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Capitals setting their sights on a new third-line center?

Capitals setting their sights on a new third-line center?

I'm not sure how often Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan reads the Edmonton Journal, but Hall of Fame hockey columnist Jim Matheson has a few ideas on how to fortify the Caps’ roster this summer and he might be spot on.

While Jay Beagle may aspire to be the Caps’ third-line center – and there were times this season he did an excellent job there – the Caps appear to be slotting him as a fourth-line center and top penalty killer.

Matheson suggests the Capitals improve their forward depth by adding Islanders free agent center Frans Nielsen and Red Wings free-agent left wing Darren Helm and strengthen their blue line by adding Dallas free agent Jason Demers.

Let’s explore those options a little further, with the assumption RFAs Marcus Johansson, Tom Wilson and Dmitry Orlov return and UFAs Jason Chimera, Mike Richards and Mike Weber do not, giving the Caps roughly $7 million in cap space.

Nielsen, 32, is a creative, two-way center who put up 20 goals and 32 assists (Marcus Johansson numbers) in 81 games as a second-line center with the Islanders. He added three goals and three assists in 11 playoff games. Nielsen can work the power play and kill penalties and would provide added speed to a third line.

Nielsen, who is from Denmark, made $3.5 million last season and would likely command $4 million to $4.5 million (Johansson money) on the open market, although the Caps probably would try to get him for less.

Helm, 29, is a worker bee who plays a strong two-way game. He won a Cup with the Red Wings back in 2008 and netted 13 goals and 13 assists in 77 games in Detroit this season, adding one goal in five playoff games. Helm also kills penalties.

At $2.5 million Helm made $500,000 more than Chimera did this season but was less productive offensively. (Chimera had 20 goals and 20 assists). The Caps likely would be looking at no more than two years for Helm or Chimera, but would likely want to spend no more than $2 million for a third-line left wing.

If the Caps committed at least $6 million toward improving their third line, it would leave them with only $1 million or so for their defense.

Remember, the Caps already have roughly $19.6 million committed to six defensemen and that’s without re-signing Orlov, who will want close to $3 million.

Demers, 27, averaged more than 20 minutes a game for the Stars in 62 regular season games, recording seven goals and 16 assists. He can move the puck quickly and can join the rush while possessing a better than average shot. If that sounds a lot like Orlov (8 goals, 21 assists, 16:01 average ice time), it’s because it is. In fact, if the Caps hope to improve their blue line they almost certainly would need to move one of their seven defensemen.

As for the cost of Demers, he made $3.65 million this season and likely would be seeking a raise. The Caps simply aren’t able to spend that kind of money on their back end, unless big money goes in return.

If the Caps can find a way to get Johansson, Wilson, Orlov, Nielsen and Helm under the NHL salary cap, I could see them doing it. But they’d be hard-pressed to add a proven NHL defenseman as well.

RELATED: Ten most pressing offseason questions for the Capitals

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Burakovsky will miss the first round, but Caps won't rule him out for remainder of the playoffs


Burakovsky will miss the first round, but Caps won't rule him out for remainder of the playoffs

Andre Burakovsky will be sidelined for the remainder of Washington's first-round series vs. Columbus, but he isn’t necessarily out for the remainder of the playoffs, Coach Barry Trotz said on Friday.

Burakovsky suffered an undisclosed upper-body injury in Game 2 and has not been on the ice since.

Trotz said the 23-year-old top-six winger needs “minor” surgery.

That procedure, however, will not preclude Burakovsky from returning to the Caps’ lineup in subsequent rounds, should Washington advance.

“That's why I said minor surgery,” Trotz added, asked if Burky might return at a later date.

This latest surgery is the second for Burakovsky this season. In late October, he had a procedure to repair a broken left thumb and missed the next 20 games.

Since his departure in Game 2, Jakub Vrana and Chandler Stephenson have taken turns replacing Burakovsky on the second line with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie.


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Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

There's a saying in sports that goes, "A series doesn't start until a team loses at home." For the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets, their series won't start until someone wins at home.

Four games into the series, the road team has won every game. Columbus took Game 1 and Game 2 from Capital One Arena and the Caps answered back by winning Game 3 and Game 4 in Ohio.

"We came [to Columbus] to try to get the first one," Barry Trotz said after Thursday's win. "Did that. We came here to get the second one. Did that. All we've done is just got on even terms."

Now the series is a best of three with two of those final three games in Washington, but how much of an advantage does that really give the Caps?

"We've got to make sure that we're ready to go," Trotz said. "I think we have been since we got here. We've just got to do it at home."

The various playoff struggles the Caps have suffered in the Alex Ovechkin era have been well-documented to this point. One particularly maddening issue is the team's struggles to win at home. Since 2008, the first year the Ovechkin-led Caps made the playoffs, the team is just 28-25 in home playoff games. Since 2015, Trotz's first season as head coach, the Caps are 12-10 in Washington.

Part of that is just the nature of hockey. Upsets are prevalent in the playoffs in the NHL and home-ice advantage does not mean as much as it does in other sports. But it should mean more than 28-25.

Besides having the crowd on your side, home ice also provides matchup advantages. The home team gets the second line change at home, meaning during a stoppage in play the home coach gets the opportunity to see who the opponent puts on the ice before making his own change. For the Caps, this means getting Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against Artemi Panarin.

Trotz has matched his top shutdown pair against Columbus' top line all series long. According to Natural Stat Trick, when Niskanen was on the ice in Game 4 he held Panarin's Corsi For percentage to 36.36. When Niskanen was not on the ice, Panarin's percentage shot up to 71.43. 

Theoretically, it should be much easier for Trotz to get those favorable matchups at home. Now all the Caps have to do is take advantage.

"Our home record hasn't been really great in the last little stretch at the end of the season here and obviously the first two games of the playoffs," Trotz said. "We owe it to our fans, we owe it to ourselves to take advantage of that."