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Capitals prospect report: Chase Priskie is heading to free agency and it's nobody's fault

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Capitals prospect report: Chase Priskie is heading to free agency and it's nobody's fault

The news came out on Wednesday that the highly touted prospect Chase Priskie would not sign with the Capitals and would instead hold out to Aug. 15 when he will officially become a free agent. Fans are understandably disappointed in the turn of events and are looking for someone to blame.

How could this happen? How could the team let a good player slip from their fingers? How could the player walk away from the team that drafted him?

Well, I have the answer: It’s no one’s fault because no one did anything wrong.

In 2016, the Caps drafted Priskie, a 20-year-old rising Sophomore from Quinnipiac, in the sixth round. He had scored four goals and 26 points in 43 games his freshman season. From a sixth-rounder, Priskie’s stock began to grow as his college career progressed.

So how did the Caps just fall asleep on him and let him slip through their fingers? They didn’t.

Washington tried to sign him in 2018 after his junior season. In fact, Priskie told the New Haven Register he intended to sign, but a disappointing season at Quinnipiac left a bad taste in his mouth and he elected to stay to help put the program right in his senior year.

So if it’s not the Caps’ fault, then clearly Priskie is in the wrong here, right? I can hear the criticism now.

“The NHL should close that loophole!”

“You should show loyalty to the team that drafted you!”

“Harrumph!”

First of all, Priskie is not becoming a free agent because of a loophole. Article 8.6 c deals specifically with drafted college players and spells out exactly how they can become free agents. It’s not a loophole if there is a rule describing this specific situation in the CBA.

Washington knew the risks of drafting a college player, as does every team in the NHL.

Why would teams draft a college player and risk them leaving for nothing? Because you take a chance at bringing in the best talent and try to convince them to sign with your team. There are risks to drafting European players too, there’s no guarantee they ever leave home to come to North America, but you do it in an attempt to bring in the best players you can.

Second, Priskie did nothing wrong by holding out for free agency.

Look, I get it, fans root more for the team than the players so more people will look at this situations from the team’s perspective, but let’s think about this from the player’s point of view.

After four years of college and watching your stock rise, in just a few more months you will be able to pick and choose where you want to go. Maybe there are better situations out there for him or maybe he just wants the options. A few more months are the difference between having one option and 31. Considering the NHL rules regarding restricted free agency will lock Priskie in place for years to come, it’s fair to want to see what else is out there if you have that opportunity.

Look at John Tavares, for example. He played nine seasons for the New York Islanders before finally getting a chance to become an unrestricted free agent. Nine. Sure, his second contract was a five-year deal, but the fact is that when you sign an entry-level contract, strap yourself in because you are going to be with that organization for several years. If you are going to be stuck with a team that long, there is nothing wrong with making sure it is the right team and the right opportunity if you have that chance.

But what about showing some loyalty to the team that drafted you?

The Caps drafted Madison Bowey too, then they traded him. What loyalty did the Tampa Bay Lightning show when they traded away draft pick Brett Connolly? That’s not to say either team did anything wrong here either. Trades are part of the business and so is free agency, even if the player is a college player who never played a game in the NHL. The CBA gives him that right.

It’s OK for fans to be disappointed – Priskie looks like he could develop into a heck of a talent – but let’s not bash a 23-year-old kid for doing what he believes to be best for his career. And let’s not bash the team for letting him slip away. They tried to sign him, it just didn’t work out.

It’s nothing personal, only business.

Other prospect notes:

  • The season is over for Red Deer and prospect Alex Alexeyev. According to the Red Deer Advocate, he is still waiting for the Caps to tell him what their plan for him is in the coming months. A knee injury suffered in March will likely keep him from joining the Hershey Bears for the remainder of their season.
  • Joe Snively made one heck of a debut for the Hershey Bears. Playing in his first professional game on Saturday, Snively scored his first goal, a game-winner against Providence. Check it out here:
  • One reason for the Hershey’s jump in the standings? Its success in the shootout. Bears goalies have stopped a combined 41 out of 48 shootout shots this season. Vitek Vanecek is tied for the league-lead with four shootout wins while Riley Bareber leads the league with five shootout goals.
  • Want to know more about Vanecek? Capitals Outsider has got you covered.
  • Beck Malenstyn was named Hershey’s winner of the IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year Award for his contributions to the Hershey community this season. Each team selects one winner of the award who become finalists for the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award. From the press release:

Malenstyn was always the first Bear to volunteer for events as part of the team's Hershey Bears Cares community initiative. The 21-year-old rookie forward quickly immersed himself in the Central Pennsylvania community, participating in nearly 20 events during the 2018-19 season. He met with members of the military, helped underprivileged youth, brought smiles to sick children, and participated in team specialty nights to fight cancer and raise funds for charitable causes.

Events Malenstyn participated in included: Ft. Indiantown Gap visit ahead of Hometown Heroes Night, Coco Packs event to help children in need for the holiday season, BINGO at the PennState Health Children’s Hospital, Children’s programs at schools including Highland Elementary, Sled Hockey event with PUCHOGS, the player skate with the American Special Hockey Association, and the club’s 7th annual Running for Rachel fundraiser with Arooga’s.

The Bears, the AHL's oldest and most decorated team, have a passionate fan base. Malenstyn's play quickly made him a fan favorite, but his personality and accessibility via team events have cemented his place in the hearts of Bears fans. This year, Malenstyn made public appearances signing autographs and meeting fans on numerous occasions. He played games with children at Dave & Busters, took part in Trivia Night with fans at Funck's Restaurant, helped welcome fans to a new local restaurant, and took part in a meet and greet event at Ollie's Bargain Outlet.

  • Axel Jonsson-Fjallby really jumped onto everyone’s radar last season with a fantastic performance in the SHL playoffs. After a rough regular season in Sweden, Jonsson-Fjallby is starting to come on strong again. He scored only one goal and 10 total points in 36 games for his SHL team Djurgardens IF, but already has two goals and four points in six playoff games.

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Alex Ovechkin headed to China as an NHL Ambassador

Alex Ovechkin headed to China as an NHL Ambassador

Capitals center Alex Ovechkin is headed to China the week of Aug. 4 to serve as an international ambassador for the NHL, which is trying to grow its presence in that country. 

The NHL played two pre-season games in China last year between the Boston Bruins and the Calgary Flames. The year before the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks did the same.  

Ovechkin’s trip to Beijing will include youth hockey clinics, a media tour and business development meetings. 

“It is a huge honor for me to be an ambassador for the entire Washington Capitals organization and the National Hockey League for this special trip to China,” Ovechkin said in a statement. “I think it is very important to spend time to help make people all over the world see how great a game hockey is. I can’t wait to spend time with all the hockey fans there and I hope to meet young kids who will be future NHL players. I can’t wait for this trip!”

The NHL and the NHL Players Association are hoping to generate interest in the sport in the world’s largest market. The preseason games played in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen have drawn good crowds the past two years. The goal is to develop grassroots hockey programs at all levels, but especially for kids.

One other aspect of the trip: It generates publicity if the NHL decides to allow its players to return to the Winter Olympics in 2022 when they are hosted by Beijing. That issue needs to be worked out in the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations over the next year. NHL players had participated in every Olympic Games since Nagano, Japan in 1998 until the league refused to let players go to Pyeongchang for the Winter Olympics in South Korea last year.   

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20 Burning Capitals Questions: What adjustments will coach Todd Reirden make in his second season?

20 Burning Capitals Questions: What adjustments will coach Todd Reirden make in his second season?

The long, endless summer is only halfway done. The Capitals last played a game on April 24 and will not play another one until Oct. 2. 

But with free agency and the NHL Draft behind them now, the 2019-2020 roster is almost set and it won’t be long until players begin trickling back onto the ice in Arlington for informal workouts.  

With that in mind, and given the roasting temperatures outside, for the next three weeks NBC Sports Washington will look at 20 burning questions facing the Capitals as they look to rebound from an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, keep alive their Metropolitan Division title streak and get back to their championship form of 2018.   

The list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain futures. Today we analyze coach Todd Reirden, who was always going to have a difficult job in his first season as Capitals’ head coach given the expectations. 

The question going into 2019-2020: What lessons does Reirden pull from last season, how does a year running his own bench infuse his tactics this time around and what changes, if any, does he make in player management?

There’s nowhere to go but down when you win a Stanley Cup. You can’t do any better. Reirden knew that when he took over for Barry Trotz after Washington won the title in 2018. In many ways, he kept the ship pointed in the right direction as a rookie coach. The Capitals won their fourth consecutive Metropolitan Division title. 

But the Stanley Cup playoff loss to the Carolina Hurricanes was a disappointment. With the Hurricanes going on to sweep Trotz and the New York Islanders in the second round there was an opportunity there for another deep playoff run and Reirden’s team wasted it.

There is plenty of good to build on. Yes, Reirden inherited a strong hand given that almost every player from a championship roster returned. But let’s not pretend everything ran smooth all year. Washington had a seven-game winless streak in January to sit on during the All-Star break. 

If you’re going to withhold credit for a talented roster that in some areas can run on autopilot, you also have to acknowledge that Reirden performed the same magic Trotz did the year before: He halted an ugly losing streak that could have sent the season spinning in a dangerous direction.  

The Capitals returned from the break and a bye week on Feb. 1 at 27-17-6. They were three points behind the Islanders in second place in the Metropolitan Division – though still six points from falling out of a playoff spot. Their position, if not alarming, was precarious. 

But Reirden’s team recovered to go 8-4-1 before the NHL trade deadline and then caught fire with help from some shrewd additions by GM Brian MacLellan. Washington finished 13-5-1 and won the Metro again.

Reirden’s crew shook off another ragged start (8-7-3) and for the second year in a row surged in late November and December. In general he gave his top players, especially Alex Ovechkin, more minutes than in previous years under Trotz. You can’t really say that backfired since Ovechkin had a dominant playoff series against Carolina. So did Nicklas Backstrom. Those plus-30 players didn’t look spent in April even if some of their teammates did. 

Maybe you can ding Reirden on the margins. Wouldn’t his fourth line have been harder to play against with Dmitrij Jaskin in the lineup? Did he bail on Andre Burakovsky too quickly? Did he not bail on Chandler Stephenson soon enough? 

But those weren’t season-changing decisions. Burakovsky wasn’t producing until the trade deadline passed and he relaxed a little, Stephenson’s penalty killing was necessary. Jaskin being glued to the bench was somewhat baffling giving that his underlying possession numbers were always strong, but he also produced zero offensively. 

In the end, assuming his players don’t fall off a cliff this season, Reirden will have a few obvious areas to address. There was a strain of thought around the NHL last spring that the Capitals were too wedded to what worked for them during the regular season and never really adjusted to how the Hurricanes were determined to play. 

That’s an age-old conundrum in the playoffs, of course. Change too much and you’ll be accused of panicking. But it was hard to ignore how badly Washington was outplayed on the road against the Hurricanes. And Carolina had a rookie head coach itself in long-time NHLer Rod Brind’Amour, who famously said during the series that coaching was “overrated.” It came down to a coin toss in overtime of Game 7 and the Capitals lost. Reirden took some heat for it.  

Washington’s coaching staff was an odd mix, but it doesn’t appear there will be any changes there. Reid Cashman, just 35 and an assistant at AHL Hershey the two years before, was in his first season as an NHL coach, too, and – if we’re being honest – had a rough gig dealing with veteran blueliners like John Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. There’s not much an inexperienced coach can tell players like that. 

Scott Arniel gave Reirden an assistant with NHL head coaching experience. That proved helpful. Goalie coach Scott Murray’s role didn’t change much given that Mitch Korn had already scaled back his duties in previous years before leaving for New York with Trotz. Murray and Braden Holtby appeared to have a strong working relationship. Blaine Forsythe has been on staff for over a decade and runs the power play, which did slip some to 12thin the NHL.  

Reirden had to learn how to manage those coaches, blending a staff and finding the right way to delegate and trust. It’s a balance most rookie head coaches find tricky. A second year together should theoretically run more smoothly with roles defined and respected. If that doesn’t happen, it will spell trouble. 

At times it seemed like Reirden and MacLellan weren’t always on the same page. Jaskin was a fourth-liner picked up on waivers before the season, but was basically iced after December. Maybe that's not such a big deal. But Reirden didn’t quite seem to know what to do with defenseman Nick Jensen, either, after he was acquired from Detroit in a trade to bolster the blueline. 

Jensen never looked comfortable playing primarily on the left side once Michal Kempny was lost for the season with a torn hamstring. That’s a difficult position for any player on a new team in a pressure situation, but Jensen immediately signed a four-year contract extension after the trade so they’ll have to figure it out. Expect him to get heavy minutes as the replacement for Niskanen on the right side of the second pairing.   

There is probably much more behind the scenes that we don’t know – from interactions with individual players, who all have healthy egos of their own, to disagreements over strategy and tactics. NHL teams do a pretty good job of hiding those fissures, especially when they’re winning, but a coach has to figure out that balance and intuitively know when to scrap his own plan.  

In the end, much of this is nitpicking. The Capitals won plenty in Reirden’s first year, they made the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 years, they took the division again and they blew a series they should have won. That happened under Trotz, too. 

But the goal this year is clear: Keep the championship window open and make a deeper playoff run. No one knows when a Stanley Cup push will happen, but Washington better be in the mix. Do that and Reirden’s reputation will grow from coaching a roster that’s changed a lot since Trotz left last summer. Fall short and doubts will begin creeping in. If there’s any lesson that Reirden learned in his first season as a head coach it was that one. 

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