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With Beagle sidelined, should Caps pursue Richards?


With Beagle sidelined, should Caps pursue Richards?

With third-line Jay Beagle awaiting surgery and expected to be sidelined “an extended period of time” with an upper body injury, is it time for the Capitals to consider signing free-agent center and two-time Stanley Cup champion Mike Richards?

Richards, 30, has been in his own personal purgatory since the Los Angeles Kings terminated his contract on June 29, twelve days after he was stopped at the Canadian border, allegedly trying to enter Manitoba while in possession of a controlled substance, reportedly OxyContin pills.

On Oct. 9 the Kings and NHL Players’ Association reached a settlement in which Richards will receive about $10.5 million of the $22 million remaining on his contract. Richards has spent the past few months skating with his former junior team on Kitchener, Ontario, waiting and hoping for an NHL team to sign him.   

"My goal is to get back into the NHL and I'm working out hard to do that," Richards told the Waterloo Region Record back in November.

Capitals veteran right wing Justin Williams, who won a pair of Stanley Cups with Richards while the two were teammates in Los Angeles, said he’s recently talked with Richards.

“We didn’t talk very much about hockey,” Williams said, “but it would be a great redemption story. Any time your ego takes a hit, which his did, as a proud guy you want to shove it up somebody’s (expletive deleted) and prove something to somebody, even if it’s just yourself.

“He’s not old and I’m sure he’s still capable of playing,” Williams said. “It all depends on his mental fortitude and where he is.”

Others around the NHL agree.  In his prime, Richards was the proto-typical checking-line center, capable of winning faceoffs, killing penalties and shutting down some of the NHL’s top forwards. But after winning the Stanley Cup with the Kings in 2014, when he recorded 10 points in 26 playoff games, Richards’ on-ice effectiveness dipped dramatically.

He had five goals and 11 assists and was a minus-10 in 53 games for the Kings last season, prompting them to send him to the AHL Manchester Monarchs, where Richards managed 14 points in 16 games.     

“On the ice, we all know Richie’s hockey instincts are off the charts and he’s only 30, so I think he can still play,” said long-time Philadelphia Flyers pro scout Dave Brown, who saw the Flyers select Richards 24th  overall in the 2001 draft. “But I think mentally, everyone is wondering where his head is.”

Those questions came to the forefront on Oct. 9 when, following the settlement with the NHLPA, Kings general manager Dean Lombardi provided the Los Angeles Times with a written summation of what he described as a betrayal by Richards, calling it the most “traumatic episode” of Lombardi’s career.

“I tried everything with Mike -- meeting with him constantly, sending him to concussion specialists, traveling in the off-season to visit with him at his summer home — and everything failed,” Lombardi wrote. “I heard the rumors that Mike might have some off-ice issues, but I refused to believe that they were true despite some obvious signs.

"The reality is that I was ‘played.’ My only regret, though, is that I wish Mike had been able to come to me with his problem — and that was the last message I left for him on his cellphone when I learned of the incident (at the Canadian border) and all the history leading up to the incident.

“I believe that what happened to Mike Richards is a tragedy and I cannot let it go. My short-term goal is to win championships; my long-term goal is to eventually become more involved with groups studying the changing values that are becoming increasingly evident in sport and their root causes.

“I certainly believe that Mike Richards must be held accountable for his actions — but when a player who at one time symbolized everything that was special about the sport can become caught in such a destructive spiral, then I believe the institution of sport must begin to examine its level of culpability."

Richards had a December court hearing postponed until late January and any NHL team interested in signing him (the San Jose Sharks reportedly have shown interest) may wait for the legal process to play out before taking steps toward signing him.

Former Capitals enforcer Craig Berube, who worked as an assistant coach in Philadelphia when Richards was the team’s captain, said he would suspect that if an NHL team signs Richards, he would need to play in the AHL for a stretch of games before joining an NHL roster.

“You can’t just step in after you’ve been working out with a junior team,” Berube said. “He would definitely need some (AHL) games.”

Many believe Richards would settle for the NHL minimum salary of $575,000, which would be prorated for however many games he plays in the regular season. With the Capitals expected to place Beagle on long-term injury (carrying a minimum of 10 missed games or 24 days) his annual $1.75 million salary would become available in cap space during his absence.      

For his part, Richards seems anxious to end his hockey exile and play for a team that will give him a chance to feel good about hockey again.

"I don't think it's about having anything to prove but more that burning desire to continue to have success," he told the Waterloo Region Record. "Winning those Stanley Cups were probably the best times of my life. I think that's what pushes me and keeps me going … to try and do that again.

"Obviously, (the past few months) has been stressful," he said. "Everyone says different things but I know who my family and friends are and that's all that really matters, having their support.

"You can't do anything about it now but push forward and look toward the future and try to learn from your mistakes."


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Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game


Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game

You thought the Caps had a goalie rotation before, but now they have added a third netminder in the mix.

Pheonix Copley has been recalled from the Hershey Bears and will backup Philipp Grubauer for Washington's game in Detroit, the team announced Thursday.

The move comes in response to an injury concern for Braden Holtby.


Dallas Stars forward Remi Elie collided with Holtby midway through the third period on Tuesday as Holtby was extending to make a save. Holtby reacted awkwardly to the collision and could be seen skating and flexing his leg during the next stoppage.

With only nine games remaining in the regular season, Holtby's injury is a major concern. Given his recent struggles, the final few weeks of the season offered a chance for Holtby to get his game back to form. Just where his game will be when he is 100-percent healthy again is certainly a storyline to watch.


The good news for Washington, however, is that Grubauer is perhaps more ready this season to lead the team than he ever has been and confidence in him around the team should be high.

Since Thanksgiving, Grubauer has played in 22 games with a 17-11-4 record, a .939 save percentage, 1.85 GAA and two shutouts. No goalie who has played in 20 games or more has registered a better save percentage or GAA. He will certainly be looked upon to carry the load until Holtby returns. Whether this means he now has the inside track on starting in the playoffs, however, remains to be seen. That will depend largely on just when Holtby is ready to return and how Grubauer plays down the stretch.

Copley, 26, has gone 14-16-6 with two shutouts, a .898 save percentage and 2.86 GAA in 38 games in Hershey this season. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Washington in 2014. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues in the package that netted the Caps T.J. Oshie, but was reacquired by Washington in Feb. 2017 in a trade deadline deal that included Kevin Shattenkirk.

At the time, it was believed Copley would be the team's backup for the 2017-18 season with Grubauer likely headed to Vegas in the expansion draft. Vegas, however, took Nate Schmidt instead which led to Copley spending the season in Hershey. The Caps now will be happy for the extra goalie depth for as long as Holtby's health remains a concern.

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Why the suggested tweak to the goalie interference rule makes sense to Barry Trotz


Why the suggested tweak to the goalie interference rule makes sense to Barry Trotz

Goalie interference has become one of the most controversial calls in hockey and that has led to the general managers calling for a tweak to the rules before the playoffs.

As the general managers wrapped up their meetings in Florida on Wednesday, they issued a recommendation to the league’s Board of Governors that the final decision for all coach’s challenges for goaltender interference come from the Situation Room in Toronto where a retired referee will be included in the process.

If approved, the change will be enacted for the start of the playoffs.

The issue with goalie interference is consistency. It is an inherently subjective call so on any given night, it is hard to know how the rule will be officiated. That is a problem considering these calls can take goals off the board. The hope is that by requiring that all calls be made by the Situation Room, it will bring more consistency.


The news was met by skepticism from Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer.

“I can't tell you right now at this point if that's going to change anything,” he said. “If they still communicate with the linesmen, I'm sure they do, but in the end it's a grey area and it's been a grey area for a bunch of years now.”

One issue with the change is that while the Situation Room will make the final call, it will not always have the same personnel for each game and the retired referee to be included will not always be the same individual. Saying the Situation Room will make the call sounds great, but if the calls are still being reviewed by different people every night, will that really lead to greater consistency?

Head coach Barry Trotz thinks so. He applauded the change Wednesday explaining that different factors can weigh on a referee when he is the one making the call.

“Some referees who are more established and more sure of themselves, they won't reverse their calls,” Trotz said. “They just almost say, that's the way I saw it and that's the way it is and live with it. Others get swayed by what they see or maybe the crowd or another coach or how the game is going. It's no different than the student marking their own papers. Let's have a non-emotional person who has no skin in the game and is not in an emotional environment to make those calls and I think you'll find it'll be more consistent.”


If the main issue of the goalie interference was the referees being made to judge their own calls, then yes, this new rule change will go a long way towards fixing the consistency problem.

But perhaps it is unreasonable to expect calls to ever be black and white on a play and a rule that never is.

“Every situation is different,” Grubauer said. “There's no situation that's the same. Did he get bumped in? Was it intentional? Was the goalie intentional making contact? All points they have to look at and it happens so fast. I hope it's going to get better and I hope they will get a foundation down for it.”