T.J. Oshie

It’s Washington Capitals Day at PHT

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Washington Capitals. 

2018-19
48-26-8, 104 points (1st in the Metropolitan Division, 3rd in the Eastern Conference).
Playoffs: Eliminated in Round 1 by the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games.

IN
Radko Gudas
Richard Panik
Brendan Leipsic

OUT
Brooks Orpik
Brett Connolly
Dmitrij Jaskin
Matt Niskanen

RE-SIGNED
Carl Hagelin
Jakub Vrana
Christian Djoos
Chandler Stephenson

2018-19 Season Summary

For the first time in franchise history, the Capitals came into a season as defending Stanley Cup Champions. Captain Alex Ovechkin had been waiting to hoist the cup over his head for years, and when he finally got to do it he made it count. He and the Caps partied and partied and partied throughout the summer. Did it affect them heading into training camp? Not really.

The Capitals still managed to come away with the Metropolitan Division crown and they finished third in the top three in the Eastern Conference standings. Unfortunately for them, their regular-season success didn’t transform into a long playoff run, as they went head-to-head with the Eastern Conference’s version of Cinderella, the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Capitals won the first two games of the series at home before dropping Games 3 and 4 in Carolina. When the series shifted back to Washington for Game 5, the Caps came out and dominated 6-0 to put the ‘Canes on the brink of elimination. What happened next was quite surprising. Carolina came out and won Game 6 at home and they finished the job by beating the Caps in their own building in double OT.

It was a stunning end to another relatively successful season for Washington.

“The core guys played well in the playoffs, I thought,” general manager Brian MacLellan said, per NHL.com. “It was the people around the core that could have been criticized a little bit. So we changed the people around the core. Hopefully, we addressed what we thought was the reason we lost to Carolina.”

[MORE: Three Questions | On Holtby’s future | Under Pressure]

It’s tough to argue with MacLellan’s logic here. Ovechkin had nine points in seven games, Nicklas Backstrom had eight points in seven games, Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was a little quiet in the road games of the series, still finished with six points in seven games, while Tom Wilson and John Carlson each had five points in the series.

Brett Connolly, Andrei Burakovsky and Matt Niskanen all had just two points in the first round matchup. It’s probably not a coincidence that all three players weren’t brought back. In fairness to Connolly, he signed with Florida during free agency and the Caps didn’t have a ton of cap space to bring him back. Niskanen was shipped to Philadelphia in a trade and Burakovsky wasn’t extended a qualifying offer.

“We ended up having a good year,” MacLellan said. “But in the playoffs, it was inconsistent, for me, and I don’t know if it’s a fatigue thing or some other thing that we realized the battle that was ahead of us and weren’t up to the challenge. I’m not sure. I don’t have the exact thing pinpointed, but because of that, we felt we needed to change the group a little bit.”

With Brooks Orpik retiring, the Caps decided to add Radko Gudas from Philadelphia. He’ll add some sandpaper to the back end. They also brought in Richard Panik, who had 14 goals and 33 points in 75 games with the Arizona Coyotes last season. How much will these additions add to the core group?

There are other question marks surrounding this team heading into this year that we’ll tackle at PHT throughout the day.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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 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.

The Playoff Buzzer: Blues rally back against Jets; Sharks extend series vs. Golden Knights

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Although none of Thursday’s games were especially high-scoring affairs, they all started off with early goals. San Jose’s Tomas Hertl scored 1:16 minutes into his contest, Carolina’s Warren Foegele netted his goal 17 seconds in, and Winnipeg’s Adam Lowry was the quickest at just 12 seconds.

So far the road team has won every game of the St. Louis-Winnipeg series. It took a comeback win from the Blues in Winnipeg in Game 5 to keep that run going.

After getting off to a 2-0 series lead, the Washington Capitals have dropped two straight to Carolina. The Capitals aren’t truly in trouble yet, but it’s possible that we’ll see both Wild Card teams advance in the Eastern Conference.

Facing elimination, the Sharks were strong in Game 5. From the moment Hertl found the back of the net at 1:16, San Jose led for the rest of the game en route to a 5-2 victory.

Hurricanes 2, Capitals 1 (Series tied at 2-2)

The Carolina Hurricanes made a statement with their 5-0 win in Game 3, but that contest was the exception rather than the rule in what has been a series of tight games. As noted above, Carolina jumped to a 1-0 lead on a goal by Foegele, but Alex Ovechkin tied the contest on the power play at 10:35 of the second period. Teuvo Teravainen scored his first goal of the series in the final minute of the second to re-establish the lead. Despite the Capitals playing from behind in the third period, they only narrowly edged the Hurricanes in shots 8-7 in the final frame.

Blues 3, Jets 2 (St. Louis leads series 3-2)

Winnipeg had a 2-0 lead after one thanks to goals by Lowry and Kevin Hayes, but that first period could have gone much worse for the Blues. St. Louis forward Robert Thomas took a double minor for high-sticking at 9:31, but the Blues successfully killed it off. The Blues’ comeback took place entirely in the third period. Ryan O'Reilly capitalized on a power-play opportunity at 1:29 of the final period. Brayden Schenn tied it on a goal that needed to be reviewed due to the net coming off at the same time. Jaden Schwartz completed the comeback by scoring the winner with just 15 seconds left in the game.

Sharks 5, Golden Knights 2 (Vegas leads series 3-2)

After dropping three straight, this was a literal must-win game for San Jose and the Sharks answered the call. Hertl and Logan Couture established a 2-0 lead for the Sharks by 11:00 and San Jose also enjoyed 3-1 and 4-2 leads. Sharks goaltender Martin Jones, who had been horrendous over the last three games, held his own in this one, stopping 30 of 32 shots.

Suspension Coming?

Washington’s T.J. Oshie was injured on a hit by Foegele late in the third period and is expected to miss some time. Foegele only got a boarding minor, which angered Ovechkin.

UPDATE: No.

Three Stars

1. Petr Mrazek

Mrazek stopped 30 of 31 shots with his lone blemish being Ovechkin’s power-play goal. He’s now allowed just one goal over his last two starts after surrendering seven goals in the first two games.

2. Jordan Binnington

Binnington continues to be the driving force of the St. Louis Blues. He shook off an early goal in Thursday’s contest to help the Blues pull off their comeback win. Binnington turned aside 29 of 31 shots in Game 5.

3. Tomas Hertl

Hertl was the only player to have a multi-goal game on Thursday. He accounted for the Sharks’ opening goal at 1:16 and gave them some breathing room with his power-play marker at 14:45 of the third period.

Highlight of the Night

Let’s take another look at this close call that changed the course of the Jets-Blues game.

Factoids

Schwartz’s game-winning goal was the second latest scored in regulation time in St. Louis’ postseason history. The record holder is Gino Cavallini, who netted his goal at 19:51 of the third period in 1990. (NHL PR)

Mrazek has surrendered five goals on 83 shots since allowing three goals on his first eight shots of the 2019 playoffs. (Stephen Whyno)

With the two opening goals scored in the first minute of Thursday’s games, we’re up to five in Round 1. That puts us in a four-way tie for the most in an opening round with the other years being 1981, 2012, and 2016. (NHL PR)

Friday’s Games
Game 5: Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins (Series tied at 2-2) (7:00 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live Stream)
Game 5: Colorado Avalanche at Calgary Flames (Avalanche lead 3-1) (10:00 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live Stream)

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Capitals think Foegele hit was dirty, Oshie expected to miss playoff time

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Warren Foegele gave the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead 17 seconds into what would be a slim 2-1 win in Game 4, but that’s not why the Washington Capitals imply that he shouldn’t suit up for Carolina in Game 5.

Instead, the Capitals are unhappy with Foegele’s hit with about five minutes remaining in the third period. While Foegele received a two-minute boarding major for his check on T.J. Oshie, plenty of Capitals believe that Foegele went over the line in a way that should prompt a harsher punishment.

You can judge the hit and fallout for yourself in the video above this post’s headline.

For one thing, Capitals head coach Todd Reirden called it a dangerous hit, and hinted that Oshie might be out for a while. The Department of Player Safety factors injuries into the supplementary discipline decision-making process (for better or worse), so Oshie being injured could play into this potential situation. Oshie certainly looked to be in serious distress after that awkward fall into the boards.

Reirden said Oshie won’t “play anytime soon.”

You can see from the hit video that Alex Ovechkin was incensed by Foegele’s hit. While Reirden’s most interesting comment seems to focus on supplementary discipline (again, indirectly), Ovechkin’s most interesting beef seems to be about the in-game penalty being a mere two-minute minor.

“It’s a dirty play,” Ovechkin said, via Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post. “It has to be not two minutes. It has to be a different call.”

See/hear more from Ovechkin and Reirden here:

For his part, Foegele explained that he was trying to lift Oshie’s stick and “give him a little nudge,” and that he wasn’t trying to “hurt him or anything,” according to Khurshudyan.

Rod Brind’Amour certainly didn’t seem to think it was too bad of a hit:

The Capitals didn’t provide an official update regarding how much time Oshie might mix, and it’s possible that more information will surface in the next few days. Of course, with this Round 1 series headed for a minimum of six games after Carolina tied things up 2-2, it also could be a while before we really know how long Oshie might be out, as teams are more secretive than spy agencies with injury information during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Injuries have factored into this Round 1 series so far, although the bad news has mostly been on Carolina’s side. Most memorably, head coach Rod Brind’Amour was unhappy with Alex Ovechkin after a one-sided fight with Andrei Svechnikov left Svechnikov with a concussion.

We’ll see what happens regarding Foegele and Oshie, but if there were any concerns about these two teams drumming up the playoff disdain many love to see in hockey, then you can probably put those worries to bed. With that in mind, some advice: you probably shouldn’t drop the gloves with Alex Ovechkin.

The Capitals and Hurricanes will break this 2-2 series tie in Game 5 at Capital One Arena on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC (livestream)

UPDATE:

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: 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