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Is a bye into the Round of 16 a good thing for the Caps? Gary Bettman explains pros, cons

Is a bye into the Round of 16 a good thing for the Caps? Gary Bettman explains pros, cons

When the NHL paused its season on March 12, the Boston Bruins were the top team in the league by a wide margin. Boston held an eight-point lead over Tampa Bay for the top spot in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference and a six-point lead for the top record in the NHL and that was with just 12 games left to go on its schedule.

Fast-forward to May 26 and the Bruins will be forced to play three games that could see them drop all the way to fourth in the conference. The Capitals, meanwhile, who saw their significant division lead shaved down to a single point by the time play stopped could take the top spot in the conference in their round-robin matchup against Boston, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia.

That is the format that Gary Bettman laid out on Tuesday for the league's return to play plan.

The top four seeds in each conference will receive byes past the play-in round. Instead of playing in a playoff series, however, those teams will be in a round-robin tournament to determine the top four seeds. That's great for a team like Washington or Philadelphia, but that could potentially be disastrous for Boston who had all but locked up the top spot in the conference before the league paused its season.

If you're wondering what's the point, you're not alone, especially if you root for Boston. The Bruins stand to gain nothing from the round-robin tournament other than what they had already earned in the regular season.

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But there's a reason why the NHL felt it was important to give the top teams these games.

"By getting a bye, they're going to be facing a team that just came out of a competitive series," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday, "And the concern was they needed to have some competition that might not put them at risk in terms of the playoffs but would give them an opportunity to play some real games, and that was the thinking that went into this."

I wrote about this very problem on Monday. The issue is that after so much time away from the ice, no team is going to be ready to step right into a playoff scenario right out of an abbreviated training camp. The teams in a play-in round don't have a choice and in that sense, the bye is very beneficial.

But what happens in the next round when the top teams have to play against teams that just won a playoff series? It is going to be hard for the top teams to match the intensity or cohesion of those teams who were placed in a do-or-die series and won.

Sure, the Caps have already punched their ticket to the Round of 16, but when they get there they are going to play a team that is probably a lot more prepared for the intensity of playoff hockey than they are.

Because of that, the league decided to give the top teams the round-robin just to give them something. They needed some competitive games before being thrust into a playoff series against a team that has already won one.

"They needed some games that mattered to some extent in order to be coming against a team that just played a competitive series," Bettman said. "The benefit and the curse of a bye, I suppose."

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Capitals to play Hurricanes in lone exhibition game before round robin tournament

Capitals to play Hurricanes in lone exhibition game before round robin tournament

The Capitals will play the Carolina Hurricanes at 4 p.m. on July 29 in each team's lone exhibition game before beginning the 2020 postseason, the league announced Tuesday.

The exhibition game will be played in the hub city of Toronto. Teams are scheduled to travel to their hub cities on July 26. Each of the 24 teams in the postseason will play one exhibition game before the postseason officially begins on Aug 1.

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As the final seeding for the top-four seeds is not yet set, the Caps and Hurricanes could see each other again soon. It is possible for these two teams to play in the first round of the playoffs depending on where Washington finishes in the round robin and if Carolina defeats the New York Rangers in a best-of-five series in the qualifying round.

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Here is the full exhibition schedule:

The broadcast information has not yet been announced.

In addition, the NHL has also set the start time for Washington's first round robin game. The Caps will play the Tampa Bay Lightning on Aug. 3 at 4 p.m. The start times for Washington's remaining two games have not yet been set.

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Brenden Dillon indicates he is open to re-signing with Capitals

Brenden Dillon indicates he is open to re-signing with Capitals

With a training camp in July, a delayed postseason, an abbreviated offseason, a flat salary cap all in the midst of a pandemic, the future is uncertain for pending unrestricted free agent defenseman Brenden Dillon. While not much is known right now, there is one thing he does know and that is that he really likes it in Washington.

"I'm happy with being a Washington Capital," Dillon said. "From Day 1 when I came here in the trade, they've made me feel right at home. I think the system, the way we play from the D-core on, I feel a big part of things here."

Dillon was with the San Jose Sharks since 2014 before he was traded. The reality that he would most likely be playing somewhere else in 2020-21 came to a head when the Sharks bottomed-out and sold him at the trade deadline to Washington. Now, his future is uncertain.

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At 29 years old, the next contract was likely going to be Dillon's last big one. He is on the last year of a five-year contract that carries a cap hit of $3.27 million per year. In a normal offseason, he likely would have sought another long-term deal with a raise. This, however, will not be a normal offseason and it is suddenly unclear what kind of money players will be able to get on the open market.

Dillon said he is trying not to concern himself with the uncertainty of free agency.

"I've had so much other things I've been worried about," he said. "Just the world in general and touching base with family and friends and everything."

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Dillon has played primarily on the top pair with John Carlson since he was brought in. Though the pandemic has limited him to just 10 games of action with the Caps, both sides seem to have left a favorable impression. When asked about his future, Dillon indicated he would be open to re-signing.

"The kind of mutual talks amongst my agent and [general manager Brian MacLellan], those things are confidential with them," Dillon said. "But for me as a player and being part of the Caps, it's been awesome and hopefully can be here."

Though he fits in nicely as a top-four defenseman, re-signing him would add another body into a logjam of left-shooting defensemen within the franchise.

Dmitry Orlov, Michal Kempny, Jonas Siegenthaler, Marin Fehervary and Alex Alexeyev are all left defensemen and all but Siegenthaler are under contract beyond this season. Siegenthaler is a restricted free agent who will almost certainly be re-signed. Re-signing Dillon exacerbates the issue, but top-four defensemen are hard to find and if a proven player like Dillon is interested in re-signing, that is hard to pass up if you can get the numbers to work.

The possibility of there being interest in Dillon returning to Washington beyond this season adds to the importance of the 2020 postseason. This may not just be a quest for the Cup, but an audition for those left defensemen to see who the team may want to keep for the future.

"For a lot of us going into this free agency, there's going to be a lot of questions from not just the players' side, but the team side and the planning that goes into these things," Dillon said. "That's above my pay grade and I'll kind of cross that bridge when I get there."

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