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Capitals sign Tom Wilson to huge six-year extension

Capitals sign Tom Wilson to huge six-year extension

One of the Capitals' top priorities for the offseason was to re-sign forward Tom Wilson and now finally they can cross that item off their to-do list. The Caps re-signed the bruising winger to a six-year contract with an average annual value of $5.17 million, the team announced Friday.

Wilson enjoyed a career year in 2017-18 and found a role playing alongside Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin. He provided balance to the team's top line, but also showed he could chip in offensively with 14 goals, 21 assists and 35 points, all career highs. He also ranked fourth in the league in both hits (250) and penalties drawn per 60 minutes (1.78).

"Tom is an invaluable member of our team and we are pleased that he will play a great part in our foreseeable future," general manager Brian MacLellan said via a release from the team. "Tom is a unique player in this League. At 24 years of age, he has an impressive amount of experience and we believe that he will only continue to grow and improve as a player. With his ability in virtually any game situation, teams need players like Tom in order to succeed in the NHL."

The only issue is staying in the lineup. 

Never afraid to throw his body around, Wilson also set a career high in penalty minutes with 187 and was suspended three times in 2017-18, once in the preseason, the regular season and the postseason. 

After two suspensions early in the season, MacLellan and Wilson met with the head of the Department of Player Safety, George Parros, in an effort to learn what made certain hits suspendable.

"[Wilson's] spent a lot of time educating himself on what they're looking at and how they look at it and what's the certain things they look for," MacLellan told reporters in April. "So, I give him a lot of credit for how he's evolved with that."

At only 24, however, the Toronto native and 2012 first-round draft pick has become an integral part of the team.

After being utilized sparingly by Adam Oates on the fourth line early in his career, it took time for Wilson to begin to live up to his first-round potential. Last season finally offered a glimpse of the type of player the Caps hoped they were getting when they drafted him 16th overall and the team is hopeful he will continue to develop offensively.

"He's proven he's a good penalty killer, he's a good 5-on-5 player, he's a good forechecker," MacLellan said. "Just play around the net, I think the next level for him is how do I create tips and screens? How do I find loose pucks around the net? How do I create more off cycles? I think that's the next level for him offensively."

Wilson was the last of the team's remaining free agents in need of a new contract. With him back in the fold, the  Caps return almost the exact same roster that won the Stanley Cup last season with the only losses being forward Jay Beagle and goalie Philipp Grubauer.

A very familiar looking team is going to take the ice in October and Wilson is poised to serve a pretty sizable role on that team.

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Capitals mailbag: Will the Capitals get any playoff help from the Hershey Bears?

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Capitals mailbag: Will the Capitals get any playoff help from the Hershey Bears?

It’s time for the weekly Capitals mailbag! Check out the March 20 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.

Michael M. writes: If the Caps play the Penguins in the first round, are you concerned if you’re the Caps or is it just a natural fan reaction to get a little weary of this potential first round matchup?

The mental roadblock that was the Penguins I think is gone after last season’s playoff win over their hated rivals. Having said that, would I like to see Washington draw Pittsburgh in the first round? Of course not. The playoffs are a grind and if the Caps win the division, you hope to get to the softest first round matchup you can. Playing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin does not fit the bill.

As great as this rivalry is, it is totally fair to be weary of the matchup. They have played in the playoffs in three straight years and it is only natural to want to see another team in the playoffs. But that’s the playoff system we have. For some reason the NHL does not think these matchups will ever get stale, ever, and insists on keeping this dumb divisional format.

Those odds were a bit dated and I believe most oddsmakers have the Caps much higher now after they have gone on a bit of a run. To answer your question though, I’m Han Solo when it comes to the odds. I put zero faith in them.

The job of the oddsmaker is not to rank who they believe is the most likely to win, it is to get you to spend money. If you’re a Carolina fan and you’re seeing Vegas put you among the favorites, you’re going to take that to mean your team is for real and you’re going to spend money. If you’re a Caps fan and you see the Caps dropping, you’re going to spend money thinking everyone is sleeping on the defending champs and you are getting quality odds. Several bookies had the Toronto Maple Leafs as the favorites at the start of the season. Did they think the Leafs were really the favorites? Probably not, but Leaf mania was taking over Toronto and some excited fans probably dropped more money than they should have as a result of seeing their favorite team as the favorites.

The Caps getting bad odds likely has a lot to do with the oddsmakers taking the repeat into account, it doesn’t happen all that often, and the fact that Washington is not going to play the New York Islanders in the first round. If there’s anyone that should feel slighted by Vegas, it’s New York. All those teams in the Metro getting some surprise love from Vegas were the teams that were likely to play the Islanders in Round 1.

Ben C. writes: Evgeny Kuznetsov has gotten quiet again and just isn’t playing at that elite level we’ve seen him play on. Is he going get himself together in time?

Todd Reirden switched Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom midway through Tuesday’s game and I wonder if it was because of concerns over Kuznetsov’s play.

We are getting close enough to the playoffs that it is fair to wonder just when Kuznetsov will up his game. It is not always easy to flip the switch and he needs to get his game going now and not just wait for the playoffs.

To be fair, Kuznetsov did score on Tuesday, but every game that passes and he does not look to be at the elite level he was in last year’s postseason, it is fair to wonder if he can get back to that level.

Nathan S. writes: Why do Caps give up so many goals at the start and end of periods? Is thus where inexperienced coaching especially Reed Cashman comes into play?

We’ve asked the players and they don’t know either. It was a problem again on Tuesday as the Devils scored with one second left in the first period. I thought Washington was taking control of the game in Tampa Bay on Saturday, but a goal at the start of the third period gave the Lightning a two-goal lead and really hurt the comeback attempt. This is a real issue and can be huge momentum swing in games.

The good news is that I have asked players about giving up early/late goals at some point every season I have been covering the team. Every team goes through streaks like this. Something as basic as early/late goals is important at every level of hockey, including the AHL where Cashman was coaching before this season, so I am not going to put this squarely on inexperienced coaching.

One way to possibly stop this is to put the third and fourth lines on to start and finish each period to try to combat this.

Benjamin C. writes: Do you think Carl Hagelin and Andre Burakovsky should switch lines? That way Burakovsky could get more chances and Hagelin already gets a lot of minutes from the PK. Also why not do a line with Nic Dowd at center, Burakovsky or Hagelin at left and Chandler Stephenson at right wing?

I was surprised to see Hagelin move up to the third line as quickly as he did, but I would not change the third and fourth lines at this point because both seem to be clicking. Considering how streaky a player Burakovsky is, I would absolutely avoid changing anything with him.

Apparently Reirden thought the same thing as you about a Burakovsky, Dowd, Stephenson line. Personally, I prefer Stephenson on the wing rather than at center.

Faceoffs are just one aspect of a player’s game. No one is going to stay in the lineup just because of faceoffs. Reirden is going to keep in the player he feels adds the most to the lineup.

I’ll give you a good example of what I mean. The Caps signed Wojtek Wolski in 2012 largely because he was good at the shootout. The problem was that he could not do much else. He ended up playing 27 games with nine points and that was his last season in the NHL.

Evidently it is going to take wanting to give Brooks Orpik a night off.

Djoos played Tuesday for the first time since Feb. 23 and he looked good. At this point, however, it seems like Reirden has locked in the defense for the playoffs with Djoos as the No. 7.

I can’t speak for the team, but if I was in charge I would try to bring him back. He completely transformed the team’s penalty kill and you would feel comfortable putting him in any of the four lines if you needed to, at least for a short time.

There are a few obstacles to a possible return, however. Hagelin is a UFA so he holds all the cards. He will be 31 at the start of next season and his best asset is his speed. Once he starts to decline, he will do so rapidly. Brian MacLellan prefers short-term deals for bottom-six players so a good performance in the playoffs is going to mean getting better offers from other teams. Plus, MacLellan also has to think about re-signing Jakub Vrana and Djoos who are both due significant raises and he has to make a decision on what to do with Brett Connolly as well. You have to figure out what your top seven will be on defense and if you need to look for a free agent or two.

It would be great if they could bring Hagelin back, but he is pretty far down on the list of priorities for the offseason.

Well, if the Caps are recalling anyone from the AHL, it’s going to be Devante Smith-Pelly. Sending him to the AHL was a shock. If you start recalling other forwards over him, then I have a hard time seeing him ever suiting up for the Caps again even if they need him to.

But more to your point, I do not get how the team has handled Dmitrij Jaskin this season. From my perspective I thought he played well whenever he got into the lineup. Clearly the coaches disagree. Not sending him to Hershey was about his salary as it is over $1 million and could not be completely buried like Smith-Pelly’s could, but if they had no intention of using him, then perhaps it would have made sense to try to trade or waive him.

As for Riley Barber, after Wednesday’s game there will only be eight remaining in the season. Giving a player fourth line minutes for eight games to see what he can do is really not enough time to say, yes, this player should be in the lineup over Smith-Pelly, Jaskin, Chandler Stephenson, Travis Boyd, etc. Barber has had a hell of a season and I would like to see what he can do, but an important thing to remember is that of his 58 points, 31 of those points have come on the power play. Barber will get zero time on the power play in Washington.

The time to experiment with Barber was way before now.

When the playoffs begin, I expect Smith-Pelly will be on the Caps’ roster regardless of whether Hershey is in the playoffs or not. Having said that, do I foresee any scenario where Smith-Pelly is in the lineup at the start of the playoffs? Not unless there are multiple injuries.

I know a lot of people are upset about Smith-Pelly, but let’s take away what he did in the playoffs. Has he really done enough to warrant an every day roster spot this season? Not really.

Having said that, if a player gets injured in the playoffs and Reirden has to put in either Smith-Pelly or Dmitrij Jaskin, I would still expect Smith-Pelly to get the nod over Jaskin.

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 take back first place in Metro by dismantling shorthanded Devils

Capitals take back first place in Metro by dismantling shorthanded Devils

A three-goal second period fueled the Capitals to a 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, giving Washington back sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Goalie Pheonix Copley earned his sixth straight win with 20 saves while Brett Connolly became the fifth Cap this season to reach the 20-goal mark.

Here are four reasons Washington got the win.

Kyle Palmieri leaves early

The Devils were already without Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, Miles Wood, Jesper Bratt, Pavel Zacha, Mirco Mueller and Sami Vatanen so they really could not afford to lose Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri took an inadvertent shoulder from Nick Jensen which dropped him. He was very slow to get back to the bench and did not return. He played only 1:18.

With the number of injuries the Devils have faced, Palmieri has been huge with 27 goals and 50 points, both team highs. Trying to beat the Caps without so many key players was already going to be a tall task. Adding Palmieri to that list was a real blow to the gut.

Andre Burakovsky stays hot

Burakovsky got Washington on the board early as he ripped a shot past MacKenzie Blackwood less than three minutes into the game. The Caps winger circled around the boards with the puck and New Jersey gave him some room to work with. He cut from the boards to the faceoff circle and fired the puck through the legs of defenseman Eric Tangradi. There was so much speed behind that shot that, Blackwood barely had enough time to react. The puck did hit him in the arm, but on the way out. The puck was hit so hard it bounced back out into Blackwood’s arm.

The goal is Burakovsky’s 12th of the season. He has scored five of those goals since Feb. 23.

Brett Connolly opens the flood gates

The box score does not look great for Blackwood, but he was doing all he could to keep the Devils in it. With the score tied at 1 at the start of the second period, Blackwood made a number of dazzling saves to preserve the tie, including stoning Jakub Vrana on a 2-on-1. His play made you wonder if a beaten up New Jersey team would somehow be able to steal away two points from the Caps, but Brett Connolly put fans’ fears to rest.

Christian Djoos, playing for the first time since Feb. 23, made a good play at the wall faking the pass to open up the lane, and fired the puck right to the tape of Connolly who tapped the puck in for his 20th goal of the season. This marks the first 20-goal season of Connolly’s career.

From that point, the Caps added two more goals in the second to take control. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored his 19th of the season about six minutes later and just over a minute after that Tom Wilson extended Washington’s lead to three.

Top-Six Shuffle

About midway through the game, Todd Reirden switched centers on the top two lines with moving Nicklas Backstrom with Wilson and Alex Ovechkin and Kuznetsov down with Vrana and T.J. Oshie. The move had positive results for both lines.

Vrana tipped the puck up from the defensive zone to Kuznetsov who called his own number on the 2-on-1 and buried the puck through the 5-hole of Blackwood. Later in the second, Backstrom and Ovechkin both earned assists on Wilson’s 21st goal of the season.

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