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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: In defense of Washington fans

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: In defense of Washington fans

It’s time for a new Capitals Mailbag! You can read Wednesday’s Part 1 here.

Check out Part 2 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.

Nathan S. writes: Lots of recent debate among DC sports media and fans about how Nats fans just aren't as passionate as in many other cities and that DC fans in general aren't great sports fans. The Caps fans seem an obvious exception to that although the atmosphere was often tense in playoffs before team beat the Penguins in the 2018 playoffs. In your view, how does Capital One Arena compare to other cities in the regular season on average? In playoffs, the place can get both raucous and tense although Canes fans were definitely louder in 2019 playoffs.

The attack on D.C. sports fans is a topic I could write about endlessly for hours. I do not know why Washington as a city seems to get singled out, but it is completely ridiculous. First, the Nationals rank 16th in MLB attendance above teams like Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. I do not know why a team should be bashed for having average attendance, especially for a team that only returned to D.C. in 2005 and does not have the same history as a team like the Yankees or Dodgers.

The reason why baseball is experimenting with clocks and robot umpires is that interest in the entire sport of baseball is down, not because of a random Nationals game. That is totally overblown.

The city of Washington is a transient city. There are a lot of people here from a lot of other places who come here to live and it is also an easy place to get to, traffic aside. The result is that more traveling fans end up going to games meaning a lot of Cowboy fans, Phillies fans and Penguins fans. That is a reflection of the city’s population and geography, not its fan bases.

You ever try to get to Pittsburgh? It’s not easy. It’s no wonder why they have such a great home crowd.

I do not know why in the national scene, Cleveland cornered the market on lowly sports teams for so long. From 2005 to 2018, the Cleveland Cavaliers made it to the NBA Finals five times and won once. When the Capitals won the Stanley Cup in 2018, they did not just snap a championship drought from 1998. The fact is that no Washington team from the four major sports even made it to a conference or league final since 1998. Everyone looks at Cleveland fans and says good for you then they trash Washington for being a garbage sports city.

At some point, teams have to justify their fan’s faith in them. Blind faith is not the sign of a good fanbase, it is a sign of stupidity.

Sorry for the tangent there, but I find this whole topic ridiculous. No one could say Philadelphia’s fans are not passionate, but I would rather have Washington sports fans and not have to worry about someone intentionally throwing up on a child because they cheered for the wrong team when I go to games.

For Caps fans specifically, the only legitimate criticism comes from how the crowd reacts in the playoffs. After years of playoff disappointments, a sense of trepidation began to hit in the postseason. Whenever something went wrong, fans would quickly become deflated. The arena would always be packed, loud and raucous at the start, but the moment something went wrong it would take the wind out of the Caps faithful. Excitement turned to panic, which turned to cynicism. When Washington finally got past the Penguins in 2018, people could sense the tide was turning and the crowd responded. Those crowds for the conference final and Stanley Cup Final were great and they were loud. That sense of trepidation was gone, even in moments like Game 6 against Tampa Bay when the Caps had lost three straight and were facing elimination. The crowd was with them then and it was with them last year even when locked in a tighter than expected series with the Carolina Hurricanes. I wonder if the honeymoon period from the Stanley Cup will fade this year in the postseason, but we will have to wait and see.

But in terms of support, besides the postseason panic, the Caps have a great fanbase overall and this is evident on the road as well as at home. I went to a game in Pittsburgh in 2009 and if I had to estimate the number of Caps fans there I would put it somewhere in the hundreds. This changed drastically in the last few years, even before Washington won the Cup. I went to a game in San Jose in 2017 and I would estimate about 15 to 20-percent of the crowd was wearing red.

Washington fans are great, they just get a bad rap for whatever reason.

Roger B. writes: I don’t understand the Caps’ fascination with Christian Djoos. At 5’11 and 170, his lack of size and strength compromise the Caps’ ability to win puck battles and clear the crease. Unlike other younger blueliners in the organization, he doesn’t project to being a top 4. Why not trade him to get under the cap and keep Pheonix Copley as insurance for Braden Holtby in 2019?

I’m not sure “fascination” is the best way to put it. He is coming into this season likely competing with Jonas Siegenthaler for the last spot in the lineup and I doubt he will play 82 games this season. I do not think that qualifies as “fascination.”

The Caps played 24 playoff games in 2018 on their way to the Cup. Djoos played in 22 of those games. The two he did not play were losses to Columbus.

Djoos’ size will never not be a factor and he clearly handled it better in 2017-18 than he did in 2018-19. There is no denying he got pushed around more so last season, but he also had a serious injury and I do not think he was totally 100-percent when he returned.

Djoos has had one good season and one bad season. I think wanting to see which defenseman is closer to the truth is entirely reasonable, it just stings a bit because I think the arbitrator’s award of $1.25 million caught everyone off-guard.

Having said that, it is fair to point out that the Caps have a boatload of left-shot defensemen both on the roster and among their prospects. The reason why you do not trade Djoos now, however, is because you would not get anything back for him. At all.

Djoos is coming off a bad year, he has only two years of NHL experience so you are not sure which player he really is, he is undersized and every general manager in the league knows Washington needs to shed salary. The Caps would be getting no value in a trade whatsoever.

If the roster is better of with Djoos on it in a No. 6/7 role and he has no trade value then there is no point in trading him. If the team can make the salary cap work they are better off with Djoos as a No. 7 than Tyler Lewington.

Greg C. writes: What goes into a team's cap total besides salaries? I ask because, according to Cap Friendly (as of 8/13), the Caps' combined salaries (not including Jonas Siegenthaler's) for 19-20 total $81,000,128, but their cap hit is $82,864,294. What makes up the difference?

Not sure why you would not include Siegenthaler’s. The Caps will certainly want to carry seven defensemen into the season and Siegenthaler will almost certainly be one of those seven.

If you add Siegenthaler’s salary, you get $81,714,294. Then you have to add $1.15 million for a carryover bonus overage penalty from last season.

Performance bonuses do not count against the salary cap until they are earned. When bonuses are earned, the team still needs to fit within the salary cap. If it does not, then the bonus overage slides to the next season and count as dead space.

Bonuses put Washington over the cap last season and the remaining $1.15 million carries over to 2019-20. Add that into the team salaries and that is why the Caps are at $82,864,294.

I honestly have no idea how to answer this question, I just included it because of the response from Bottoms Up.

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

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How Kuznetsov's suspension helps the Caps' salary cap situation

How Kuznetsov's suspension helps the Caps' salary cap situation

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The suspension to Evgeny Kuznetsov means the Capitals will begin their brutal October schedule without one of their top centers for the first three games. There is a silver lining, however, in terms of the salary cap. Generally when a player is suspended, his cap hit continues to count against the team even though he is not playing. According to a team official, however, because the suspension is not a Department of Player Safety issue, his cap hit will not count during this suspension giving Washington a massive $7.8 million worth of cap room to work with for the first few days of the season.

For a team facing some serious cap issues heading into the season, that is a huge break.

Initially, it appeared a Capitals team that was already over the cap would have to find a way to shed enough salary to afford another player to replace Kuznetsov or go the first three games without an extra forward at all. Instead, the extra cap room essentially gives Washington another week to make the tough roster decisions it will ultimately need to make to get under the cap.

“This is something we have to deal with and react accordingly as a team and putting the best players on the ice in the best spots,” head coach Todd Reirden said Saturday. “We’ll start to get a look at some different combinations.”

It is important to note that the Caps will not be banking cap space. This will work in much the same way as long-term injured reserve. Kuznetsov will not count against the cap for the first three games, but Washington will not be recouping the cap space it will not be using in his absence.

Eventually the Caps will have to pick a fourth line and move Chandler Stephenson, Travis Boyd or Brendan Leipsic to Hershey. Djoos’ $1.25 million salary will force someone on defense to get traded or waived. Now, however, those decisions can be made based on actual regular-season games against NHL competition rather than based on training camp projections and preseason games.

This also could be an opportunity for Washington to get younger players into a game they otherwise would not have been able to afford.

“There’s going to be some opportunity potentially for some different guys,” Reirden said. “They should take advantage of an opportunity here that is going to be in front of them.”

The team has raved about Martin Fehervary since returning to camp, does he get one of the first three games? Does the team bring in a prospect forward to play center with Kuznetsov out? Getting Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek playing time this season is a goal for the team as well. This could give general manager Brian MacLellan an opportunity to get one of them a game without having to place Pheonix Copley on waivers to free up space.

One of the biggest storylines of the Caps’ training camp was the salary cap and how the team intended to get under the ceiling by Oct. 1. The Kuznetsov suspension is not good news for the team, but it does give MacLellan an extra week to make the really tough decisions.

“There’s a lot of things that can possibly happen,” MacLellan said on Thursday during media day. “We’re going to try to play it out until the end. If something makes sense in the meantime, I think we’d pursue it.”

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NHL to suspend Caps center Kuznetsov for start of regular season

NHL to suspend Caps center Kuznetsov for start of regular season

The NHL will suspend Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov for three games for conduct detrimental to the league, according to a press release from the NHL. He is not expected to appeal. 

Kuznetsov, 27, tested positive for cocaine at the World Championships in May playing for Russia and was suspended four years by the International Ice Hockey Federation. 

That normally would not affect his NHL contract. Under the CBA, “drugs of abuse” like cocaine don’t require a suspension. Instead, the league steers players toward treatment. 

Kuznetsov agreed to take advantage of the NHL Players Association’s treatment programs and extra testing. He also arrived in Washington much earlier than normal for European players in August to take part in informal workouts.  

But Kuznetsov misled the NHL and the Capitals during an investigation of a video that surfaced on May 27 showing him in a Las Vegas hotel room with a white powdery substance on a table directly in front of him. Kuznetsov insisted he’d never used cocaine, which wasn’t true giving the timing of the failed drug test at Worlds. 

The failed IIHF drug test proved that false. Kuznetsov’s positive test came from a sample taken on May 26 the day Russia played the Czech Republic for the bronze medal at Worlds in Slovakia. That was the day before the video appeared on social media. 

“We’ve had discussions after, and I think for the most part, he’s been truthful,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said at media day on Thursday. “I think we want to get him in a spot where he’s going to make a different choice next time.”

Kuznetsov’s salary-cap hit is $7.8 million per season, but this year his base salary and bonuses amount to $8.4 million. He is expected to forfeit some salary for the suspension and his hit will still count against Washington for the time he is out. 

On May 31 the NHL released a statement by deputy commissioner Bill Daly saying the league had reviewed the video, interviewed Kuznetsov and cleared him. 

"While we certainly do not condone or endorse some of the decisions he made on the night in question, Mr. Kuznetsov's account of the events that transpired aligns with other information we have been able to gather, and we have found no basis to question his representations with respect to what did -- and what did not -- occur," Daly said. 

 The Capitals also met with Kuznetsov to hear his side of the story and released a statement attributed to him that same day. 

"While I have never taken illegal drugs in my life and career, I would like to publicly apologize to the Capitals, my teammates, our fans and everyone else, for putting myself in a bad situation," Kuznetsov said. "This was a hard lesson for me to learn."

Kuznetsov was provisionally suspended by the IIHF just two weeks later on June 13 after the failed test. That was upheld and made public on Aug. 23. That led to an in-person interview with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman this week and the subsequent suspension. 

The Capitals expressed both disappointment and support for Kuznetsov. MacLellan was asked if cocaine use affected Kuznetsov’s play during an up-and-down season where he still finished with 72 points. 

“I mean, that’s hard to say. You’d have to ask him that,” MacLellan said. “There’s no indication that those are correlated. It could’ve had an effect, or other stuff could’ve had an effect.”

No teammate said Thursday that Kuznetsov had to address the group about his cocaine use and the consequences. He is banned from international competition until June of 2023, which means Kuznetsov will miss the 2020 Winter Olympics in Beijing if NHL players are allowed to participate. 

“That’s ultimately up to him. Our job right now is we support him,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “There’s always consequences to actions. But main thing that we want to be there for (him) as teammates is to help him come through stronger, whether it’s off the ice, on the ice, to support him to make himself and make our team stronger.”

Kuznetsov will miss games against the defending champion St. Louis Blues on Oct. 2, the New York Islanders on Oct. 4 and the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 5.

“It’s very unfortunate what happened,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. “But at the same time for us as friends, I think it’s really important we support him no matter what and we’re going to fight this together as a family here.”

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