With the Capitals’ 2015-16 season now in the rearview mirror, we continue with our numerical player-by-player roster analysis.
No. 26 Daniel Winnik
Age: 31 (turns 32 on March 6, 2017)
Games: 76 (20 with Caps, 56 with Toronto)
Goals: 6 (2 with Caps, 4 with Toronto)
Assists: 13 (3 with Caps, 10 with Toronto)
Points: 19 (5 with Caps, 14 with Toronto)
Plus-minus: Plus-4 (plus-7 with Caps, minus-3 with Toronto)
Penalty minutes: 38 (22 with Caps, 16 with Toronto)
Time on ice: 13:42 (12:10 with Caps, 14:15 with Toronto)
Playoff stats: 12 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, even, 4 PIM, 11:22
Contract status: One year remaining on two-year, $4.5 million contract ($2.25 million cap hit, $1.8 million salary in 206-17)
On the surface, the Capitals paid a substantial price for Daniel Winnik when they acquired the fourth-line winger from the Toronto Maple Leafs, along with a fifth-round pick, on Feb. 28, one day before the NHL trade deadline. In return, the Leafs received Brooks Laich, Connor Carrick and a second-round pick in 2016.
But as general manager Brian MacLellan pointed out after the season, the Capitals and Maple Leafs essentially were trading cap space. Laich, who will turn 33 later this month, has one year and $4 million remaining ($4.5 million cap hit) on the six-year, $27 million contract he signed with the Caps in 2011.
Winnik, who turned 31 in March, has one year and $1.8 million ($2.25 million cap hit) on the two-year deal he signed with the Leafs last summer.
That additional $2.25 million in cap space could go a long way for the Caps this summer.
“We were restricted because we had a contract situation, and most of our conversations were based on taking a contract back to add a guy,” MacLellan explained, referring to Laich’s contract. “And I mean, sometimes the timing doesn’t work out as far as getting that contract out, it doesn’t align with conversations you have, trying to trade for players, and that was the case this year.
“I mean, we had some conversations about guys we had interest in, as long as they would take the one contract back, and teams weren’t interested, and then we finally traded the contract and it didn’t line up perfectly, timing wise. I mean, we did try to address it.”
In other words, it took so long for the Capitals to trade Laich – MacLellan said the Leafs were the only team willing to take his contract -- that it prevented them from getting into conversations with other players they were interested in at the deadline.
Laich finished the season with two goals, 12 assists and a minus-13 rating while averaging 11:26 for the Caps and Leafs. Winnik finished with six goals,13 assists and a plus-4 rating while averaging 13:42 for the Leafs and Caps.
“It's been very good,” Winnik said of his brief time with the Caps. “Obviously, coming here was a shock to begin with, but I think adjusting was pretty easy. I think the group of guys is phenomenal that we have here. Guys were saying in the playoffs there's a lot of love in this room for each other and there really is. You feel it and I think you see it on the ice on how we can come back in games and we don't quit, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed my experience so far with the Washington Capitals.”
And barring any unforeseen moves in the offseason, Winnik will be back next season.
One of the reasons the Capitals wanted a penalty killer in return for Laich was MacLellan’s desire to scale back on the shorthanded ice time allotted to Nicklas Backstrom, Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie, who also logged time on the power play. Winnik and Mike Richards did just that and the Caps finished with the second-best penalty killing percentage in the NHL.
“I thought I played well,” he said. “No (playoff) points or anything like that, but I thought on the penalty kill I was great and I thought 5-on-5 we did our job. We could have probably chipped in offensively. I think that makes a difference when your bottom line's chipping in. I think we missed some chances, but hopefully it's just a different story next year.”
Winnik’s late-season arrival was similar to his experience last season when he joined the Penguins just before the trade deadline but saw them eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
“It was the same (feeling) for me,” he said. “I think the expectations for this team are obviously high, to reach the end goal of the Stanley Cup, and we fell short of it in the second round. It's just a tough way to go, especially to lose in six. We probably figured it was going to be a seven-game series and we were there pushing to do that, but just fell short.”
Winnik said the Penguins play a completely different style under head coach Mike Sullivan than they did under Mike Johnston a year ago, but he doesn’t think Pittsburgh’s edge in team speed was the difference in the series.
“I don't think so,” he said. “I've talked to friends of mine around the league who watched it and they said it was like the puck followed them around at times and I think it did. You've got to give them credit, they played well and they scored on the chances that they had to. I thought they were very opportunistic throughout the series.”
Winnik said he learned a lot about the Capitals in his 2½ months with them and is optimistic about their chances to advance farther next year.
“I think you play against Marcus (Johansson) and Burkie (Andre Burakovsky) and Kuzy (Evgeny Kuznetsov) and (Dmitry) Orlov and you don't realize the skill level they have or how effective they are. But being around them every day, they're all highly skilled players.”
Winnik said he also gained an appreciation for Caps captain Alex Ovechkin, who led the league in goals for the sixth time in his career, one more than Rocket Richard.
“He can take over games,” Winnik said. “It's pretty evident he's the best goal scorer in the game right now and quite arguably could be of all-time. To be scoring at his rate in this era where it's very tough to come by goals is very impressive. Being around him, it's crazy, but he gets 50 goals with everybody focusing on him every game and that's not just because of his shot. He's got great hockey sense and he knows how to get lost in the offensive zone.”
Of course, there is only one thing separating Ovechkin from some of the best goals-scorers in NHL history and that’s a championship. Like many of his Capitals teammates, Winnik believes they are on the brink.
“I think so, yeah,” he said. “I've obviously been traded a couple times and every time you get moved at the deadline, the team's like, ‘Well, we're going for it,’ and you can sense it. But it's pretty tough. There are teams that make trades at the deadline and I think sometimes it’s just to get into the playoffs and other teams are doing it because they know that they've got a chance at the Cup. I felt this was one for sure. I think we had a shot at the Cup.”