Matt Niskanen

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Trade: Caps shed salary by sending Niskanen to Flyers for Gudas

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A pair of division rivals have agreed to swap defensemen.

On Friday morning, the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers agreed to a trade, as the Caps sent Matt Niskanen to the Flyers for Radko Gudas.

The Caps made this move with the salary cap in mind. Niskanen has two years remaining on his contract at a cap hit of $5.75 million per year. Gudas has just one year remaining on his deal at $3.35 million, but The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun is reporting that the Flyers will eat 30 percent of his remaining salary.

All in all, this trade will save Washington $3.405 million in cap space, which isn’t insignificant.

“We would like to thank Matt for all of his contributions to our organization for the past five seasons,” Caps general manager Brian MacLellan said in a release. “Matt is a consummate professional and was a big part of our success. We wish him and his family all the best moving forward.

“We feel this move provides us with financial flexibility as we look for additional ways to strengthen our team. In addition, we are pleased to welcome Radko to our organization. Radko is a good defensive defenseman that plays a competitive, physical game.”

As you can tell from the quote above, McLellan mentioned the cap relief before the addition of Gudas. That’s not to say that Gudas won’t contribute this season, but they clearly wanted to free up as much money as possible while getting rid of Niskanen, who struggled in 2018-19.

The 32-year-old immediately becomes the Flyers’ highest paid defenseman. Now that Gudas is gone, Niskanen is the only right-shooting defenseman on the team. It’s also important to note he had to agree to go to Philadelphia because he had a limited no-trade clause (he submitted a list of 10 teams he didn’t want to go to).

Niskanen’s tenure in Washington wasn’t a failure by any means though. As much as he struggled last year, he still helped the Caps win a Stanley Cup in 2018 and he logged some big minutes for them during his five seasons there.

So now that this move has been made, McLellan will have roughly $12.5 million in projected cap space this summer. The Caps only have eight forwards under contract right now, so you’d have to think that he’s going to need to find himself some depth up front. Whether he brings back Andre Burakovsky (restricted free agent), Carl Hagelin (unrestricted free agent), or Brett Connolly (unrestricted free agent) remains to be seen. But he’s going to have to build himself a fourth line at the very least.

If they decide to go with cost-efficient depth players, they may even be able to add a significant piece to their roster via trade or via free agency.

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.

PHT Stanley Cup Tracker: From Europe to the land of 10,000 lakes

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

The Stanley Cup got a bit of a break last week after working its way through the World Cup, sampling a mug full of caviar and then taking a nice tour around the Czech Republic.

One would hope that the Cup got a chance to have a nice bath and maybe a massage.

The few days it did have off allowed it to travel back to North America, specifically The North Star State where it was given a hero’s welcome.

Lord Stanley’s first visit fresh off its European Tour was to Virginia, Minn., home of Matt Niskanen.

Niskanen was promptly handed the key to the city.

The Cup doesn’t make it around those parts too often, so it wasn’t a surprise to see the long lines waiting to get a glimpse of hockey’s holy grail.

From its day with Niskanen, the Cup then made its way north to the town of Warroad, which straddles the U.S.-Canadian border and is the hometown of T.J. Oshie.

Oshie isn’t the first NHLer from the minute town of 1,800 people. Warroad has produced quite a few stars across the sporting world over the years.

But Oshie is the first to bring the Cup to the northern Minnesota locale, and he did so in style on Tuesday.

Speaking of famous people from Warroad, 14 years ago Oshie and Olympic gold medalist Gigi Marvin in women’s hockey were crowned the king and queen at the 2005 Warroad Frost Festival.

They each showed off some different hardware 14 years later on Tuesday.

No Cup homecoming would be complete without a Cup stand, ie. someone drinking a large amount of alcohol out of it from an awkward position.

Oshie kept the tradition going, helping a couple fellow rookie teammates get in on the action.

Todd Reirden, the team’s newly minted head coach following the departure of Barry Trotz, will have his day with the Cup on Thursday before the mug heads north of the 49th parallel into Canada.

Trotz will still get his day with the Cup, of course, bringing it to Dauphin, Manitoba on Aug. 22. But first, the Cup will head to Winnipeg and the home of Madison Bowey this Saturday. From there it will make stops in Ontario for Todd Wilson and Devante Smith-Pelly before heading back out to Europe for a couple weeks, including stops in Sweden, Russia and Germany.

A full list of dates and where the Cup will be on them 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

Kempny re-signs, Capitals keep top defensive duo intact

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Here’s a three-step formula to getting paid:

1. Play well.
2. Play well with the $64 million defenseman you just signed.
3. Profit.

That’s exactly what Michal Kempny did on Friday, putting pen-to-paper on a shiny new four-year, $10 million deal with the Washington Capitals. The average annual value on the deal will hit the Caps for $2.5 million per annum.

Not bad for a guy who was ready to pack his bags and head to Europe to play not long ago.

The move keeps Washington’s top pair intact after John Carlson was re-signed on Monday.

Kempny and Carlson formed a formidable partnership after Kempny was acquired at the trade deadline from the Chicago Blackhawks. The move was supposed to find the Capitals some depth on the backend for the playoff run. What they got for the third-round pick they shipped back to the Blackhawks was much more.

Kempny and Carlson gelled as a pairing, one that eventually helped the Capitals for their first Stanley Cup, where Kempny had one goal and two assists in the Finals against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Washington’s top four defenseman — including Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen — are now all locked up for the foreseeable future. Their Cup-winning Top 9 are also returning.

The deal comes a day after Washington locked up forward and playoff hero Devante Smith-Pelly to a one-year, $1 million deal.

According to CapFriendly, Kempny’s signing puts the Caps just under $10 million shy of the $79.5 million cap for this upcoming season.

They still have five restricted free agents that they signed to qualifying offers last week that need contracts, including Tom Wilson, Madison Bowey and Travis Boyd.

Washington could look now to adding a veteran depth guy on defense, perhaps bringing back Brooks Oprik, who was traded along with Philipp Grubauer to Colorado to make cap room for the Carlson deal.


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 Washington Capitals are up to their old tricks again

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The Washington Capitals are doing that thing again.

It seems every year they find a way to work themselves into the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. They’ve finished first in their division seven times out of the past 10 seasons and second twice. Only once — a fifth-place showing — have they been outside the top two during the past decade.

It’s become as predictable as it is remarkable.

And this year, at first glance, it’s sort of surprising.

Sure, Alex Ovechkin is still scoring, Nicklas Backstrom is still assisting and Braden Holtby is still stopping a lot of pucks.

But the Caps also took, what at least appeared to be at the time, a big hit on the backend over the summer.

Offensively, not much has changed (although they did lose Marcus Johannson’s 24 goals) but losing Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk to free agency and Nate Schmidt in the expansion draft left a sizeable hole to be filled on the blueline.

[Alex Ovechkin has never had a goal-scoring run like this]

Statistically speaking, they’ve also regressed from the numbers they put up last season when they amassed 55 wins.

They had the fourth best Corsi rating in the NHL last season, a statistic that made sense giving their winning prowess. Yet this year, with 21 wins, they sit 23rd in the category they dominated last season.

The same story plays out in expected goals, where they sat ninth last season yet are in 26th place now.

Analytically, a lot of their success this season doesn’t seem to add up, and yet they’ve won eight of their last 10 games and are currently on a three-game heater.

So why are they tied for first place in the Metro? There are a few answers to be had.

In the scoring department, several players have stepped up. Jakub Vrana has 10 goals in 33 games after three in 21 games last year and Tom Wilson is just three points shy of the 19 points he put up in 82 games last season. Brett Connolly and Alex Chaisson are also scoring at better rates and Washington sits eighth in five-on-five scoring.

What is also helping is their high shooting percentage.

At 9.22 percent, the Caps sit in fifth in the league, and their PDO, when you combine their shooting percentage and team save percentage, sits at 101.98, good for the third spot in the NHL.

And the Caps have proven they can keep that number high. Only two teams finished with over nine percent last season, and the Caps were one of them.

On defence, John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov have picked up the slack. The rookie third pairing of Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey is averaging 14 minutes a game and have been a solid addition.

And Holtby, is well, Holtby, which has been especially helpful given Philipp Grubauer‘s struggles to return to last year’s form so far.

So the Caps, for the most part, are in a good spot.

The biggest question that will surround the Caps, assuming they hold serve, is if they can replicate it in the playoffs.

Despite winning a slew of regular season games, the Capitals just can’t figure out how to do the same in April and May.

In nine of the past ten seasons they’ve made the playoffs, they’ve failed to even sniff the Eastern Conference Final, never mind a Stanley Cup final berth.

But that’s another story for another day, as it were.

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

Pittsburgh’s biggest question: Is the defense good enough?

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For a team not really known for its defense, the Penguins sure have seen defensemen fly off the shelves.

Last summer, teams spent $76.45 million to lure away Deryk Engelland (Calgary), Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik (Washington).

This summer, more of the same with the Sharks signing Paul Martin and the Kings inking Christian Ehrhoff.

The issue here is obvious — if Pittsburgh’s defense wasn’t that great to begin with and then lost all these guys, how good will it be heading into 2015-16?

“I’m comfortable with (our defense) going into the season,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said earlier this summer, per USA Today. “But it is certainly the area we will watch the closest.”

Rutherford isn’t the only one that’ll be watching.

Eyes across the league will be glued to Pittsburgh following Rutherford’s bold renovation project. Nearly all of his moves this summer were designed to improve his forward group — adding the likes of Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino, Eric Fehr and KHLer Sergei Plotnikov — essentially banking on the idea that, ready or not, his collection of young defensemen will carry the load.

And it really is a young group.

Only Kris Letang, Rob Scuderi and Ben Lovejoy have appeared in over 200 NHL games; even a “veteran” presence like 26-year-old Ian Cole is a bit of a wildcard, given he was buried on a deep Blues blueline before being acquired last season (prior to ’14-15, Cole’s career high in games played was 46).

As such, kids are going to take on some pretty hefty roles.

Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot, both 21, figure to get a lion’s share of the now-available minutes, while the likes of Adam Clendening (22), Brian Dumoulin (23) and Tim Erixon (24) will be fighting for depth spots — which, in Pittsburgh, are pretty important spots.

This is a defensive unit, remember, that was ravaged by injury a year ago (recall when the Pens only dressed five d-men against San Jose?) Things got so bad that, by the time the playoffs rolled around, Taylor Chorney was in the lineup.

Though the club has since hired two new staffers in an effort to “minimize injuries,” losing blueliners to injury always remains a concern.

But there is a wrinkle.

Rutherford, who took heat last year for rolling the dice on a thin blueline while stockpiling offense, says that his abundance of forwards may actually help out should he to add a defenseman.

“Hopefully the younger guys can fall into place and do a consistent job,” he explained. “If not, part of having more depth up front, is that it can help us in the long run because if we have to go get a defenseman we have those extra pieces.”

Translation: Rutherford knows the group might need help.

“I’m fully aware,” he said, “that at some point in time we may have to address that position.”