T.J. Oshie

Long-term outlook Washington Capitals Ovechkin Holtby
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Long-term outlook for Washington Capitals: Key cap questions coming

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Washington Capitals.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Barring two very big names (which we’ll discuss in the next section), the Capitals have a lot of their name-brand players signed long-term.

It remains to be seen if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, depending upon how each integral player ages. Nicklas Backstrom is already 32, making a five-year extension with a $9.2M AAV pretty scary. Looking at other players with term, T.J. Oshie is 33, Lars Eller is 30, and John Carlson is 30.

Of course, Carlson looks like a steal at $8M so far, and those players have aged like fine wine — at least at this point.

If this group sustains reasonably well as they hit 30 and beyond, then the Capitals should be able to put puzzle pieces together to compete. At some point, you’d expect the run of division titles to end. Then again, like Alex Ovechkin scoring all of the goals, it just seems to keep happening.

Long-term needs for Capitals

I hesitated ever so slightly to put Ovechkin in the core section because, frankly, his future is a little bit unsettled.

The 34-year-old sees what felt like a lifetime contract end after 2020-21. Will the Capitals ask Ovechkin to take a pay cut from $9.54M? Would Ovechkin demand even more money? He’d certainly have options in the hard-to-imagine scenario where the situation gets sticky.

But there are certainly a number of scenarios where this plays out poorly for the Capitals and/or Ovechkin. Including if he stays, but steeply declines with an aging team.

The Capitals also need to settle their situation in net. It’s difficult to shake the impression that pending UFA Braden Holtby might be out. The 30-year-old’s best chance at a big payday likely lies somewhere other than D.C.

I mean … I think. The Capitals have shown an eagerness to keep key players together, sometimes producing some surprises. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with Backstrom, and I also was mildly surprised when they brought Oshie back. None of this is to say that the moves were foolish; it’s just sometimes difficult to tell when a team might make the painful, cap-forced decision to let a cherished player walk away.

Because the danger is that the Capitals might squeeze out a much-needed injection of youth if they try to wrangle everyone. At his current trajectory, 24-year-old Jakub Vrana sure looks like he’ll be in line for a massive raise from $3.35M after 2020-21.

Letting Holtby go — and maybe getting lucky to shake loose a problem contract to Seattle — might be key in replenishing the ranks.

The Capitals either need to get creative to stay younger, or they might need to search for the Fountain of Youth.

Long-term strengths for Capitals

No doubt about it, the aging curve worries me for Washington. That said, it might not be ominous at the “guillotine hanging over your head” level.

For one thing, players like Backstrom could conceivably age well. He distinguishes himself as much for his hockey IQ as he does for his talent, so maybe Backstrom will parallel, say, Patrice Bergeron over the years.

Ilya Samsonov also represents a possible solution. He could end up being better than Holtby going forward, and as a 23-year-old who would be an RFA after 2020-21, the Capitals may also be able to extend Samsonov for a team-friendly price.

OK, the Capitals might be forced into such a scenario by cap realities. But, when you look at, say, the Blue Jackets waving goodbye to Sergei Bobrovsky and getting a better deal with young, cheap netminders, it’s certainly not a given that Washington won’t come out of the situation as winners.

In all honesty, Capitals management has earned a solid level of trust.

Yes, the Capitals’ farm system isn’t the greatest, as Scott Wheeler ranked it 29th back in January (sub required).

But considering how infrequently they’ve picked even as high as the teens in drafts, they’ve been able to unearth some gems here and there. And Brian MacLellan isn’t even trading them away as perilously as the Capitals once did with Filip Forsberg.

My guess is that the “bill is coming” for years of win-now approaches, so maybe that shrewdness will only go so far. Still, this franchise has consistently found ways to stay in the picture, and there’s some reason to believe that the party might go a few years longer.

MORE ON THE CAPITALS:

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.

NBCSN Hockey Happy Hour: Oshie’s hat trick helps Capitals top Penguins

This week’s Hockey Happy Hour on NBCSN will again feature memorable “on this date” games in NHL playoff history.

The 2016 series marked the first time that Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin faced one another in the playoffs since 2009. First-year Capital T.J. Oshie completed a hat trick in overtime to give Washington a 4-3 win in the opening game of the Second Round, and an early series lead. However, the Penguins would win the series in six games en route to their first of back-to-back Stanley Cups.

Kenny Albert and Pierre McGuire called the matchup from Verizon Center in Washington D.C.

During the broadcast, Mike Milbury reflects on scoring the game-winning goal as a Bruins rookie in Game 3 of Boston’s semifinal series against Philadelphia on April 28, 1977.

You can watch a livestream of the game here.

As part of the week-long NBC Sports From the Vault presentation on NBCSN, Tuesday’s coverage will feature classic NHL matchups beginning at 7 p.m. ET. Throughout the evening, all-time greats such as Bobby Orr, Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent, Wayne Gretzky, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, and Steve Yzerman will be showcased in historic NHL regular-season, All-Star and Stanley Cup Final matchups.

Tuesday, April 28 on NBCSN
The Great One vs. The Great Eight Showcase – 5 p.m. ET (Live stream)
• Penguins vs. Capitals (2016 Round 2, Game 1) – 6 p.m ET (Live stream)
• Bruins vs. Flyers (1974 Stanley Cup Final, Game 6) – 7 p.m. ET (Live stream)
• Penguins vs. Capitals (Dec. 11, 2006) – 9:30 p.m. ET (Live stream)
• 1991 NHL All-Star Game – 12 a.m. ET (Live stream)

Wednesday, April 29 on NBCSN
#HockeyAtHome: NHL Fathers and Sons – 5 p.m. ET (Live stream)
• Rangers vs. Senators (2017 Round 2, Game 2) – 5:30 p.m. ET (Live stream)

Thursday, April 30 on NBCSN
NHL Player Gaming Challenge – 5 p.m. ET (Live stream)
• Wild vs. Avalanche (2014 Round 1, Game 7) – 6 p.m. ET (Live stream)

Sunday, May 3 on NBC
• USA vs. Canada (2010 Olympics Men’s Gold Medal game) – 3 p.m. ET

THE GREAT ONE VS. THE GREAT EIGHT SHOWCASE – TUESDAY, 5 P.M. ET ON NBCSN
Wayne Gretzky faces off against Alex Ovechkin in an EA Sports NHL 20 series featuring themselves playing with the Edmonton Oilers and Washington Capitals, respectively. The virtual matchup raised over $40,000 for COVID-19 relief.

1991 NHL ALL-STAR GAME – TUESDAY, MIDNIGHT ET ON NBCSN
The 1991 edition of the NHL All-Star Game featured hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, former Red Wings center Steve Yzerman and Vincent Damphousse of the Maple Leafs, who recorded four goals in the contest. The matchup was held two days following the beginning of Operation Desert Storm during the Gulf War, and the patriotic presentation of the national anthem at Chicago Stadium is still remembered to this day.

#HOCKEYATHOME: NHL FATHERS AND SONS – WEDNESDAY, 5 P.M. ET ON NBCSN
NBCSN will present a 30-minute program about NHL fathers and sons at 5 p.m. ET. The three father and son relationships featured in the program are:

NHL PLAYER GAMING CHALLENGE – THURSDAY, 5 P.M. ET ON NBCSN
NBCSN will present the opening night of the NHL Player Gaming Challenge at 5 p.m. ET, featuring Calgary vs. Ottawa. The month-long initiative will pit NHL players from all 31 clubs facing off against each other in EA Sports NHL 20. The competition kicks off on Thursday with Matthew Tkachuk and Noah Hanifin representing the Flames against Brady Tkachuk of the Senators.

Programming will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Happy Hour can be found here.

A best on best mythical tournament: 30-and-over

Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Ovechkin of Washington Capitals
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament. The first teams created were a 23-and-under and players in their prime.

Connor McDavid and other exciting young players have taken part of the spotlight, but Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin remain the most prominent faces in the NHL. The next roster to enter this mythical best on best tournament consists of players 30-years-of-age-and-over. It has several of the League’s most accomplished players, including numerous skaters with multiple Stanley Cup rings and Olympic gold medals.

Line Combinations

First line: Alex Ovechkin – Sidney Crosby – Patrick Kane

Thoughts: Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks have fallen out of the limelight in recent years after an era of dominance that included three championships. However, Kane has remained one of the most productive players in the NHL and the thought of his on-ice vision combined with Ovechkin’s blistering slapshot strikes fear into the heart of any opponent. Crosby has the wisdom and skill to balance this line to formulate a trio only used in a video game environment.

Second line: Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronBlake Wheeler

Thoughts: The Bruins have had the most complete line in hockey and two/thirds of that trio reside here. Blake Wheeler has the offensive punch coupled with strong defensive instincts to fill the void left by David Pastrnak. This line will be relied upon to matchup with skilled lines from opponents but also will need to contribute on the offensive side of the ice.

Third line: Claude GirouxEvgeni MalkinJakub Voracek

Thoughts: Malkin has been one of the top centermen since bursting onto the scene in 2006-07 and should bring out the best from his new linemates. Giroux and Voracek each took a step backwards in terms of offensive production this season, but the Flyers have emerged as legitimate Cup contenders in Alain Vigneault’s first season behind the bench in Philadelphia. The effectiveness of this line will determine how far this team could advance in the competition.

Fourth line: Jamie BennAnze KopitarT.J. Oshie

Thoughts: Is there anything else a coach could want in his fourth line? A two-time Selke Trophy winner flanked by a power forward and a skilled winger with defensive awareness? This line will start in the defensive zone majority of the time and be needed to flip momentum of the game within the game.

First D pairing: Mark GiordanoJohn Carlson
Second D pairing: Zdeno CharaDrew Doughty
Third D pairing: Ryan McDonaghAlex Pietrangelo

Thoughts: The absence of Shea Weber is jarring at first, but what attribute is missing from this defensive group? The biggest question facing this collection of rearguards is, do they have the foot speed to keep up with the quickness each team in this tournament possesses?

Starting Goalie: Tuukka Rask
Backup Goalie: Ben Bishop

Just Missed: Nicklas Backstrom, Phil Kessel, Carey Price, Steven Stamkos, Shea Weber

Captain: Sidney Crosby

Alternate captains: Patrice Bergeron, Alex Ovechkin

Analysis

The biggest advantage this team has over the competition is experience. Over half of the roster has a Stanley Cup championship under their belt and several players earned multiple championship rings in their respective careers.

Leadership will not be an issue with nine current NHL captains to help this team manage the emotions through this highly competitive tournament.

One area of concern is the speed of the game throughout the competition. Can the defense move the puck up the ice in a timely manner? Can the veteran forwards play at this pace each shift without sacrificing production? This team will be expected to play smart situational hockey and take advantage of special teams opportunities, but can they win even-strength matchups on a consistent basis?

There is an abundance of talent and wisdom up and down the lineup, but will they be able to dictate the pace and play the style they choose, or will they be forced to adapt to the opponents’ preferred style?

The answer to that question will determine how successful this team will be in this imaginary Best on Best tournament.

Surprising omissions

Phil Kessel: He was originally slated to skate alongside Bergeron and Marchand on the second line, but he doesn’t play a strong two-way game that his linemates would have demanded on a consistent basis. It was tough to leave a pure goal scorer like Kessel off the list, but his effectiveness is diminished if not playing in an offensive oriented role.

Steven Stamkos: The captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning is probably the most prolific player left off any roster in this tournament to date, but it was tough to find a spot for the skilled center. Crosby and Bergeron were no-brainers for this team, but the debate was between him and Malkin for the third line slot. The size and strength of the Russian forward were the deciding factors as that toughness will be needed throughout the tournament.

Shea Weber: He could easily slide into any spot along the blueline and the team likely wouldn’t suffer but tough decisions had to be made. The roster is not lacking in the leadership department and the three right-handed shot defensemen selected have the speed needed to keep up with the blazing speed of the competition.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Capitals storm back to beat Penguins, regain top spot in Metropolitan

Capitals
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It still probably wasn’t the exact way they want to play, but the Washington Capitals found a way to end their four-game losing streak on Sunday afternoon. Thanks to a four-goal third period they were able to rally for a 5-3 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins to regain the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

Washington now sits in sole possession of first place in the division with 82 points, two points ahead of Pittsburgh.

The Penguins still have one game in hand while the two teams will meet two more times this season with both games in Pittsburgh.

In the end, this was a gutsy win for Washington. Despite being outshot 36-23 and struggling to find much sustained offensive zone time, they still managed to cause enough havoc around the Pittsburgh net and feasted on a couple of glaring mistakes by the Penguins in the third period.

After Patric Hornqvist and Sidney Crosby scored two goals less than 30 seconds apart in the second period, the Penguins entered the third period holding a 2-1 lead. But Washington quickly struck for a pair of goals early in the third period.

Tom Wilson scored the equalizer on a breakaway following a brutal turnover by Pittsburgh’s Marcus Pettersson.

Carl Hagelin responded moments later when he scored on a net-front scramble in front of Penguins goalie Matt Murray to help the Capitals regain the lead.

The Penguins seemed to steal momentum back thanks to a highlight reel goal from Evgeni Malkin, but a T.J. Oshie goal just a few minutes later ended up being the game-winner. Hagelin added an empty-net goal (his second goal of the game) in the final minute.

A few other takeaways from this game:

1. It might get lost in the madness that was the third period, but Braden Holtby played a great game in net for the Capitals. He did give up the three goals, but two of them were great individual efforts from two of the best players in the world (Sidney Crosby and Malkin) and, well, sometimes that is just going to happen. That also should not take away from how strong he was overall. He stood tall on a couple of Penguins power play opportunities, while also shutting down a handful of odd-man rushes. His overall production has rapidly declined the past couple of years but he is still capable of getting hot and taking over a game.

2. Malkin’s third period goal will not be showing up on John Carlson‘s Norris Trophy highlight reel this season, but it was still a big day for the Capitals’ defenseman on Sunday. His assist on Hagelin’s first goal was the 475th point of his career, making him the highest scoring defenseman in Capitals franchise history, passing Calle Johansson.

3. As for the Penguins, this is their third consecutive loss and it is becoming obvious that the injury situation is finally starting to catch up to them defensively. There is not a single trade that general manager Jim Rutherford can make before Monday’s trade deadline (3 p.m. ET) that will do more to help the team than the return of injured players Brian Dumoulin, John Marino, Dominik Kahun, and Zach Aston-Reese. That quartet represents two of their top-four defenseman (perhaps their two best defensive defensemen) and two outstanding defensive forwards. That is a lot to overcome, and it is not a coincidence that their injuries have coincided with a downward trend in their defensive performance.

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.

Capitals return to winning ways; Ovechkin remains at 698

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Alex Ovechkin still has 698 goals. But the Washington Capitals returned to their winning ways with a 3-2 come-from-behind victory against the Colorado Avalanche.

T.J. Oshie scored a go-ahead goal late in the third period to help the Capitals snap a two-game losing streak. Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson erased a two-goal deficit and Braden Holtby recorded 32 saves in Washington’s first part of a three-game road trip.

Andre Burakovsky and Mikko Rantanen found the back of the net, but Colorado’s five-game winning streak came to an end.

Race for first in Metropolitan

The chase for 700 goals is a significant moment in Ovechkin’s career, but the larger objective for the Capitals is to return to the Stanley Cup Final.

Home-ice advantage and playoff seeding are always important during a treacherous journey through playoff hockey, but Washington’s recent slump allowed Pittsburgh to slide within striking distance for first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Penguins currently sit in second place, trailing the Capitals by five points and have played two less games.

Caps’ goalie competition continues

Ilya Samsonov and an expiring contract have opened the door for Holtby to lose his position as the Capitals’ undisputed starting goaltender after this season comes to an end.

Samsonov has seamlessly made the transition to the NHL with a 16-4-1 record in 23 appearances this season. However, he has not led a team through the rigors of a postseason or proven he can handle the emotional roller coaster ride of a grueling playoff series.

The Capitals have not been afraid to yank Holtby after a subpar performance in the playoffs, but the 30-year-old netminder backstopped the Capitals to a championship in 2018.

There are questions in the crease that will be tough to answer after the season, but the Capitals’ best chance at winning this season is with Holtby between the pipes.

Ovechkin’s quest for 700:


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.