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John Carlson is trying not to think about his contract...but he is

John Carlson is trying not to think about his contract...but he is

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson this season. There is always uncertainty when a player enters a contract year, but now add in the fact that Carlson has spent training camp not knowing who is partner is going to be.

That’s a problem considering how important this season is for Carlson plus how much the Caps will rely on him.

“Oh yeah,” Carlson said Tuesday when asked if he had thought about his contract, “But I'm not really going to think too much into that. The season hasn't even started yet.”

By now you have probably heard about how the Capitals’ roster is going to take a step back this season. With salary cap constraints due to the fact that the team had to re-sign several young players to bigger contracts plus the Vegas expansion draft, Washington saw a lot of key players depart in the offseason.

RELATED: WHAT DOES WEDNESDAY'S LINEUP TELL US ABOUT THE CAPS' ROSTER?

While the loss of Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson hurts the offense, the real effect of the offseason’s losses can be seen on the defense.

Here is what the Capitals defensive pairs looked like heading into training camp:

Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
??? - John Carlson
Brooks Orpik - ???
Taylor Chorney

While there are a handful of promising prospects competing for those open spots, the problem is the second pair. There is a hole in the team’s top four and the Capitals don’t have a clear top-four defenseman to plug it with. Whoever does play there, whether it be a depth veteran like Chorney or a rookie like Bowey, that player is going to lean very heavily on Carlson.

“[Carlson’s] a good enough player to adjust to whoever his partner is,” head coach Barry Trotz said on Tuesday after practice, “And I think he's mature enough to bring his partner along too no matter who he's playing with, if he's a stay at home guy or a puck-moving, advanced guy who gets up the ice and doesn't have maybe as much in his game in order like [Dmitry Orlov] was a few years ago. We'll see where that plays, but Carly's a good defenseman and whoever we put him with he should be a real good pair for us.”

So in a contract year, Carlson will be relied upon to carry the second defensive pair with a partner he does not know yet. That is a lot for one player to deal with, but not totally unexpected.

“We talked about possibilities for him in the summer and we'll play it out,” Trotz said. “But he understands the situation. ... I think he understood where we are as a team, organization, the cap situation this summer.”

Carlson said he is not worried about who his partner might be and is instead focusing on on his own game instead.

“I think it just kind of makes you focus more on what you can't control versus what you can. We've got a lot of talented players. If there wasn't those talented players than maybe I'd have a different opinion, but just one of those things you'll wait and see and wait to hear what it will be.”

For now, Aaron Ness looks like the frontrunner to earn the spot on the second pair playing next to Carlson. The two have practiced together as a pair at practice both on Monday and Tuesday.

Carlson stressed that it is hard to get a feel for a defensive pairing from practice and that the coaches were unlikely to consult with him about it saying, “It's never been really like that. I'm sure they might ask for an opinion here or there, but other than that I don't make any decisions. That's all what they think is best for the team and that's their job.”

Even so, he was effusive in his praise of Ness.

“He's a great player,” Carlson said. “I've been saying that for however long he's been here.”

Regardless of who he plays with, the team needs this to be a big season for Carlson and so does he. A new contract is on the line.

MORE CAPITALS: BARRY TROTZ DECLARES HE WILL SUPPORT HIS PLAYERS IF THEY PROTEST THE ANTHEM

Check out the latest edition of the Capitals Faceoff Podcast!

Like what you hear? Be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts and wherever podcasts are available. Have a question you want answered on the podcast? Send us your questions to CapitalsFaceoff@gmail.com. Maybe we'll even read it on the air.

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Michal Kempny excited to move from last place Chicago to first place Caps

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USA TODAY Sports

Michal Kempny excited to move from last place Chicago to first place Caps

On Sunday, Michal Kempny was a defenseman struggling for a spot in the lineup for a team poised to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008. On Monday, he became potentially an important piece on the roster of the first place Capitals.

The last few days have been quite the whirlwind for Kempny who tallied an assist for Chicago on Saturday in a 7-1 blowout against what is now his current team. While the Blackhawks may have gotten the better of Washington that night, Kempny is excited about the postseason opportunity that now lies in front of him.

"Nobody knows what's happening in Chicago, but I'm really happy and I'm really glad that I can be here," Kempny told reporters on Tuesday after his first skate with the team. "There is option of play a playoff and I'm very happy for it."

RELATED: WHERE MICHAL KEMKPNY FITS IN THE CAPS' LINEUP

The 27-year-old Czech defenseman played only 31 games for the Blackhawks this season, but considering Washington's need to shore up its defense before the trade deadline and the team's willingness to give up a third-round pick to acquire him, it is likely he will have a much more significant role with the Caps.

"I thought that I [was] going to get more space on the ice and more ice time, but I didn't play more than half games," Kempny said of his decision to originally sign with Chicago. "But now I'm here and I'm really glad that I'm here. Washington is amazing city and great organization and I hope I will get a chance to access myself on the ice more than in Chicago."

Kempny will not play in Tuesday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but did say he expects to play Thursday when the team visits the Florida Panthers.

When he does get into the lineup, it is unclear just how big a role he will play initially or how the team foresees utilizing him going forward. He is a left-shot defenseman and did tell reporters he prefers to play on that side. It seems unlikely the team would acquire him just to put him on his offside.

As of now, however, everything regarding his role in Washington is up on the air.

"I need everything settle down a little bit," he said. "New teammates, new people around here."

MORE CAPITALS: MEET MICHAL KEMPNY

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Game 60: Capitals vs. Lightning Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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Game 60: Capitals vs. Lightning Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Lightning will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Lightning game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING GAME?

The Capitals (34-18-7) take on the Lightning (39-17-3) Tuesday, February 20 at 7:00 p.m. ET in Washington.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING GAME ON?

The Capitals-Lightning game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 6:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 10:00 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11:00 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Capitals vs. Lightning
9:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:00 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING GAME?

Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Lightning game:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defensemen
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Madison Bowey

Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches: Alex Chiasson, Michal Kempney, Taylor Chorney

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING GAME?

The Capitals-Lightning game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

CAPITALS-LIGHTNING OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.