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Breaking down all the implications of Carl Hagelin's new deal with the Caps

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Breaking down all the implications of Carl Hagelin's new deal with the Caps

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan had a difficult task this offseason of maintaining a roster that could still compete for the Stanley Cup despite facing a major salary cap crunch. The first big move came on Friday with the trade of Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers for Radko Gudas which freed up a sizable amount of cap space. The second big move came on Sunday with the re-signing of forward Carl Hagelin.

Washington acquired Hagelin at the trade deadline and he fit in well with the team. Now the Caps have locked him up for the next four years with an $11 million deal.

There’s a lot to like about this move.

Hagelin is a good player who played a significant role with two Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins teams. He scored only 18 points last season, but 11 of those points came in 20 games with the Caps showing there was an obvious fit. He instantly became Washington’s best forward penalty killer as he logged 2:21 of shorthanded ice time per game with the Caps, the most among the team’s forwards.

The Swedish forward is also incredibly versatile and can fit into any he is plugged into. That is a valuable asset considering the team may not have enough cap room to fill all its holes this offseason.

What Hagelin is best known for, however, is his speed. Now opposing teams will have to contend with the speed of players like Hagelin, Jakub Vrana and Evgeny Kuznetsov all while worrying about the physical play from players like Tom Wilson and Radko Gudas.

All that, and it came at a pretty great price.

After finishing up a four-year contract with a $4 million per year cap hit, Hagelin’s new deal carries a very modest cap hit of just $2.75 million.

Given his pedigree and his skillet, it seems likely there may have been a market for Hagelin’s talents had he reached free agency. The interview period in which free agents are free to talk to other teams does not begin until June 23 so this new contract prevented Hagelin for exploring other opportunities.

As good as this deal is, however, there are some problems with it as well that carry implications across the roster.

Just because Washington got Hagelin for cheap does not mean they did not overpay. Signing free agents frequently results in a team overpaying as the market tends to bump up the value of desirable players. MacLellan has, throughout his tenure, sought to keep cap hits low by offering long-term deals. Hagelin is no exception.

Hagelin will turn 31 in August. For a player whose main asset is speed, four years is a long term to give him. As smart a player as he is, once his speed begins to falter with age it will significantly hinder his effectiveness as a player.

You may not consider 31 to be old, but it is old enough that the team should be concerned by how he will look in the last few years of his contract.

Washington now has nine forwards, six defensemen and two goalies under contract for next season. According to CapFriendly, the Caps sit at about $10.7 million under the projected cap ceiling of $83 million. Jakub Vrana and Christian Djoos are both restricted free agents and expected to return. If Vrana takes a bridge deal, he will likely take a $4 million cap hit while Djoos should come in at about $1 million. That gives the Caps about $5.7 million to sign another three forwards and that’s assuming the salary cap is $83 million. According to Elliotte Friedman, after the combine, several teams believe the cap will actually be closer to $82 million which would, of course, mean less room for Washington to maneuver.

On the surface, $5.7 million appears to be plenty, but things are much tighter considering Brett Connolly is an unrestricted free agent and Andre Burakovsky is a restricted free agent. Just to qualify Burakovky would require offering him one year at $3.25 million. Suddenly that $5.7 million does not appear to be all that much.

At the very least, the Caps are going to be limited in what they can offer a player like Connolly and that will make it difficult to re-sign him.

“I was able to produce here, for sure,” Connolly said on breakdown day. “But it was in a limited role. So, part of me wants to challenge myself again and take that next step in my development. I'm 26, I feel I'm in the prime of my career, my body feels great. There's going to be opportunity out there, I know that.”

 Connolly turned 27 in May and is coming off a season in which he scored 22 goals, 24 assists and 46 points, all career-highs. Given the talent Washington boasts on its roster and their salary cap, there will be teams out there willing to offer Connolly a bigger role and more money than what the Caps can in free agency and that was before Washington re-signed Hagelin.

The problem here is that offensive depth is an issue for the Caps and one that Connolly directly addresses. In their playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes, Washington scored 20 goals in seven games. The team’s bottom-six forwards accounted for only five of those goals. That is just not enough. Of those five goals, one of them was an empty-netter and one came on a penalty shot. Of those three remainings, two were scored by Connolly.

Now the team may have no choice but to see its biggest bottom-six offensive threat leave in free agency and MacLellan has limited money with which to pursue free agent forwards leaving no clear solution for how to replace Connolly’s production. It is not going to come just from getting a full season from Hagelin.

Hagelin does a lot of different things really well on the ice. Producing offensively isn’t one of them. His career-high in goals is 17 which he last scored in 2014-15. Last season, he had five.

Yes, Hagelin is a very good player who adds speed, helps the team’s penalty kill and comes in at a great cap hit. What he does not address, however, is one of the team’s biggest weaknesses and his signing will make it very hard for the Caps to fix that weakness this summer.

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Holtby's night ends after only three shots as Avalanche hand Caps a loss

Holtby's night ends after only three shots as Avalanche hand Caps a loss

WASHINGTON -- The Colorado Avalanche scored on its first three shots of the game and Capitals could never recover in a 6-3 loss Monday. Braden Holtby surrendered the first three goals before being relieved by Ilya Samsonov. The Caps mounted a comeback to make it 4-2, but a back-breaking goal in the third period was the final nail in the coffin of an ugly loss.

Observations from the loss

Let’s talk about the goalies

I know this is pretty much all you guys want to talk about, so let’s talk.

Holtby was bad in this game. No one is going to dispute that. But Colorado is also really, really good and the defense did not help Holtby all that much. All three of those things can be true. Fans sometimes can get one-track minds and I bet there are more than a few people who are going to put this game entirely on Holtby and forget about the other two points.

It’s not Holtby’s fault John Carlson turned the puck over and the completely misplayed the resulting rush defensively leading to the second goal. It’s also not Holtby’s fault that Tyler Lewington was too slow to react to the break-in and was beaten easily by Nazem Kadri.

I am not saying Holtby doesn’t deserve any of the blame for Monday’s loss, I’m just saying let’s not go nuts.

This game doesn’t mean that Holtby is washed up, it doesn’t mean the team should try to trade him immediately, it doesn’t mean that Ilya Samsonov is suddenly the No. 1 goalie going forward. All it means is that Samsonov has earned more playing time. That’s it.

Whatever the plan was for Samsonov, he has played well enough and Holtby has struggled enough that you should consider getting Samsonov more games. I would start him on Wednesday against Toronto and go back to Holby on Friday against the New York Rangers.

For now, however, Holty is still the No. 1. That doesn’t mean that can’t change, but we have seen this play out before with the same goalie Holtby played against on Monday. Philipp Grubauer passed Holtby in 2018 and then the playoffs came around and Holtby was back to being Holtby and retook the crease. I am not going to kick him to the curb because of a bad October.

The Caps’ identity is physical hockey

A 4-0 game could have gotten very ugly very fast. The Caps came out in the second period and committed to a physical game and it completely changed the momentum. A game that looked like it was going to be an ugly, horrendous, “burn the tape” type of game turned competitive. Suddenly it was 4-2 heading into the third period.

The second period reminded me of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final between the Caps and Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning were the better team, highly skilled and should have won that series. They didn’t because the Caps beat the stuffing out of them. That’s why the Washington-Tampa Bay games last year were so physical because the Lightning wanted to show the Caps they weren’t going to be pushed around.

The one downside to being a physical team like that is that it takes a toll. You can’t play that way for 82-games and that’s why, in my opinion, you see these types of teams come out of nowhere in the postseason. A middle-of-the-pack team suddenly commits to the physical game every night and knocks around a stunned Toronto or Tampa Bay.

Turning point

Obviously the turning point was allowing three goals on three shots, so I’ll go with something different and pick Samsonov’s third-period gaffe.

The Caps had taken control of the momentum heading into the third and it looked like they could make a game of it until Samsonov made a huge mistake behind the net.

Samsonov went behind the net to retrieve a puck on a Colorado dump-in. Tyson Jost came to pressure him and Samsonov tried to fire the puck along the boards past him. Jost got his stick in front of the puck and then had a helpless Samsonov stuck behind the net. Jost threw the puck in front of the net and a diving Matt Nieto hit it in.

The Caps still tried to come back, but that was the moment you knew they were going to come up short.

Play of the night

In a win or go home Game 6 against Tampa Bay in the 2018 ECF, Ovechkin was the best player on the ice. His stats in that game? No goals and no assists. It didn’t matter. He was a physical force and helped the Caps win that game by sheer force of will.

Ovechkin tried to do the same thing on Monday with hits like this one on Samuel Girard.


Stat of the night

With this loss, the Caps have now lost their first three home games for the first time since the 1983-84 season. As my colleague Brian McNally said on a podcast we recorded after the game, those weren’t exactly the glory years of the Caps’ franchise.

Washington has managed some pretty big wins on the road, but those are being wasted by the fact that this team can’t get a win at home.

Quote of the night

Todd Reirden on Samsonov’s play:

“He's doing what he's supposed to be doing, and that's to make it like a decision every night of who's going to be considered to play that game.”

That’s about as close as you’re going to get to Reirden saying he is considering playing Samsonov more.

Fan predictions

Now this is bold. I like it.

But it was also wrong. Burakovsky got an assist, but Jakub Vrana can’t seem to get out of Todd Reirden’s dog house right now.

Gudas and Kadri were exchanging words behind the play when Oshie scored. I’ll give it to you.

I’m pretty sure Stephen Strasburg started.

Almost. They would have had a shot if not for the Samsonov mistake or the coach’s challenge on Carlson’s goal.

The Caps did not win and saying Holtby looks disinterested just isn’t fair. He has always been a calm, calculated goalie. He even said after “The Save” that it wasn’t a technically sound play. This is just the way he plays and has always played, from Vezina Holtby to 2019 Holtby.

Having said that, he was pulled so you were technically correct. Don’t get weird about it though.

Oh, you got weird.

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4 things to know for the Capitals’ matchup against undefeated Colorado

4 things to know for the Capitals’ matchup against undefeated Colorado

The Capitals (3-1-2) snapped a three-game losing streak on Saturday and will look to stay in the win column on Monday in a game against the Colorado Avalanche (4-0-0). You can catch all the action on NBC Sports Washington with Caps FaceOff Live kicking things off at 4 p.m. before Caps Pregame Live begins at 4:30 p.m. to bring you up to the 5 p.m. puck drop. Stick with NBC Sports Washington afterward for Caps Postgame Live, D.C. Sports Live and Caps Overtime Live.

Here are four things to know for Saturday’s game.

Colorado is undefeated

The Avalanche is one of two teams left in the NHL that has not suffered a loss of any kind. Of their four wins, only one of them was not in regulation and that also happened to be the only game Philipp Grubauer did not play in net.

All four wins also happen to be at home as Monday’s game will be Colorado’s first on the road this season.

Washington will face former Caps Andre Burakovsky and Philipp Grubauer

Things seem to be going well in Burakovsky’s first season with the Avalanche. The winger has two goals and two assists in four games and has scored the game-winner in each of the past two games.

Burakovsky was a restricted free agent in the offseason and his contract carried a large qualifying offer which the Caps could not afford. The team traded his rights to  Colorado for a second and a third-round draft pick as well as a prospect on an expiring contract.

In net, Grubauer enters his second season with Colorado and first as the undisputed starter of the team. He earned the job after last year’s playoff performance in which he won seven games, posted a .925 save percentage and brought the Avalanche to within one win of advancing to the conference final.

In three games this season, Grubauer is 3-0-0 with a .931 save percentage.

The best line in hockey?

Colorado boasts one of the top lines, if not the outright best line in hockey with Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. All three players have had their fair share of success against Washington in their careers.

Landeskog has scored 14 points in just 13 games against the Caps, MacKinnon has 13 points in 11 games and Rantanen has seven points in five games.

The Caps have historically been a difficult matchup for Colorado

Washington’s last three games were against the Dallas Stars (twice) and the Nashville Predators, two teams the Caps have not fared well against historically. The roles are reversed for Monday’s game as this time it's the Caps who have been the thorn in the side of their opponent.

Colorado has lost nine of its last 10 meetings with Washington with its last win coming back on Nov. 16, 2017. The last win before was four years prior in November 2013.

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