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Capitals remain busy as NHL Draft approaches

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Capitals remain busy as NHL Draft approaches

The Capitals have been busy this past week and more offseason moves are likely soon as the NHL convenes in Vancouver for its annual entry draft. 

With forward Carl Hagelin re-signed and defenseman Matt Niskanen traded to Philadelphia for defenseman Radko Gudas to free salary-cap space, Washington general manager Brian MacLellan still has decisions to make in the long-term and the short. 

The draft begins at 8 p.m. EST Friday with the first round on NBC Sports Network and on the NBC sports app. Rounds two through seven begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday. MacLellan will talk to reporters on Thursday afternoon. After talking to NHL sources to gauge some sense of the Capitals’ thinking heading into the draft, here is what to look for this weekend beyond the picks. 

Andre Burakovsky

The restricted free agent frustrated coaches and executives alike for much of last season and improved play late in the year might not be enough to save him this time. The Capitals must at least offer Burakovsky a $3.25 million qualifying offer to keep his rights or he becomes an unrestricted free agent and can sign with any team. That’s a steep price for a player who has scored 12 goals each of the past three seasons and has yet to reach 40 points. 

Multiple NHL sources say Washington is listening to offers for Burakovsky again and that a trade this weekend is a distinct possibility. Whether that would be to simply to recoup draft picks or make a player-for-player deal is unclear. 

No one likes to burn a first-round pick with obvious talent, especially not when scoring depth is still needed. In the final 28 games of the 2018-19 season, including the seven-game Stanley Cup playoff series against Carolina, Burakovsky had six goals and four assists. One of those goals was another Game 7 tally against the Hurricanes on top of the two he had in Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final at Tampa Bay. 

Again, exactly what kind of deal the Capitals would need to move Burakovsky isn’t known. Draft picks or prospects don’t make a ton of sense for a team that Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman recently wrote was in “go for it” mode with its core group aging. But the thought is a fresh start would be good for the player if there’s a reasonable deal to be made. 

TSN’s Darren Dreger reported Wednesday afternoon that Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi has demanded a trade and Sportsnet’s Mark Spector quoted his agent saying he won’t play for the club again. The fourth pick in the 2016 draft, Puljujarvi, too, has struggled to live up to expectations with 17 goals and 20 assists in three seasons (139 games) and had surgery on both hips in March. He’s still just 21, a big body at 6-foot-4, 201 pounds and a right wing. 

Burakovsky is a far more accomplished player at this point and the Capitals might not want any part of a younger project who has stalled. But Puljujarvi is a decent example of the potential return if Washington does move on from Burakovsky. The Capitals are unlikely to get a player back free from questions. That decision, if made, has some serious risk for MacLellan and he knows it. 

Burakovsky has long struggled with confidence issues and to his credit has never shied from that. He works with a sports psychologist. He answered questions about trade rumors near the deadline honestly. He also played better the final six weeks of the season and won’t turn 25 until Feb. 9. Burakovsky seems like a good in-house fit to replace unrestricted free agent Brett Connolly’s 22 goals - or at least get into that neighborhood. He had 17 goals in his second NHL season in 2015-16.  

But the negatives are there, too: The seven goals, 10 assists (17 points) Burakovsky posted in the first 55 games this season. The six healthy scratches. That $3.25 million is hard to stomach if you don’t have confidence the necessary production will be there. Decisions like this give GMs heartburn. But the Capitals appear prepared to move on from a talented player who has left them exhilarated and exasperated.  

Brett Connolly

Connolly will not return to Washington, according to an NHL source. That’s not a huge surprise. The No. 6 pick in the 2010 draft had a career year with those 22 goals and did it with virtually no power-play time. That did not go unnoticed by potential suitors.  

Once RFA Jakub Vrana gets his new contract, as expected, the Capitals will have around $7 million to sign five more bottom-six forwards and a depth defenseman. Maybe less. NHL teams don’t actually know for sure what the salary cap for next year is yet. They should finally find out this weekend. 

But that’s too little, too late for Connolly, who admitted on April 26 that he was intrigued by the idea of a bigger role than Washington can give him and said he owed it to himself to listen if one is out there. At 27, why wouldn’t he think he can make a run at 25-to-30 goals if given more ice time and a spot on someone’s power play? That’s not going to happen here. 

Braden Holtby contract talks

Spoke with Holtby at the Capital Pride Parade on June 8 and he understandably didn’t want to get into any contract discussion. He would only say he hadn’t heard anything about talks between the Capitals and agent David Kaye starting. That’s not a big deal yet. Nothing could be signed until July anyway. They have all summer and beyond if Holtby is fine negotiating during the season. 

But we’re also talking about a Stanley Cup and Vezina Trophy-winning goalie entering a contract year. The Capitals are in a tough spot. Top prospect Ilya Samsonov is totally unproven at the NHL level. Pheonix Copley had a nice rookie season as the primary backup, but it’s a giant leap to reach Holtby’s level. 

But Nicklas Backstrom is also up for a new deal and other than new defenseman Radko Gudas’ $2.345 million hit, there is no money coming off the books next season. Can they afford to give Backstrom, a bargain at $6.7 million for almost a decade now, AND Holtby big extensions? 

Watch closely what Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky gets on the open market on July 1. Holtby will have a good argument for a similar deal and if that reaches eight figures per year then Washington is in trouble. Trading Holtby is a non-starter when the Capitals expect to contend again for a Stanley Cup and Samsonov, a first-round pick in 2015, remains an unknown at this level. Barring a trade of another big contract at some point, the cap space for both players just isn't there. That can change at any time, but Holtby could be in limbo for a while yet.  

Devante Smith-Pelly

The writing has been on the wall with this one. Smith-Pelly will not return next season, according to an NHL source. The unrestricted free agent was a Stanley Cup hero with seven goals in the 2018 postseason. But Smith-Pelly appeared in just 54 games (4 goals, 4 assists) before being waived and assigned to AHL Hershey. A tight salary-cap following the Hagelin trade had something to do with that. So did his conditioning early in the season. Tough situation. Smith-Pelly eventually returned to the NHL roster for the final three games of the first-round playoff series against Carolina and played on the fourth line. 

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Capitals vs. Blue Jackets: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, how to watch

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Capitals vs. Blue Jackets: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, how to watch

With three straight wins in their California trip, the Capitals are coming back to some much-needed home cooking. Washington will look to win their seventh game in a row.

The Blue Jackets are on a three-game losing skid and will look to get themselves out of the Metro Division basement with a much-needed win.

Can the Caps keep their winning streak going? Tune in to find out.

CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS: HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, DC

When: Monday, December 9, 7:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Capitals-Blue Jackets game will be broadcast on NBC Sports. (NBC Sports channel finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Blues preseason on NBC Sports live stream page.

Radio: Caps Radio 24/7

CAPITALS-BLUES TV SCHEDULE:

6:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live

6:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live

7:00 PM: Capitals vs. Blue Jackets (LIVE)

9:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live

10:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live

10:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live

CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS INJURY REPORT:

Capitals: C Nicklas Backstrom, upper-body injury, day-to-day

Blue Jackets: RW Brandon Dubinsky, wrist, long-term injured reserve

D Markus Nutivaara, upper-body injury, injured reserve

D Zach Werenski, upper-body injury, injured reserve

CAPITALS AT BLUE JACKETS PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Jonas Siegenthaler, D, Capitals (1-4-5)

While all the attention paid to the Caps defense is on John Carlson, Siegenthaler is quietly putting together a stout campaign. As part of the penalty-killing unit and on the third pairing with Radko Gudas, Siegenthaler could have a busy night ahead of him.

Seth Jones, D, Blue Jackets (4-12-16)

The son of former-NBA player Popeye Jones, Seth is making noise around the NHL for his steady play on the defensive end with his playmaking abilities on offense. He'll be quarterbacking the Columbus powerplay.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, F, Blue Jackets (10-8-18)

Chosen third overall in the 2016 entry draft, Dubois currently leads Columbus in points this season. He's been shut down for the last five games, recording only one assist, so he'll be looking to get his scoring touch back.

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A Vrana steal, a Kuznetsov surprise and more shenanigans between the Caps and Ducks

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A Vrana steal, a Kuznetsov surprise and more shenanigans between the Caps and Ducks

For the first time in franchise history, the Capitals have swept all three California teams on the road. The final win came on Friday in a 3-2 narrow defeat of the Anaheim Ducks. The game was full of shenanigans, some of which were cheeky and fun, but others were cruel and tragic.

Check out the game recap here.

Observations from the win

Just let them fight

We all remember what happened the last time these two teams played between Garnet Hathaway and Erik Gudbranson. It was no surprise to see those two lock horns in the second period, but the moment Gudbranson dropped his gloves, the refs were pulling the two apart preventing the fight.

The game devolved from there. In total, there was 66 PIM distributed in this game and I can't help but think most of it could have been avoided had the refs just let Hathaway and Gudbranson fight it out initially.

Why were they so quick to step in? I'm guessing that was the line in the sand drawn by the refs in an attempt by to keep control of the game and both players were told this is what would happen if they tried to fight. Rather than calm the game down, however, that seemed to make things worse.

Hathway and Gudbrandson ended up fighting in the third period anyway so what was the point of stopping them?

That sure sounds like they just needed to get that initial fight out of the way. That would have been better for both teams. Gudbranson's took an extra two minutes on the original fight attempt and the Caps scored on the resulting power play. Washington, meanwhile, sure seemed to get distracted by all the fisticuffs and scrums as the game went along, quickly losing control of a game it led 2-0.

Offside reviews stink and the NHL should get rid of them

Anaheim had a goal disallowed after a coach's challenge showed that Cam Fowler lifted up his back toe just before the puck crossed over the blue line. Once again, the game was slowed down so the refs could review a play and break down the video pixel by pixel to see if a player was just a hair offside. It saved the Caps a goal, but it was another example of the ridiculous standard linesmen now must stick to when judging if a play was offside or not.

The Ducks did not gain an advantage by the fact that Fowler's toe barely came off the ice right before the puck crossed. That's not the spirit in which the rule was intended.

Just please get rid of the offside review.

Context

The Caps swept a four-game road trip for just the second time in franchise history and they did it without Nicklas Backstrom and with Alex Ovechkin scoring in only one of those four games. They could actually be even better than what we saw  Friday.

Turning point

Anaheim tied the game at 2 just 45 seconds into the third period. They had complete control of the game. They were getting prolonged offensive opportunities in the Caps' zone and Washington's offensive structure was non-existent. They were skating the puck in, shooting and that was about the extent of the Caps' offense at that point.

Everything changed with one bad turnover.

Play of the game

Ovechkin is the team's most dangerous weapon on the power play. Getting the puck to him is priority one. Having said that, the Caps have a lot of weapons on the power play and they don't always utilize them. 

Washington's power play system is run on the half-wall. From there the puck is distributed, but rarely do they ever shoot from that position. They should because it would force defenses to account for it, but they don't and so you can understand why this shot from Evgeny Kuznetsov from the half-wall seemed to catch goalie Ryan Miller by complete surprise.

Stat of the game

The win completes a four-game sweep of the road trip. Does it seem like the Caps are really good on the road this season? That's because they are.

Quote of the game


Fan predictions

This is impressive. You nailed it and you got pretty specific too. There were only three misconducts, but still I'm very impressed.

A bit off on the score, but you got to see a Caps win.

Ha.

There was plenty of this. A total of 66 PIM were issued in this game.

Well, it was nuts but it didn't get that nuts.

Just about everything that could happen to Radko Gudas did in this game...but he still didn't score.

I did, but barely. I am going to guess we lost a few people along the way.