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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: How does Washington get under the salary cap?

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: How does Washington get under the salary cap?

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

Have a Caps question you want to be answered in the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Luka K. writes: It seems that because salary and a surplus of defensemen in the system that a Christian Djoos trade is near certain. Can you prepare the fanbase for what to expect in terms of prospects or draft picks? It probably won’t be an NHL player coming back because of the cap situation. Can we get a good forward prospect?

Trading Djoos is certainly on option, though I would not go so far as to say it was “near certain.” If we take Djoos’ cap hit off the books and assume the Caps will send Chandler Stephenson to the AHL (more on that later), that would leave Washington with less than $761,000 of cap space remaining. Tyler Lewington’s cap hit of $675,000 would fit so the team could recall him as a seventh in that scenario.

I ultimately do not think the Caps will go this route because the return for Djoos would be close to nothing.

Let’s consider. First, Djoos is coming off a bad year so that decreases his value. Second, Djoos has only two years of NHL experience, one of which he helped the team win the Stanley Cup and the other he struggled after returning from a significant injury. The bottom line is you do not know which Djoos is the real Djoos. That decreases his value.

Every general manager in the league knows Washington’s salary cap situation and that Brian MacLellan needs to shed salary. That decreases Djoos’ value. If the Caps do not get a deal done, they may be forced to put a player like Djoos on waivers in which case there is a chance an opposing general manager could claim him off waivers and get him for nothing instead of having to give up an asset in a trade. That decreases his value.

But...but...but...I like Djoos! He’s a good puck mover! Of course he’s better than last year! He had a bad injury!

Even if all that is true and an opposing general manager feels that way, it is not his job to go out and acquire Djoos. It is his job to acquire Djoos for as little as possible and he will use all those reasons above to drive the price down. We are probably talking about a late-round draft pick or maybe a middle-tier prospect, nothing more.

Phil M. writes: The Capitals need to find a way to get under the salary cap. It seems the new contracts for Chandler Stephenson and Christian Djoos pushed the Capitals over and they have only two solutions: Trade players or send players down. I think the Capitals elect the second and exchange Pheonix Copley’s salary for Vitek Vanecek’s salary as backup goalie and then send Stephenson to Hershey. That puts the Capitals just under the cap but can Vanecek handle the backup job and is Copley or Stephenson likely to be claimed on waivers?

First, let’s deal with Stephenson. The cap hit of Stephenson’s contract comes just under the maximum cap relief cutoff for players in the AHL. I explain this in more detail in a story I wrote for Monday. You can read it here. Basically, everything about Stephenson’s contract suggests he is going to start the season in Hershey barring a miraculous performance in training camp.

The idea of using Vanecek ($716,667 cap hit) instead of Copley ($1.1 million cap hit) is an idea that seems to be gaining steam.

For those wondering why Vanecek and not the future projected starter Ilya Samsonov, it is because Samsonov’s cap hit of $925,000 would still put Washington over the cap in this scenario.

Vanecek looked much closer to being a finished product last season than Samsonov and even earned an invite to the AHL All-Star Game. The one thing that gives me pause on this is that the past few years, Vanecek has looked horrible in training camp. He may just be the type of player who struggles in practice, but plays well in games as he looked fine in the preseason, but if you are a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, I could see a bad training camp make you think twice about going with Vanecek. The good news is that this would only have to be a temporary situation until the team banked enough cap space to get Copley back.

Vanecek’s ceiling to me looks like an NHL backup and he looked good enough last season that perhaps the team could give him that shot given the cap issues.

I have a hard time believing that Stephenson would be claimed off waivers. I just do not think he has shown enough for other teams to bother with a move like this. I am not so sure about Copley, however. There was a frenzy of backup goalie pick-ups off waivers before the season began last year that saw the Toronto Maple Leafs lose both Calvin Pickard and Curtis McElhinney. Not only did Copley win 16 games last season, he also is signed through the 2021-22 season meaning he fulfills a team’s requirement to expose one goalie with term in the expansion draft. That could be more attractive to teams than people anticipate.

The good news is that even if he is taken, Vanecek and Samsonov are both waiver exempt. If Vanecek struggles, he can be sent back down to the AHL once the team banks enough cap room to recall Samsonov. Vanecek’s contract also is through 2021-22 so it is not as if losing Copley would force Washington to go out and sign a random goalie just to expose to Seattle.

Brian writes: Given the depth we have at defenseman is there any chance that they would move say Dmitry Orlov for a forward prospect to help get under the salary cap so they wouldn’t have to do all the flim-flam waiver stuff instead?

All of the decisions the Caps are making right now are being done with the feeling that this team is a Stanley Cup contender. If you believe you are a Cup contender, you do not move a top-four defenseman just get under the cap.

MacLellan managed to trade Matt Niskanen away and arguably get better by trading for Radko Gudas. To dump Orlov’s contract before the season for a prospect and cap relief does not make the team any better in the present.

Yep, Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary look great, but we have no idea what they will like in the NHL. Alexeyev has never stayed healthy for a full season in the WHL and is coming off a leg injury, Fehervary has never played a North American game. You don’t get rid of an established top-four player like Orlov if you think you can win the Cup for a gamble like that.

Thanks for all your questions! Part 2 of the mailbag will be coming on Thursday. If you have a question you want to be answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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Caps finally solve Halak for improbable shootout win

Caps finally solve Halak for improbable shootout win

The Capitals needed a goal from T.J. Oshie with less than a minute remaining to force overtime on Saturday where they would go on to defeat the Boston Bruins 3-2 in a shootout.

It looked like Jaroslav Halak would once again pull off a miraculous win as he turned aside 42 shots, but the Caps kept up the pressure late to tie the game and get back in the win column.

Saturday's win is now Washington's 15th in the last 16 contests against the Bruins.

Here is how the Caps won.

Boyd makes the most of his opportunity

On Friday, Travis Boyd was a Hershey Bear. With Nic Dowd and Carl Hagelin both injured but without enough money under the cap for Boyd, the Caps recalled Tyler Lewington on Friday and skated seven defensemen and only 11 forwards against the Montreal Canadiens. On Saturday, the team sent Lewington and Ilya Samsonov to Hershey and recalled Vitek Vanecek and Boyd. The extra cap space the team gained from Vanecek taking Samsonov's spot allowed them to recall Boyd and skate four full forward lines. The impact of Boyd's addition was felt in the first period when Boyd scored a deflection to beat Halak and get the Caps on the board.

In seven games with the Caps this season, Boyd has one goal and four assists.

Caps get their power play setup on 6-on-5

For much of the night, the Caps just could not figure out Halak. They poured on the shots, but he was there each time and looked like he would be able to lead his team to the narrow victory. Late in regulation, the Caps pulled Braden Holtby for the extra attacker and the Caps gave Boston a power play look.

Washington had its top power play unit on the ice plus Tom Wilson. The goal looked like one right out of the power play's playbook with Evgeny Kuznetsov behind the goal line feeding Oshie in the slot. Oshie is great at getting those quick shots away from in close and he finally beat Halak with 59 seconds remaining.

Oshie was instrumental in setting up the goal as well as he blocked a clearing attempt from Zdeno Chara with his glove to keep the puck in the offensive zone just seconds before Kuznetsov set him up for the goal.

Backstrom and Vrana deliver in the shootout

Washington scored only twice on the shootout, but that would be all they needed.

The normally automatic Oshie was stopped on his shootout attempt putting Washington behind early on.I n a score-or-go-home situation for Nicklas Backstrom, he managed to sneak a shot in between the glove and the pad of Halak to force extra rounds of the shootout. Then Jakub Vrana pulled off one of the nices shootout goals you will ever see.

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Boyd makes his case, Oshie saves the game and Vrana dazzles

Boyd makes his case, Oshie saves the game and Vrana dazzles

The Capitals are back in the win column after Saturday's 3-2 shootout win, but they almost didn't get there because of that pesky Jaroslav Halak. It took a last minute goal from T.J. Oshie and some shootout magic by Jakub Vrana. Having four full forward lines certainly helped, too.

Check out the recap of Saturday's game here.

Observations from the win

Boyd or Stephenson? Boyd is making his case

Carl Hagelin and Nic Dowd are both out with injury. Both are considered day-to-day and one or both should be returning to the lineup sooner rather than later. When that happens, the Caps are going to have to send someone back to Hershey and, with a goal against Boston, Travis Boyd is doing his best to make sure it isn't him.

In all likelihood, the decision will come down to Boyd or Chandler Stephenson again. Boyd has lost that competition earlier this season, but after Boyd's goal on Saturday I think whether to keep him in Washington or not at least warrants a discussion.

The Caps are so close to the salary cap that when both Dowd and Hagelin were out injured, the team recalled Tyler Lewington, a defenseman, because it could not afford Boyd under the cap ceiling. With things so tight, the Caps need to find a way to bank more cap space and keeping Boyd ($800,000 cap hit) over Stephenson ($1.05 million cap hit) would certainly help.

It's not just about money. Stephenson responded to Todd Reirden's preseason challenge and justified his spot in the lineup to start. He is a very fast player which is an important attirbute in today's NHL and also plays on the penalty kill which Boyd does not.

Five-on-five play matters too, however, and Boyd has far exceeded Stephenson's play in that area including his production. In 18 games and an average of 11:22 of ice time, Stephenson has 2 goals and one assist. In just seven games and 9:09 of ice time, Boyd has one goal and four assists.

Boyd produces with less playing time in fewer games and has a lower cap hit. Is the fact that Stephenson can play on the penalty kill enough to send Boyd back to Hershey? I'm not so sure.

The value of dirty goals

Don't get me wrong, Jaroslav Halak was great in this game. He made 42 saves and did a great job tracking the puck and getting in front of it to make the first save. Having said that, he was shaky with the puck all night. He could make that first save, but everything after was an adventure. He struggled to control his rebounds or the puck and that was an area the Caps needed to take advantage of, but couldn't.

Washington has one of the top offenses in the NHL and they are doing it largely with an offense that shoots off the pass. There's nothing wrong with that. Clearly it works. Making a goalie move back and forth and not allowing him to get set makes life difficult. Having said that, on nights like this where Halak is getting to everything he can see, you need dirty goals and that is one area in which the Caps are lacking.

What are dirty goals? The deflections (like Boyd's), the rebounds, the screens, the loose pucks in front. Those were the goals the Caps needed and, apart from Boyd's first-period tally, they couldn't get them. Ultiamtely the result was a win so it does not matter, but it seemed like the offense was a lot more difficult than it needed to be. There were goals to be had and opportunities in front of Halak. That is a tool the Caps need to add to their arsenal and use more often than they do.

Time to see more of Hathaway and Gudas

We are seeing more and more of Tom Wilson mixing things up lately and that's fine. It's what he does and he's very good at getting under opponents' skin. Right now it seems like we are seeing a lot of Wilson doing it and not enough of it from Garnet Hathaway or Radko Gudas. In a physical game like this one, I would like to see more of them mixing things up and less of it fall on Wilson who is a top-six, often top-line forward.

Turning point

Washington had 44 shots on goal in this game, 11 of which came in the third period. It looked like it was just not going to be the Caps' night thanks to Halak (again). Oshie, however, delivered with just 59 seconds remaining in regulation.

Play of the game

I am not a big fan of the shootout. The 3-on-3 overtime format is amazing and it seems like such a letdown when games go to the shootout. Having said that, this Jakub Vrana shootout goal was filthy.

This, however, is a close 2nd to the play of the game.

Evidently Marchand is only tough when it comes to Lars Eller.

Stat of the game

Braden Holtby has put the early season struggles behind him.

Quote of the game

Boyd on Vrana's shootout goal:

"Man, nasty. Unbelievable. I'm sure it will be all over the highlights tonight. Not only to go ahead in the shootout and put us ahead there and give us a chance to win with a [Holtby] stop, but to do it in that fashion, that's pretty cool."

Fan predictions

You guys may have overshot this one...just a bit.

Patrice Bergeron was out injured. Even so, David Pastrnak still got a goal.

Boyd didn't get two points, but he did get a goal.

Keep trying. You'll get there.

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