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Caps with decisions to make on their remaining free agents

Caps with decisions to make on their remaining free agents

The Capitals are in Vancouver and focused on tonight’s NHL Draft, but there is plenty more left to do this summer. 

On Thursday, general manager Brian MacLellan gave an update on his restricted and unrestricted free agents. We already gave an update on Andre Burakovsky’s uncertain status heading into tonight. 

But that still leaves Jakub Vrana, who had a career-high 24 goals last year and should command a nice bridge deal to unrestricted free agency to say the least. At age 23 he has some time to go to get there. But with an expected spot on the top-six again next year there’s no reason to expect a drop off from Vrana. 

Somewhere in the $4 million range would make sense. MacLellan has already had a few conversations with Vrana’s agent, J.P. Barry. Reading the tea leaves, that negotiation could carry on well into July.  

“We're going to play it out here,” MacLellan said. “We're going to see where the cap is and see what our roster decisions are and make a decision with Jakub and his agent."

MacLellan was a little hesitant on Thursday in part because he won’t know until Saturday exactly what salary-cap number he’s working with. General managers expected it would be $83 million and instead it will land at $82 million or less, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. 

For now, the Capitals have about $9.74 million in cap space to re-sign Vrana and add five other bottom-six forwards and a depth defenseman, according to the web site CapFriendly.com. That's a pretty tight squeeze.

Brett Connolly is not expected back with the Capitals, according to an NHL source. But MacLellan still publically left the door slightly open. Connolly has been a good player for Washington for three years after it took a chance on him in 2016 and then re-signed him to a two-year deal that is now expiring. 

The shrinking cap doesn’t help matters and even the $83 million number likely forced Connolly’s departure anyway given interest around the league in his services.    

"It could be. We're in conversations with his agent also,” MacLellan said. “It depends on how the league views him and what kind of contract offers and what kind of role he's going to be presented with. I think he's earned the right to listen to all the teams and to see where they fit with opportunity and financially. We're going to talk to him and see where that ends up for him and try and make a decision based on that."

That applies to defenseman Brooks Orpik and forward Devante Smith-Pelly, too. MacLellan again left the door open. He said he’s spoken to the agents for both players. It’s unlikely either player returns, however, and Orpik still has to decide if he wants to play another season at all at age 39.

 “We’re going to wait until the interview period here and continue to converse with them going forward, see what our other opportunities are and then try to make a good decision based on that,” MacLellan said. 

 Washington’s three other restricted free agents are forwards Chandler Stephenson and Dmitrij Jaskin and defenseman Christian Djoos. MacLellan would not 100 percent commit to making those players qualifying offers by the June 25 deadline. He again wanted to see the cap space available. 

Trades this weekend could upend all of this as well. If any of those players are not tendered qualifying offers they become unrestricted free agents. 

 “We're in the same mode that we've been in for the last five years - try and have the best team we can put on the ice,” MacLellan said. “I think [Alex Ovechkin] and [Nicklas Backstrom] are still high-end quality players and we're trying to surround them with the best guys we can every year.”

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How to watch: Capitals vs. Hurricanes preseason Game 3

How to watch: Capitals vs. Hurricanes preseason Game 3

The Washington Capitals remain undefeated in preseason play, thanks to Tom Wilson's clutch overtime goal and a Nicklas Backstrom bouncing saucer-pass-turned-shot

Saturday night, the Caps will get their first crack at the Carolina Hurricanes, who knocked them out in the first round of the playoffs last season. This game is also the first one that comes after the Caps whittled their roster down after the first round of cuts, which included Caps 2019 draft picks Connor McMichael and Aliaksei Protas.

The Caps will face the Hurricanes in the regular season on October 5 at Capital One Arena in their home opener.

CAPITALS-HURRICANES PRESEASON GAME 3: HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: Saturday, September, 21, 7:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Capitals-Hurricanes preseason game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Hurricanes preseason game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

Radio: Caps Radio 24/7

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I Am The Prospect: Capitals' prospect Alex Alexeyev is focused on one goal - making the roster

I Am The Prospect: Capitals' prospect Alex Alexeyev is focused on one goal - making the roster

Alex Alexeyev is the third Washington Capitals' prospect featured in NBC Sports Washington's I Am The Prospect series. Click here to check out more profiles from I am The Prospect.

Like most prospective NHL players, Alex Alexeyev dreams of the day he gets to lift the Stanley Cup over his head.

“It’s the best league in the world," Alexeyev said. "In childhood, they (are) always dreaming about raising that Stanley Cup. It’s my dream too.”

Standing at 6-foot, 3.5-inches tall, the 19-year-old from St. Petersburg, Russia, was the Capitals' last pick of the first round in the 2018 NHL Draft.

“He’s an untapped resource," Capitals head coach Todd Reirden said. "I was really impressed with him last year, seeing him for the first time."

Alexeyev's journey to the big leagues began three years ago when he made the move from Russia to North America, earning a spot on the top pair of the Red Deer Rebels' roster in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. It was there in March of this past year that he sustained a "scary" knee injury, almost certainly sidelining him for the time being.

“I was scared and I felt like something (was) definitely wrong with my knee but after some time where I figured out, everyone figured out that it’s not that scary,” Alexeyev said.

Alexeyev rebounded quickly, rehabbing his injury with the Capitals' AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears.

“The injuries, it’s too bad, but players do get injured and that’s something that can’t be helped, Capitals assistant general manager, Ross Mahoney said. "But he had a really good first half of the season with the Red Deer and exceptional World Junior Tournament, the under-20 tournament.” 

Since then, Alexeyev was a standout at the Caps' Developmental Camp in June.

“He just looks like he’s at a different level than the rest of the kids both physically and ability to play," Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. "He’s big, he’s strong, he’s got a good skill level, he moves the puck well, he seems to have a good attitude a good work ethic, I’m excited to see him in training camp and see his progression here as the year goes on.

With the loss of Capitals' veteran defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, Alexeyev is focused on making the Caps' 2019-20 roster.

“Alex is a really intelligent player," Mahoney said. "I think he’s got great vision on the ice. He has that ability also to be very patient with the puck.” 

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