary stage at 11:35 p.m. ET. 

[RELATED: Capitals enjoy day with Stanley Cup at Nationals game]

It remains to be seen if either man will have sobered up by the airing of the episode.

There’s evidence out there that suggests the Conn Smythe winner Ovechkin took a slight break from his onslaught on liquor bottles and swimming in two-inch deep bodies of water.

Meanwhile, Capitals forward Jakub Vrana did many things on Saturday, including getting tattoos of their Stanley Cup triumph with Andre Burakovsky.

His whole Instagram story is something to behold, and if you have some free seconds, should watch it in its entirety.

Here’s a sneak peek:

This might be the greatest Stanley Cup victory celebration since this:


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

The Buzzer: Capitals near curse’s end, Connor breaks out against Predators

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Saturday’s results

Washington Capitals 6, Pittsburgh Penguins 3 (Capitals lead series 3-2): Pittsburgh held leads early in the first and at the start of the third period but blew them both as the Capitals put themselves within striking distance of the Eastern Conference Final. Jakub Vrana led the way for the Capitals, scoring the game-winner and adding two helpers. Braden Holtby stood tall, making a remarkable save prior to Vrana’s goal, while shutting the door on 36 of Pittsburgh’s 39 shots.

Winnipeg Jets 6, Nashville Predators 2 (Jets lead series 3-2): If you watch the first period, you’d have thought Nashville was in the driver’s seat. And they were, until the second period at least. Then Kyle Connor and the Winnipeg Jets got going and nothing stopped them. Connor scored twice, Connor Hellebuyck stood tall and the Jets head back to Winnipeg with a chance to put themselves into the penultimate round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Monday.

Three stars

Kyle Connor, Jets: Connor led the league in rookie goal scoring with 31 markers during the regular season but hadn’t scored in nine playoff games. He picked a good time to start on Saturday, notching two goals and setting up Mark Scheifele with a filthy pass for a three-point night.

Jakub Vrana, Capitals: A little promotion never hurt anyone… well, except the Penguins. Vrana got a bump up to Washington’s top line and immediately made the most of the opportunity with the game-winning goal and two assists, including one on the third-period marker that tied the game.

Blake Wheeler, Jets: Three assists, including a beauty to set up Connor’s second of the game. Wheeler had the wherewithal to know he had no chance of scoring on the play and found Connor coming into the slot. He found him, the Jets scored. C’est la vie.

Highlights

This pass:

This save, and then the goal:

Kuznetsov’d:

Factoids

Saturday night’s all right for rookies:

Sunday’s schedule

Boston Bruins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 3 p.m. ET (NBC) — Lightning lead series 3-1

Vegas Golden Knights vs. San Jose Sharks, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN) — Golden Knights lead series 3-2


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

Washington Capitals one win away from ending playoff curse

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Could the curse finally be coming to an end?

The Washington Capitals defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-3 on Saturday night to take a 3-2 series lead, putting the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs on the brink of playoff elimination and putting the Capitals on the brink of ending a curse that has plagued them for over two decades.

The Penguins are 9-1 all-time against the Capitals in the playoffs, including winning the past seven encounters dating back to 1995. Most recently, the Capitals have been shown the door in consecutive seasons in the second round by the Penguins, this despite the Capitals owning a superior regular season record.

This time, the Capitals might actually prove their worth.

The Capitals were resilient in Game 5. After Jamie Oleksiak gave the Penguins an early lead in the first period, the Capitals rallied late in the frame, scoring twice in 33 seconds.

The Caps found themselves in penalty trouble in the second period and got behind 3-2 after Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist converted on two of those man-advantages, but would rattle off four straight in the third period (including two empty-net goals) to take the series lead back to Pittsburgh for Game 6 on Monday.

Jakub Vrana, who got a bump to Washington’s top line, didn’t disappoint, scoring the game-winner on a nice rush from Alex Ovechkin. Vrana also provided the assist that saw Evgeny Kuznetsov fire home the game-tying goal earlier in the period and added another helper in the first.

And don’t sleep on Holtby’s save just before the game-winning rush. Holtby stopped 36-of-39 to help the Capitals past their arch-playoff-nemesis in this one. Matt Murray allowed 26-on-30 for a less notable outing.

Despite the Capitals being up a game, the pressure is squarely on them to finish this series and put themselves in the Eastern Conference Final.

Team’s that take a 3-2 series lead have a near-80 percent chance of moving on. But the numbers that have swirled around in favor of the Capitals have never meant much in this matchup.

Pittsburgh has all the experience in the world to still win this in seven, so Washington has to manage their minds more than anything starting on Monday evening.


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