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Caps defenseman Christian Djoos, forward Chandler Stephenson filed for salary arbitration. What comes next?

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Caps defenseman Christian Djoos, forward Chandler Stephenson filed for salary arbitration. What comes next?

Capitals defenseman Christian Djoos and forward Chandler Stephenson filed for salary arbitration before the 5 p.m. NHL deadline on Friday. What comes next for the two young depth players? 

Djoos is an interesting case. He had a base salary of $650,000 on a two-year deal that just expired. The Capitals tendered him a qualifying offer of $715,000 last month to keep his rights. He could have simply signed that, but agent Jason Davidson steered him toward arbitration, where a firm deadline could lead toward more money or maybe a multi-year extension.   

Djoos, 24, held a place in the Washington lineup early in the season until a hit to his thigh in a Dec. 11 game against Detroit turned into compartment syndrome, a sometimes dangerous complication where blood becomes trapped in the muscle. 

He missed 24 games, but returned Feb. 9 and finished the season. Djoos appeared in three Stanley Cup playoff games – though he never really looked the same as he tried to come back from that traumatic injury. He played in 16 of the final 27 games and was a healthy scratch 11 times. 

Djoos played in 63 games in 2017-18 and in 22 of 24 postseason games when Washington won the Stanley Cup. He turns 25 on Aug. 6. The thought is Djoos will compete with Jonas Siegenthaler as the primary left defenseman on the third pair given Brooks Orpik’s retirement. Often times the past two seasons he played on the right side. 

Djoos had a goal and nine assists this past season in his 45 games, none in the three playoff games with 7:24 of ice time against Caroline in the first-round series.

Players had until 5 p.m. on Friday to make written request to the NHL that they were filing for arbitration. Djoos qualifies because his entry-level contract expired in 2017. He avoided arbitration that year by signing a two-year, $1.3 million deal with an average annual salary of $650,000. 

The two sides could come to a similar agreement before an arbitration hearing later this month or early August in Toronto in front of a neutral arbitrator. That happened in 40 of 44 cases last summer and all 30 the year before. 

That’s because in part these things can get testy. They aren’t fun for the player or management. Djoos’ is the more likely bet of the two RFAs to get another two-year contract extension given his experience and that he looked like he’d improved his game before the Dec. 11 injury.  

Washington has a settled blueline with John Carlson, Nick Jensen and Radko Gudas, acquired in the Matt Niskanen trade last month, all under contract on the right side. Djoos and Jonas Siegenthaler, entering his second season after playing 26 NHL games last year, are likely to compete for the final spot on that third pairing’s left side behind Michal Kempny and Dmitry Orlov. But both should see ice time throughout the season.  

Stephenson, meanwhile, is in a different bind. He struggled to maintain the coaching staff’s trust last season as a member of an up-and-down fourth line. Center Nic Dowd earned a contract extension. But Stephenson, Travis Boyd and Devante Smith-Pelly all struggled to grab and hold a permanent spot on the wings. The Capitals then signed free agents Garnet Hathaway and Brendan Leipsic to fill fourth-line roles. 

So it looks like they’ve decided to upgrade that area. They didn’t pay Hathaway $1.5 million to scratch him. He’s a right wing, but the message was sent: The fourth line needs to be better. Leipsic is a left wing who will make $700,000. That's cheaper than Stephenson's qualifying offer of $715,000 and at this point every last dollar matters to the cap-strapped Capitals. 

Stephenson, who turns 25 on Aug. 6, had five goals and six assists last season. His ice time rose modestly from 11:52 to 12:07. He was a key member of the penalty-kill unit, but overall that group was a weakness. Only Tom Wilson and Lars Eller among forwards skated more than Stephenson (113:22) on the PK. Yet when he was on the ice the Capitals gave up just 11 power-play goals and had a short-handed one.

Stephenson somehow didn’t commit a single penalty all season, which is…good? Hard to tell if that’s a super disciplined player or one just not mixing it up enough. He only had eight PIMS the year before, though, so let’s call that a good thing. 

Stephenson played 64 games for Washington, but was a healthy scratch 11 of the final 19 regular-season games to give you an indication of where the coaching staff was with him. But he had 67 games in 2017-18 and made contributions during the Stanley Cup run with two goals and five assists playing in all 24 games. He earned his name on the Cup. His speed is also an asset on an older team that needs all it can get.

But it was frustrating Stephenson didn’t carve a bigger role for himself after showing promise in the playoffs the year before and it’s not a good sign that the Caps both brought in two fourth-line wingers and that the salary-cap likely dictates they can only keep 13 forwards. 

Contract or not, Stephenson will need a solid training camp to make the roster. Washington finding a little more money to keep two extra forwards and reach the maximum of 23 players would help, but doesn’t seem likely for now. 

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With the NHL limiting teams to 28 skaters for the playoffs, what will the Caps' roster look like?

With the NHL limiting teams to 28 skaters for the playoffs, what will the Caps' roster look like?

In a typical NHL postseason, all roster limits and salary cap restrictions are lifted. This year, however, is no normal postseason and teams are going to have prepare for having a limited number of players on the road.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the NHL has advised teams to prepare for a 28-man roster plus unlimited goalies for training camp and the playoffs. Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan confirmed this in a video conference on Friday.

"We got the roster number the other day of 28 plus unlimited goalies," MacLellan said. "So we're in discussions now on how we want to use those extra players and what's the best way we can organizationally."

It should be noted that "unlimited" goalies is a bit of a misnomer because all teams will only be allowed to bring a maximum of 50 people to their hub cities for the playoffs. So sure, bring as many goalies as you want, but for each goalie you bring that's one less staff member who will be able to go.

In a typical postseason, teams will recall several players from the minors to serve as "black aces," who are depth practice players. Several practices in the postseason are optional so having black aces ensures that regardless of the NHL regulars who wish to take part in a practice, there are still enough players to work with whether it be a goalie to shoot on or maybe shooters for a goalie to face against. Black aces also provide depth which is important for the grueling Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the players themselves, it provides younger prospects a valuable learning experience for what the postseason is like and how the veteran players approach it.

With a limited roster and limited personnel, however, MacLellan likely will not be able to bring all the players he normally would want to. Here's a projection of what a 28-man roster may look like for Washington.

The regulars

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Ilya Kovalchuk
Richard Panik - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway
Travis Boyd

Brenden Dillon - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Jonas Siegenthaler - Michal Kempny
Radko Gudas

When the NHL season was paused, there were 21 skaters on the roster. That number is down to 20 after Brendan Leipsic's contract was terminated. There is no reason to think any of the other 20 will not be with the team for the postseason.

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Possible Black Aces

With 20 players, that leaves just eight slots left for black aces. Here are the most likely candidates:

Shane Gersich
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby
Brett Leason
Beck Malenstyn
Connor McMichael
Liam O'Brien
Garrett Pilon
Brian Pinho
Mike Sgarbossa
Joe Snively
Daniel Sprong
Alex Alexeyev
Martin Fehervary
Lucas Johansen
Tyler Lewington
Bobby Nardella

Of those players, my best guess for the eight the team will take would be Gersich, Malenstyn, McMichael, Sgarbossa, Sprong, Alexeyev, Fehervary and Lewington.

First off, MacLellan named McMichael specifically as a player the team was considering taking. I don't think he does that if he was not fairly certain McMichael was going to be included. Malenstyn said in a video conference after the AHL season was officially canceled that he had been told by the team he was going to be a black ace. As for the rest, considering there is a fairly limited number of roster spots, I think the team would lean very largely on players who are more likely to be plugged into the lineup in case of injury. That means guys like Sgarbossa and Sprong would get nods over some prospects like Jonsson-Fjallby or Snively or, on defense, Lewington would be added over prospects like Johansen and Nardella.

Goalies

Braden Holtby
Ilya Samsonov
Pheonix Copley
Vitek Vanecek

Teams will always have a third goalie when possible in the playoffs and Copley also confirmed he will be a black ace in the video conference with Malenstyn. The only question is if the team would bring Vanecek as well just to be safe. With all the unknowns of the coronavirus, it would not be surprising to see MacLellan err on the side of caution and bring a fourth netminder. It may just depend on what other personnel the team may want to bring and if there is space in the 50-person limit for a fourth goalie.

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How to watch Evgeny Kuznetsov's best games with the Capitals

How to watch Evgeny Kuznetsov's best games with the Capitals

Over the past six seasons, forward Evgeny Kuznetsov has been one of the biggest reasons for the Capitals' success.

Kuzy has been extremely durable for the Capitals, playing in at least 76 games over the past six seasons, excluding the 2019-20 shortened season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The winger has been one of Washington's best attacking players during that span, splitting time between both Washington's first and second lines. 

No. 92 has also found a knack for playing his best hockey on the sport's biggest stages. Kuznetsov netted arguably the most important goal in Capitals history, scoring the game-winning goal in Game 6 of the 2018 Eastern Conference semi-finals in overtime to eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins, "exorcising the demons" for a franchise that previously could not get past the second round. We all know how that story ends, with the Capitals hoisting the Stanley Cup just over a month later.

On Sunday, NBC Sports Washington is airing four of Kuznetsov's best regular-season performances. At 9 a.m., tune in to watch the Caps 6-5 overtime thriller over the Tampa Bay Maple Leafs from January 3, 2017. In that contest, Kuzy totaled four points, netting one goal and notching three assists, including one that set up Alex Ovechkin's game-winning goal.

Following that, we travel back to October of 2018, when Kuznetsov turned in another four-point performance in a 5-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in a rematch of the 2018 Stanley Cup. Kuzy started the scoring in the first period with a power-play goal and would tally three assists later on in the match as the Caps cruised to a dominating win.

At 2 p.m., the Caps 6-4 victory over the Los Angeles Kings from February 11, 2019, will re-air. In this matchup, Kuznetsov finished with four points once again, this time finding the back of the net twice to go along with a pair of assists. To close out the day, tune in to see Kuznetsov net two goals in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Arizona Coyotes at 4:30 p.m.

A trip down memory lane that highlights Kuznetsov's greatest games is the perfect way to spend a Sunday.

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When:

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Where:

Broadcast Schedule:

9:00 a.m.: Toronto Maple Leafs @ Capitals from January 3, 2017

11:30 a.m.: Vegas Golden Knights @ Capitals from October 10, 2018

2:00 p.m.: Los Angeles Kings @ Capitals from February 11, 2019

4:30 p.m.: Arizona Coyotes @ Capitals from November 11, 2019 

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