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Can the Capitals afford to bring back Andre Burakovsky?

Can the Capitals afford to bring back Andre Burakovsky?

ARLINGTON, Va. – Another year, another confusing season for Andre Burakovsky. Burakovsky yet again showed glimpses of his immense talent throughout the 2018-19 season, but it came with inconsistent play and lengthy dry spells that ultimately left him with production totals far less than you would expect for a player of his skill. It also left little clarity for what the Capitals will ultimately do with their skilled forward in the offseason.

As a restricted free agent, the Caps can retain Burakovsky’s signing rights by offering him a qualifying offer. Burakovsky is still a young player at 24 and was a first-round draft pick of the Caps in 2013. You typically see those type of players qualified by their respective teams once they reach restricted free agency with little thought. Burkakovsky’s case is tricky, however, given the team’s salary cap constraints.

Since Burakovsky’s salary last season was $3.25 million, that is how much it would take for the Caps to qualify him. That’s a lot of money for a team that does not have much cap room to work with and for a player that only scored 12 goals last season.

"We'll talk it through,” general manager Brian MacLellan said at Friday’s locker cleanout when asked if he would qualify Burakovsky. “I'm going to meet with the coaches here over the next week. I mean a frustrating year for him. At the end he kind of found it. We're going to have to talk about how we want to allocate that money and what role he would play on our team going forward."

Burakovsky has always played like a player on the verge of a breakout. Injuries have struck him at times in his career and his production has always been inconsistent. Just when you are ready to write him off, however, he seems to deliver. That was no more apparent than when he scored twice in Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final in 2018. He scored a Game 7 goal once again in 2019 against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Burakovsky has shown glimpses of the talent that made him a first-round selection, but inconsistent play has led to some surprisingly consistent statistics. Burakovsky has scored 12 goals in each of the last three seasons. In fact, his 12 goals and 13 assists this past season matches his exact total from 2017-18, the only difference being he played in 20 fewer games in 2017-18.

If you are looking for the silver lining, however, it is that Burakovsky really seemed to embrace the other aspects of the game that do not show up on the scoresheet this season, more so than in years past. Winning board battles, playing without the puck, playing a two-way game, etc. He has been open in the past about confidence being an issue for him and that his confidence was tied solely to his production. This year, more than ever, he seemed to learn that a player can still be productive and important even when he is not producing.

“My fifth year obviously want to be more consistent and I think I learned a lot,” Burakovsky said. “I worked a lot with my mental coach and I think I am on the right path for sure. I think overall my game has been pretty good and taking steps without the puck than maybe I didn’t do last year and I think I played way better without the pucks and I am pretty happy with my season even if the points hasn’t been as much as I wanted to.”

“I think I have been way better all-around this year than in the past,” he added, “And goals and points maybe hasn’t been there really like I wanted and hoping for, but I think I have taken the steps in the right direction.”

Those aspects of the game are hard to quantify, however, and do not make MacLellan’s any easier.

Based on his talent, Burakovsky should be a 20-goal scorer, but when a player scores 12 goals in three straight seasons, it is fair to ask if that is the type of production we should expect from him going forward. Giving a 12-goal player a $3.25 million cap hit is a very steep price.

But the decision on what to do with Burakovsky may not be as black and white as whether the team should qualify him or not. MacLellan showed that last year with Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly was coming off a strong post-season performance in which he scored seven goals in 24 games, but MacLellan elected not to qualify him, then negotiated a one-year contract of $1 million.

MacLellan could look to do something similar this year with Burakovsky who may be open to such an option if it is the only way for him to remain with the Caps.

“I love Washington,” Burakovsky said. “I love my teammates. I love everyone around, everything. The organization. My goal is to stay and hopefully I will be able to.”

If Burakovsky is not open to that option, however, it would not be a surprise to see his rights traded to another team.

Burakovsky once again showed flashes of his potential throughout the season and there is reason to be optimistic about his future, but the Caps just may not have the cap space to pay for his potential anymore unless they can find a way to lower his price tag.


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Metropolitan Division Outlook 2019-20: The New York Rangers

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Metropolitan Division Outlook 2019-20: The New York Rangers

The Capitals enter the 2019-20 season looking for their fifth consecutive Metropolitan Division title.

But this could be the most challenging year yet. The bottom of the division has improved dramatically with offseason moves and the top of the division still has quality teams. It’s hard to figure who will crater and finish last. The winning team might not top 100 points.

For the next two weeks, NBC Sports Washington will take a look at each Metro team and where they stand with training camps opening in less than a month. Today: The New York Rangers.

In February 2018, the Rangers did a very un-Rangers-like thing. The team sent a letter to their fans declaring the plan to rebuild the team. Now just over a year later, it did not take long for New York to make a splash in the offseason again.

The Rangers landed the prize of free agency in Artemi Panarin, added free agent defenseman Jacob Trouba, drafted Kaapo Kakko with the second-overall pick in the draft and traded for prospect defenseman Adam Fox. They also managed to avoid a restricted free agent standoff with Pavel Buchnevich.

All these moves combined put the Rangers among the most improved teams in the league. It did not take long, but New York was able to shift its team from a group of veterans not good enough to compete for a Stanley Cup to a team full of youth and potential.

The future certainly looks brighter for this team in the future than it previously had, but despite all the improvements there are still plenty of questions about the present roster.

While New York certainly got younger, star goalie Henrik Lundqvist did not.

Lundqvist had an up-and-down season last year. His first half of last season was good enough to get him to the All-Star Game. He struggled in the latter half of the season and finished with a save percentage of only .907 and a GAA of 3.07. He is not a goalie who seems to do well taking a backseat, but Alexander Georgiev played well enough to earn more playing time. All of this makes it difficult to determine just what the split between the two netminders is going to be heading into this season.

In front of the crease, the additions of Trouba and Fox look like they will give the Rangers two new top-four defenseman to plug in. That should certainly help a team that ranked 23rd in the NHL last season in goals against per game with 3.26 and could potentially take some of the pressure off Lundqvist.

Mika Zibanejad returns as the team’s top center after what was easily his best season in the NHL with career highs in goals, assists and points. He was seen as a second-line center going into last season, but certainly took advantage of the larger role offered by New York. The concerns over whether he can handle a top-line role may not be as prevalent as last year, but I still seem him as a poor man's No. 1 center.

The offense is also likely to lose some of its depth before the start of the season due to salary cap constraints.

The Rangers sit with just $1 million remaining in projected cap space and still have RFAs Brendan Lemieux and Anthony Deangelo left to sign. When looking into what the team's options are for freeing up space, you have to wonder if players like Chris Kreider and Vladislav Namestnikov -- who are both entering the final year of their contracts -- could both be moved before the summer is over.

Panarin is a great addition and undeniably a superstar, but he cannot carry a team by himself. When he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets and became the offensive focal point of the team, he was only able to lead the Blue Jackets to a single playoff series win in his two seasons there. That was a much deeper team than the Rangers appear to be if they should lose Kreider or Namestnikov.

Money decisions will continue to loom over this team even after a decision is made on those players. The cap situation was dire enough that the Rangers bought out the remaining two years of Kevin Shattenkirk’s contract. While he was underperforming, the combined buyouts of Shattenkirk, Dan Girardi and Ryan Spooner will leave New York with $5,394,444 of dead cap space in 2019-20 and nearly $7.5 million of dead cap space in 2020-21. These are not just bad contracts that can be packaged in a trade and sent away, that is dead cap space that the team is stuck with. That is a massive amount for a team that sure looks like it wants to compete for the playoffs sooner rather than later.

You still have to count the Rangers among the most improved teams this offseason, but the hill they had to climb and still must continue to climb may have been much steeper than many anticipated. There is still a lot of work left to do in Manhattan.


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Alex Ovechkin's son Sergei has an enormous first birthday bash

Alex Ovechkin's son Sergei has an enormous first birthday bash

Alex Ovechkin’s son Sergei turned one this week. And the celebration? According to Ovi’s wife’s Instagram, it was a success:

The caption translates to 'Happy birthday, our beloved boy! Grow healthy and the happiest!' 

In typical Ovechkin fashion, a simple celebration just won't suffice, so the Caps' star made sure to make it a day to remember.