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Capitals mailbag: Can Tom Wilson overcome his reputation among referees?

Capitals mailbag: Can Tom Wilson overcome his reputation among referees?

It’s time for the weekly Capitals mailbag! Check out the Dec. 5 edition below.

Have a Caps question you want answered for next week’s mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email

Please note some questions have been edited for clarity.

This is a very interesting question about the long-term effects of Wilson’s history. One day, this team will not have Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom or Brooks Orpik. Can a team give the C to a player that they are constantly worrying about losing to a long-term suspension? The good news is that Ovechkin isn’t going anywhere for a few more years – his contract doesn’t expire until 2021 and he could very well be a Cap for life – and we will know if Wilson can play under the harsh microscope of the league by then. If not, we’re talking about what the future Wilson’s career will be and not just his leadership role on the team.

The answer to your question is yes, in time. If Wilson stays out of trouble for a long enough period of time then referees will not focus on him the way they do now. A good example of this is Ovechkin.

Wilson gets into trouble at times because he is bigger and faster than most players he hits and that used to get Ovechkin into trouble as well. From December 2009 to January 2012, a period of just over two years, Ovechkin was suspended three times for illegal hits. At the time, there were definitely some people who believed Ovechkin to be a dirty player, but that certainly is not his reputation today.

So yes, Wilson can overcome his reputation with time much like Ovechkin did if he continues to prove he brings more to the ice than just his fists and big hits. Those who follow the Caps closely already knew that he provides more than that, but not everyone around hockey thinks of Wilson as the first round draft pick with a high offensive upside.

Lisa writes: Does Brian MacLellan or to your knowledge general managers generally go to all 82 Caps games? Does he travel with the team? How often is he in Hershey? How often do MacLellan and Reirden talk?

The incredibly unsatisfying answer to your question is that it varies. General managers do often travel with teams, but not to every game and some general managers travel more than others. How much interaction general managers have with AHL affiliates varies as well. From what I have heard from people in Hershey, MacLellan rarely visits there while George McPhee made frequent trips. While people in Hershey view more trips there to be evidence of a greater commitment to the team, the fact is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Sure, Bears fans may have liked seeing McPhee around, but MacLellan just won a Stanley Cup so it’s hard to argue against the job he is doing as general manager.

The coach and general manager of a team are in constant contact with one another and it quickly becomes apparent when that communication begins to break down. The Adam Oates years were a very clear example of this.

The Martin Erat trade was a disaster, but it was made worse by the fact that Oates would only play him for less than 14 minutes a night. Those are bottom-six minutes. As horrific a trade as that was, Oates didn’t give him much of a chance to succeed. The following season, McPhee traded for forward Dustin Penner and again, Oates did not seem all that interested. In fact, he played Penner even less than he did Erat. Does McPhee still make either of those trades if he knew how little Oates valued those additions? Probably not.

The opposite of that is what happened last season when MacLellan and the coaches talked about the need to add a defenseman to bolster the top four. MacLellan actually had Todd Reirden evaluate game tape of Michal Kempny before making that trade. Communication between management and coaches is vital to a team’s success and based on the personnel moves this team has made in the last few years, there seems to be every indication that MacLellan and the coaches talk very often.

Lisa also writes: The Caps’ win streak was surprising given that T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov have been out the entire time. I always though the “teams need adversity” line to mostly be BS (don’t all pro athletes want to win all the time?) but this makes me wonder. In your years of observation, does this type of adversity make teams play harder? What else explains the Caps best games happening without two of their top 6 players?

I’m with you Lisa. I am of the opinion that there is no such thing as too much success. A team’s goal is to win every game it plays in both the regular season and the playoffs and you will never convince me a team is somehow better off for losing or having to deal with some sort of issue such as injuries. This becomes an easy narrative for people to grab onto without any real type of analysis.

But while I will never admit that losing is a good thing, that doesn’t mean good can’t come from it.

When it comes to injuries specifically, if significant players go down, the players around them know they have to step up. This can lead to a team playing very hard and very well in the immediate wake of significant injuries, but that motivational boost only lasts a limited amount of time. Lars Eller was called upon to replace an injured Nicklas Backstrom in the playoffs last season after Backstrom suffered an injury to his hand. He looked tremendous initially, but with every passing game Backstrom’s absence began to loom larger. The Caps are fortunate to have a player like Eller they can plug into the top six if they need to, but the longer he plays there the more you recognize that the third line is where he should be playing.

Looking at the team as a whole, this Capitals team certainly does seem to respond better to adversity than to success. Down 2-0 to Columbus in the first round? The Caps rattled off four straight wins. Playing with a shorthanded roster in Pittsburgh? They turned in their best game of the series to eliminate the Penguins. Lose three straight to Tampa Bay? They responded with arguably their best two performances of the entire postseason to win the conference crown.

Again, you’re not going to convince me that a middle of the pack team somehow has an advantage over a first place team, but there is something to be said for how the Caps respond when they face adversity.

Greg C. writes: Do you all think Dmitry Orlov's game has regressed this season?  Is he back to being a high-drama, something-really-good-or-something-really-bad-is-gonna-happen player?

I’m not ready to go as far as to say that Orlov has regressed to being the “high event” player of the past, but there’s no question that he and defensive partner Matt Niskanen are having a rough season thus far and both have said as much to the media.

Why have they struggled so much? Defense as a whole has been an issue in the early part of the season and has only just begun to improve in recent weeks. Let’s also not discount the effect the playoffs had. A lot of focus was paid on how players like Ovechkin and Backstrom would handle the short offseason, but Niskanen and Orlov had the second and third most time on ice per game on the team respectively through the postseason, behind only John Carlson. I believe their early struggles are a combination of both factors, but they will get better over the course of the season.

He says worse on the Capitals Talk Podcast. When he gets going, there’s no stopping him.

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in next week’s mailbag, send it in to or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.


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Alex Ovechkin selling ‘We Will Skate Again’ t-shirts and masks to help local community

Alex Ovechkin selling ‘We Will Skate Again’ t-shirts and masks to help local community

Alex Ovechkin will be selling custom "We Will Skate Again" t-shirts, face masks and neck gaiters with all proceeds going toward foundations in the DMV community, the Capitals announced in a press release Thursday.

The products, which can be purchased at the Ovechkin's online store, feature his signature logo. The shirts also have the phrase "We Will Skate Again" written across the front. Here's a look at some of the designs from the press release:

Money raised from t-shirt sales will be donated to the Tucker Road Ducks and The Tucker Road Parent Hockey Organization. The youth hockey team from Prince George’s County, Md., tragically lost their ice rink in 2017 due to a fire. The organization is working to rebuild it, while also striving to make hockey available for kids of any economic background. 


Proceeds from the masks and neck gaiters will go to the Monumental Sports & Entertainment Foundation's “Feeding the Frontlines” fund, which was created as a way to help those in the community who are dealing with the negative impact of COVID-19.

Ovechkin and the rest of the Capitals are gearing up for the beginning of training camp on July 13 as the NHL gets closer to a return.

Stay connected to the Capitals with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.


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How a flat cap could affect the Capitals' approach to the Seattle expansion draft

How a flat cap could affect the Capitals' approach to the Seattle expansion draft

The NHL salary cap is going to remain at $81.5 million for next two years at least. That is going to make life difficult for Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan. With the team already tight against the cap ceiling, he won't even get the annual relief of the cap rising. One way in which the team could find a modicum of relief, however, is through the 2021 expansion draft. Every team in the NHL will lose a player to Seattle which means taking a contract off the books. Given the team's cap situation, there is one player specifically to keep in mind when it comes to the expansion draft: T.J. Oshie.

For the expansion, each team will be able to protect eight skaters and a goalie or seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie. It seems safe to assume Washington will choose the latter. Here are the forwards that will still be under contract after the 2020-21 season: Nicklas Backstrom, Nic Dowd, Lars Eller, Carl Hagelin, Garnet Hathaway, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Oshie, Richard Panik and Tom Wilson. The contracts for both Alex Ovechkin and Jakub Vrana expire at the end of the 2020-21 season, but both will almost certainly be re-signed so we can add them to the list.

Of the forwards the team would want to protect, the most obvious choices are Backstrom, Eller, Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, Vrana and Wilson. Most would assume that the seventh spot should go to Oshie, but should it?

As I wrote yesterday, one of the issues for Washington is that the team has several long-term deals on the books. For a team with little room under the cap, MacLellan had to offer longer-term deals instead of big money ones to remain competitive in the gree agent market. The risk is that it ties you to a player for longer, but even if a player is not living up to his contract, the percentage of his cap hit would decrease every year with a steadily rising salary cap. Well, now the cap is no longer rising and that means players on long deals, like Oshie, are not getting better as the players age.


Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to Oshie. First, he will be 34 at the time of the expansion draft and will only be halfway through an eight-year contract that carries a cap hit of $5.75 million. Obviously, the chances that Oshie would be living up to that cap hit when he was 37 or 38 were low when Oshie first signed the deal, but that's OK because with a steadily rising cap, the percentage would probably be low enough at that point that it would not be a significant issue. But now the salary cap is flat which means MacLellan is going to have to take a hard look at all of the team's long-term deals and project out what the team can expect from those players towards the end of their contracts.

Oshie is having a great season with 26 goals and 23 assists. He was on pace for 58 points which would have been his best in Washington. He is a leader on the team and a real boost to the locker room. No one could question his value to Washington now, but the question is what will his value be in the second half of his contract?


Granted, Seattle knows all of this, but there are three reasons why Oshie would still be an attractive acquisition. First, Oshie's cap hit is essentially a non-factor for a team starting from scratch. The Caps have very little room to work with under the cap while Seattle has all of the room to work with. A cap hit of $5.75 million would hardly be a deterrent. Second, Oshie is actually from Washington state. While most fans remember Oshie taking the Cup to his hometown of Warroad, Minn., Oshie was born in Washington and lived there until moving to Minnesota in 2002. Third, when building a team, you need players like Oshie who are personable and charismatic. He is the life of the locker room and a natural leader. He would be Washington's native son, returning to lead the team in its inaugural season.

To me, it is not a stretch to think that if Oshie is indeed selected, he would be in the running to be Seattle's first captain. His departure would also provide some cap relief to a Washington team in need of the extra room. Losing Oshie would mean losing that spark in the locker room, however, and MacLellan will have to decide whether that is a fair trade-off.

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