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Will Caps again dive headfirst into free agency?


Will Caps again dive headfirst into free agency?

A little more than a year into his tenure, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan is realizing that his job is a treadmill of decision-making.

After a relatively quiet weekend in south Florida, where the Caps drafted a goaltender and three defensemen, matching their lowest-ever intake of draft picks -- MacLellan and his staff are back in Washington huddling over the club’s game plan for NHL free agency, which opens at noon on Wednesday.

“We’ll do some free agent meetings and try to get a better handle on what cost is and what players are going to be available for free agency,” MacLellan said.

“… I anticipate not being active right off the hop. I don’t know if we have the money to be able to do that. We’ll see what goes on the first day. We’ll monitor the market, see where the levels are at financially, and see where we can jump in.”

Barring any quick resolutions, the Caps will go into Wednesday’s free agency without contracts for restricted free agents Braden Holtby, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Stanislav Galiev and Chris Brown.

To retain their rights the Capitals are believed to have met today’s deadline for qualifying offers to each of those RFAs.

Defenseman Patrick Wey, who was also on the Caps’ list of RFAs, has reportedly decided to retire because of multiple concussions, including one suffered in a one-sided fight with Nashville Predators enforcer Rich Clune on March 30, 2014, Wey’s first NHL bout.

With contracts for Holtby, Johansson, Kuznetsov, Galiev and Brown still pending, the Caps have just seven forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders under NHL contracts, leaving them with roughly $20.6 million of cap space to sign five forwards, one defenseman and Holtby.

MacLellan said he’s made a “huge” and “competitive” offer to Holtby, who is expected to carry a cap hit of at least $5 million a year. Johansson, who has arbitration rights, is likely seeking about $4 million a season, while Kuznetsov’s cap hit could fall in the $3 million range.

If those estimates are accurate, MacLellan would have roughly $8.6 million to spend on Galiev, Brown and a free-agent market that will include Anaheim left wing Matt Beleskey [27 years old, 22 goals], Los Angeles right wing Justin Williams [33 years old, 18 goals] and Winnipeg right wing Drew Stafford [29 years old, 18 goals].

Beleskey, whose 22 goals were 13 more than his previous career high, reportedly has attracted interest from a dozen NHL teams and plans on visiting with a few Eastern Conference teams this week.

MacLellan said he was considering bringing one potential UFA to Washington for a visit.

Last year, MacLellan dived headfirst into free agency, signing defensemen Brooks Orpik [five years] and Matt Niskanen [seven years] to a total of more than $67 million.

That won’t happen on Wednesday.

“Last year was different,” he said. “We had specific needs and we were willing to overpay for them and we addressed it. It was a decent free agent market last year. The UFA market had a little more opportunity for teams to grab guys.

“This year is a little tighter. I think it’s a little thinner so it’s going to be more competitive and I think you’re going to have to really overpay to get guys because it’s more competitive this year.”

Asked if the Caps are in a position to overpay, MacLellan said, “No, we’re not.”

With that in mind, MacLellan said he is more likely to address the Caps’ needs through a trade.

“If you’re evaluating both markets, the trade market is the way to go,” he said. “After the draft it becomes less about [trading] picks and more about [trading] players.”


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John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference

John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference

In each of the first three games of the series, the Columbus Blue Jackets always had an answer for the Washington Capitals.

The Caps built a two-goal lead in each game and Columbus was able to battle back and tie it each time.

In Game 4 on Thursday, however. the Blue Jackets had no answer in a 4-1 loss to Washington and that includes head coach John Tortorella.

"We weren't good," Tortorella said to the media after the game. "There's no sense asking me things about the game. I'm telling you, we laid an egg. I'm not going to break it down for you. We sucked. We sucked."

Tortorella is known for having some fiery interactions with the media. By his standard, Thursday's postgame presser was fairly tame.

The Capitals may have won Game 3, but Columbus certainly looked like the better team for most of the night. That was not the case in Game 4 as Washington dominated from start to finish. That led to the contentious postgame presser.

"We laid an egg," Tortorella said. "That's all I have to say, guys. I'm sorry, I'm not going to break it down for you. Nothing went well for us. It's on us, we have to figure it out and we will."

Reporters continued to press the head coach until he finally walked out.

Before you laugh too hard at this, it is important to consider that this may be a calculated move by Tortorella.

Sure, there have been times in which he has lost his temper in the past, but these outbursts may be more premeditated than we think.

Consider this. After their worst game of the series, a game in which the Blue Jackets only scored once and saw a 2-0 series lead evaporate in two games at home, we're talking about the head coach. We're not talking about the loss or the performance of the players. Instead, we are talking about Tortorella walking out on reporters.

Even if Tortorella was not willing to give any answers on Thursday, he will need to find some soon. The series now shifts back to Washington for Game 5 on Saturday with all the momentum on the Caps' side.


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4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

The Caps put together their best performance of the series Thursday in a 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 4 of their 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round series.

The win pulled Washington even with Columbus in the series 2-2.

Here's how the Caps got the big win.

4 Reasons why the Capitals beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

1. Tom Wilson factors in the offense

Wilson’s hands are good for more than just punching.

He proved that again on Thursday as he scored the first goal for the second consecutive game. Chandler Stephenson and John Carlson provided the pressure on Sergei Bobrovsky. With Bobrovsky scrambling in the crease, Evgeny Kuznetsov passed the puck back to Wilson who fired the one-timer past the Columbus netminder.

In the first two games of the series, Wilson had no points and no shots. In the last two games, he has two goals and 13 shots on goal.

2. A great keep-in by John Carlson

We saw how dangerous it was when penalty killers fail to clear the puck in Game 1 when the Caps failed to clear in the third period leading to the game-tying power play goal.

In Game 4, the roles were reversed. Trying to kill off an Artemi Panarin penalty, Cam Atkinson attempted to clear the puck with the backhand. Carlson skillfully corralled the puck out of the air at the blue line to keep it in the zone.

The power play was able to reset and T.J. Oshie scored the rebound goal soon after.

3. Braden Holtby closes the door to finish the second period

After the Caps took the 2-0 lead, the Blue Jackets made a late push to try to pull one back.

In the last 10 minutes of the second period, Columbus had 13 shot attempts, five of which were not net. Several of those shots were high-quality opportunities, but Holtby came up with the big saves that the team was not getting earlier in the series.

His play ensured the Caps took the 2-0 lead to the locker room.

4. Alex Ovechkin extends the lead to three

Washington entered the third period up 2-0. In each of the first three games, the Caps held a two-goal lead and allowed the Blue Jackets to battle back and tie the score. Even with a two-goal lead, it still felt at the start of the third that the next goal would decide the game. If Columbus pulled within one and got the crowd back on their side, we have seen what that momentum can do for them.

This time, however, Ovechkin struck first. After a board battle behind the net, the puck trickled out to the faceoff circle. Ovechkin grabbed it and quickly snapped the puck past Bobrovsky before anyone could react.

The goal gave Washington their first three-goal lead of the series and shut the Blue Jackets’ comeback down before it could begin.