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Capitals mailbag: What will the playoff lineup look like?

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Capitals mailbag: What will the playoff lineup look like?

It’s time for the weekly Capitals mailbag! Check out the April 3 edition below.

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

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

I believe the Caps will ultimately win the Metropolitan Division meaning they will play the first wild card team in the playoffs. I think Pittsburgh will hold onto third in the Metro, but that Columbus will overtake Carolina meaning we will see a Capitals-Blue Jackets rematch which is not great news.

Columbus has scoring depth to match the Caps and one of the top defensive pairs in the league with Zach Werenski and Seth Jones. The Blue Jackets look like they are finally getting things together in terms of chemistry and if Sergei Bobrovsky every figures out how to play in the playoffs, this will be an incredibly formidable team and a really difficult matchup.

As for the second round, if and when the Caps advance, I believe the Penguins will be there waiting for them. Barry Trotz has done a phenomenal job with the New York Islanders this season, but I believe a Mike Sullivan coached team with Sidney Crosby and Matt Murray will find a way to beat an Islanders team with three 20-goal scorers and a Robin Lehner-Thomas Greiss tandem in net.

Benjamin C. writes:  What’s the reasoning that Carl Hagelin and Jakub Vrana switched places? Hagelin, Brett Connolly and Lars Eller developed good chemistry on 3rd line, why change it?

You tend to see a lot of experimenting this time of year as teams look to find their ideal lineups for the playoffs. Jakub Vrana has played great and I do not think we should look at him moving to the third line as a demotion. The point is to find chemistry with multiple combinations and multiple lines because, the longer the playoffs drag on, the more injuries this team is going to take. It is a lot easier to reshape your offensive lines on the fly if you know that certain players play well together and others do not.

For what it’s worth, Vrana and Brett Connolly look like they had instant chemistry together the moment Todd Reirden made that change.

Here is my prediction for the lineup at the start of the playoffs:

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin – Lars Eller – Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson – Nic Dowd – Andre Burakovsky

Christian Djoos – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik – Nick Jensen

All of this is very fluid and Reirden is not going to hesitate to make changes not only game by game, but shift by shift. Having Ovechkin and Backstrom on different lines was important for the team’s run last season, but we will see them play together at points. The same goes for the defense which Reirden has shuffled constantly since Michal Kempny was injured. Even if Djoos does start on the top pair at no point will he get top pairing minutes as Reirden will continue his platoon defense approach of using multiple different players with Carlson.

Nathan S. writes: Why do Caps always lose to the Panthers? Do you anticipate next year they will spend more time coming up with a game plan to beat Panthers?

The Capitals scout the Panthers as much as they scout any other team so do not take their struggles this season to mean the coaches don’t care about Florida enough to game plan how to beat them. The unsatisfying answer is that some teams match up better against others and the Panthers seem to match up well against the Caps.

The biggest issue in each of the three games against Florida this season is the fact that Washington allowed the Panthers to build a big lead on them. On Oct. 19, it was 4-1, Feb. 9 it was 3-1 and on March 31 it was 4-0. Each game the Caps rallied late, but it was the start that sunk them.

Nathan S. writes: Why does the NHL add new teams before figuring out how to fix or move failing franchises such as Coyotes and Panthers? When will the NHL address the problems with those franchises?

The NHL will always favor expansion over relocation because of money. Vegas had to pay $500 million for their team and Seattle had to pay $650 million. Had Arizona relocated to Vegas and Florida relocated to Seattle, the NHL would be out the $1.15 billion it collected in those expansion fees.

When it comes to explaining the NHL’s reluctance to relocate teams, you have to ask why that team was there in the first place. The NHL wants to expand its reach by going to non-traditional markets and, while teams like Arizona and Florida have their issues, you could still point to positive results. Auston Matthews grew up in Scottsdale, Ariz. and became interested in hockey because of the Coyotes. With no Coyotes, there is no Matthews.  If the league had a more conservative mentality when it came to markets, then it probably would never have gone to Vegas in the first place and there is no question expanding there has been a complete success.

Having said that, I’m with you. The number of people in attendance at the Caps-Panthers game was embarrassing and the arena debacle in Arizona is not a good look. The NHL cannot let this drag on forever and at some point the NHL has to admit defeat. If I had to predict, I think in five years we will see Arizona move to Houston. Florida, however, I do not see moving anytime soon.

Kristen L. writes: Why does Alex Ovechkin have yellow laces?

Here is an article from 2010 that talks about Ovechkin’s skates and laces. The boring answer is that he always had yellow laces and he kept it up in the NHL.

European players used to wear wax laces and the only color those laces came in was yellow. When you see European players today wear yellow laces, it is often in tribute to those players of the past. Also, individuality is important to Ovechkin. He was very vocal about how much he disliked the NHL’s jersey tuck rule

“We individuals, everybody wants to do their own thing,” he said. “It’s stupid.”

Yellow laces are a way for Ovechkin to express his individuality while also paying tribute to the past, two things that are very important to 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 CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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Capitals re-sign forward Carl Hagelin to a four-year, $11 million contract

Capitals re-sign forward Carl Hagelin to a four-year, $11 million contract

WASHINGTON — The Capitals bolstered their forward depth and its penalty kill by re-signing two-time Stanley Cup champion Carl Hagelin before he hit unrestricted free agency next month. 

Washington has officially re-signed forward Carl Hagelin to a four-year, $11 million contract extension, a move that goes a long way toward re-establishing a third line that had some openings entering the offseason. 

Hagelin, 30, was a pending unrestricted free agent. Washington acquired him from the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 21 just four days before the NHL trade deadline. Hagelin played primarily on the third line – although injuries in the Stanley Cup playoffs pushed him onto the second line. 

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Hagelin had three goals and 11 assists in 20 regular-season games with the Capitals and became an instant staple on the penalty kill. His 47 minutes, six seconds on the PK in those 20 games were enough to rank sixth among all forwards on the team.

Traded twice last season, Hagelin had a total of five goals and 14 assists with the Capitals, Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins in 58 games. He had a sprained knee (medial collateral ligament) with Los Angeles that kept him out for 20 games.  

"[Hagelin] was a good fit,” Washington general manager Brian MacLellan said on April 26. “I thought he fit seamlessly from day one. Really liked him on the third line, the way we used him, we bumped him up obviously with the [T.J.] Oshie injury. Our PK got a lot better. Fits in well with his teammates. It's a really good fit for us, yes." 

The Penguins traded Hagelin to the Kings on Nov. 14. He was a key part of Pittsburgh’s back-to-back Stanley Cup winners in 2016 and 2017, which came at the expense of Washington in the playoffs each time. 

This was the last year of a four-year, $16 million deal that Hagelin signed with the Anaheim Ducks in 2015. He was always viewed as a likely trade chip for Los Angeles, which finished in last place in the Pacific Division and eventually flipped him to the Capitals. 

Even after the disappointing first-round Stanley Cup playoff loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, Hagelin said he was open to re-signing with the Capitals before he hit unrestricted free agency on July 1. His signing follows the trade of defenseman Matt Niskanen on Friday. The NHL Draft is this coming weekend in Vancouver with more moves expected.   

“I liked the fact that I got a good look from the coaches,” Hagelin said on April 26 of his time with the Capitals. “I got to play with good players, I got to play in key situations. I felt comfortable here.”

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Why the trade for Radko Gudas could signal the end of Brooks Orpik’s tenure with the Caps

Why the trade for Radko Gudas could signal the end of Brooks Orpik’s tenure with the Caps

The Carolina Hurricanes ended the Capitals’ season in the first round of the playoffs and quite possibly Brooks Orpik’s career with it. The 38-year-old defenseman said at the team’s breakdown day that the decision for what comes next, whether retirement or playing another season in the NHL, would have to wait.

“I'm in no rush in terms of deciding on my future in terms of hockey,” Orpik said. “That'll be a more health-related decision down the road."

Whether Orpik wants to come back for one more year in the NHL will be up to him, but the decision on whether to re-sign with the Caps may have just been decided for him.

On Friday, the Caps traded defenseman Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Radko Gudas. Most people hear the name Gudas and think of him as a dirty player who can’t play the position, but he is actually a decent defenseman. The media in Philadelphia selected Gudas as the most outstanding defenseman for the Flyers in 2018-19. Plus, his penalty minutes have decreased in each of the past four seasons from 116 all the way down to 63 last season. For reference, Tom Wilson had 128 and Michal Kempny had 60. It’s still high, but it signals a player making a conscious effort to stay out of the penalty box.

Gudas has been suspended four times in his career and he certainly will be watched very closely by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. One big hit could mean a lengthy suspension. That is a definite concern, but in terms of just his play, there is value there as a third-pair defenseman.

With Gudas in, that will almost certainly push Orpik out.

The move gives Washington six defenseman under contract for next season. Teams will usually keep seven for the regular season, enough for three pairs and one extra. Christian Djoos is a restricted free agent and will presumably be back as well, giving Washington seven blue liners.

Djoos had a down year last season, but he did play a third-pair role on the team’s Cup run and he is only 24. It does not make sense to give up on Djoos after one bad year just for one more year with Orpik who will be 39 at the start of next season.

Given Washington’s salary cap situation, the Caps do not have room for an eighth defenseman. If Orpik were to return, it would mean pushing someone else out. The only of those seven defensemen that would make sense to even consider moving for Orpik would be Gudas.

Gudas would not be the first player in the world to be traded and then flipped or bought out soon after. Ironically, the same thing happened to Orpik last season when he was traded to and then quickly bought out by the Colorado Avalanche.

A buyout here, however, would make no sense. According to CapFriendly’s buyout calculator, a buyout would only give Washington $1,166,667 of cap relief and most of that would go to a new Orpik deal making it pointless. Yes, you still have the $3.405 million of cap space the team would have opened up in the trade, but if the plan all along was to re-sign Orpik and ship out Niskanen, then why not just trade Niskanen for draft picks? Then you get his full cap off the books instead of having to go through the trouble of buying out Gudas and having him count against the cap for the next two seasons. That would make no sense.

As for flipping him and trading him to another team, what would the team get for him that would make it worthwhile? You cannot bring on salary or it defeats the purpose so the Caps’ options for a return would likely be limited to players of the same caliber and cap hit. What would be the point of that?

Prior to this deal, Djoos and Jonas Siegenthaler were the most likely candidates to play on the third pair next season. Both are left shots. Gudas is a right-shot defenseman which now gives Washington three with John Carlson and Nick Jensen. Gudas also plays with a physical edge. Sometimes he goes too far with it, but so long as he can control himself, he would add the physical presence to the blue line that the team stands to lose with Orpik gone.

There is no reason to trade for Gudas unless the team intended for Gudas to play a role next season. General manager Brian MacLellan chose to trade for a player who is a right-shot, physical, third-pair defenseman which is pretty much exactly the hole they needed to fill on their blue line and essentially the spot Orpik will be vacating. That did not just happen by accident.

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