Quick Links

Catching up with T.J. Oshie: An injury update, rooting for former teammates in playoffs and more

USA TODAY Sports Images

Catching up with T.J. Oshie: An injury update, rooting for former teammates in playoffs and more

SPRINGFIELD — The sling is still a thing for Capitals forward T.J. Oshie. 

On April 19, Oshie underwent surgery on his fractured right clavicle following a shove into the boards from behind in the final minutes of Game 4 of a Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes. 

Oshie missed the final three games of that series and watched helplessly as Washington was eliminated in double overtime of Game 7. He still winces sometimes when bumped on the healing collarbone. The sling is supposed to serve as a warning to stay away, but that doesn’t always work so well.  

But Oshie is looking forward. He took some time to decompress after the disappointing injury and the loss to the Hurricanes. His season really ended April 18, after all, so the fire to return to the ice is already there. Oshie has spent the past two weeks getting his legs back into shape. And while it will be some time yet before he can do upper-body work - no weights or gripping anything until about the middle of June - that still leaves a full summer to get ready for 2019-20 when the Capitals figure to be a contender again. 

“We’re about a month away from me being able to do full-body workouts, but I’ll be flying on all cylinders when mid-September comes around” said Oshie, speaking Thursday at a STRIVERS event at The St. James, a sports, wellness and entertainment facility in Springfield that was introducing its upscale lifestyle and performance apparel, gear and tech line. Redskins tight end Vernon Davis was also in attendance. 

Training camp seems like a long way away. But Oshie thinks the extra rest will be good for a team that never really had time off last summer after winning the Stanley Cup in 2018. The championship celebration, the parade, the loss of coach Barry Trotz, free agency and each player’s day with the Stanley Cup all blurred together. It seemed like they were all right back at MedStar Iceplex for the start of the new season. 

“When we saw each other last year for training camp, it felt like ‘Hey – good to see you. Been a couple of weeks,’” Oshie joked. “It was longer than that, but it’s what it felt like. So the hugs were still kind of hugs of ‘We’re champions still.’ This year when we show up it’s gonna be hugs because of ‘I miss you. It’s been a while. Let’s get to work and be ready to try to get a title again.’”

Oshie, unlike past years, will spend most of the summer in Washington with his wife, Lauren, and daughters, Lyla and Leni. He said he’s keeping tabs on his former team, the St. Louis Blues. That’s where he spent the first seven years of his career before the 2015 trade to Washington. 

There are 10 players still with St. Louis from when Oshie was there. He sees the parallels between the Capitals’ 44-year wait for that elusive first Stanley Cup and Blues fans waiting 52 for the Cup. St. Louis is down 2-1 to the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final after a controversial overtime loss in Game 3, but Game 4 is tonight at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Network.

“There’s a lot of guys there I went to battle with on a nightly basis,” Oshie said. “It’s nice seeing them contend and fighting and clawing their way to the finish line.”

The Blues are in a fight for Oshie’s affections, however. Marcus Johansson was a teammate for his first two years with the Capitals. After missing out last year following a trade from Washington Johansson will play in the Stanley Cup Final with the Boston Bruins, who clinched the Eastern Conference on Thursday night with a series sweep of Carolina. 

David Backes, also with the Bruins now, was a Blues’ captain during Oshie’s time there. He, too, will play for the Cup for the first time. Justin Williams also played two years in Washington with Oshie, still good friends with the man they call ‘Stick’ but not quite over losing to Williams’ Hurricanes yet. 

“I love Stick, but after Carolina beat us you kind of want to see them lose,” Oshie said. “But it will be exciting to the end…[St. Louis and Washington] I’ve loved and one thing both didn’t have was a championship. To see the way this city rallied around the Stanley Cup last year - there’s more people here, but I imagine it would be pretty big there, too. And there’s a lot of people in that [Blues] crowd that have had season tickets since Day One. It would be pretty special for them to hoist the Cup in St. Louis.” 


Quick Links

Why the Caps had to trade Matt Niskanen

USA TODAY Sports Images

Why the Caps had to trade Matt Niskanen

In an ideal world, you keep players like Matt Niskanen.

A veteran defenseman with years of experience, a player who was given hard minutes during Stanley Cup playoff runs in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 and excelled, a soft-spoken, but blunt man unafraid to say when his team played like hot garbage. These are not guys you look to trade. 

Unless, of course, they have a $5.75 million salary-cap hit for the next two years and your team desperately needs to clear space for other priorities. The Capitals made that long-expected move on Friday when they traded Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers for defenseman Radko Gudas. 

In a vacuum, this is a loss. Niskanen by all accounts has been a better defenseman than Gudas. But they are also on different career trajectories. Niskanen struggled, especially early last season. He is 32. There’s at least a chance we’ve seen the best of him, though he’d argue by the end of last season he was closer to his normal self.

“Not totally shocked, but it caught me a little off guard,” Niskanen told reporters on a conference call Friday. “I knew once the NHL season was over, from now until the draft is typically when things happen.  Not really shocked, a little surprised. I knew this is the time of year when these things can happen and I knew what kind of situation Washington was in, so I knew there was a possibility.

Gudas, 29, is going in the opposite direction – though his ceiling is surely lower than Niskanen’s is at his best. He’s cut down his penalty minutes each of the past three years. He’s of limited offensive value, instead a classic stay-at-home defenseman who’s become effective at limiting the high-danger chances when he’s on the ice. 

And that role won’t have to be a big one. The Capitals have an in-house replacement for Niskanen on the right side of the second pair with Nick Jensen, who is really the on-ice key to this trade. 

Jensen, acquired at the trade deadline from Detroit, was immediately signed to a four-year contract extension sight unseen. The writing was on the wall for Niskanen then. Caps GM Brian MacLellan basically said it out loud at breakdown down when he acknowledged retaining scoring depth is a priority and that he likely would have to move salary. These dots weren’t difficult to connect. 

Gudas is the plug-in defenseman on the third pair who allows Washington’s coaching staff to pick and choose which young player – Jonas Siegenthaler, Christian Djoos or whoever – they want to use on a given night. Both players are natural left-side defensemen.

If Jensen can find the comfort level he’d reached with the Red Wings, then MacLellan will have a more balanced roster. Immediately he can focus his leftover resources on the third and fourth lines. Maybe that means re-signing Carl Hagelin. Early indications are that’s a priority. 

But with about $13.49 million in cap space, according to the uber-helpful web site Cap there is a little breathing room now to take care of restricted free agents (RFAs) Jakub Vrana – expect him around the $4 million mark on a bridge deal – and maybe Andre Burakovsky (a $3.25 million qualifying offer or less than that if they buy out his final two years of restricted free agency). 

But now let’s look at the long-term implications of the Niskanen trade. Gudas is a free agent after next season. That Niskanen money is gone just in time for contract extensions with center Nicklas Backstrom and goalie Braden Holtby.  

The Capitals will lose the bonus overage ($1.150 million) they have to pay defenseman Brooks Orpik this year - whether he plays with the team or not (a return seems unlikely now). Gudas’ cap hit is $2.345 million. The salary cap should also rise again from $83 million. Without moving more salary, keeping both Holtby and Backstrom seems like a long shot. 

Speaking with Holtby on Saturday at the Capital Pride Parade, he insisted to NBC Sports Washington that he hadn’t heard anything from his agent about contract talks beginning. That’s something you’d expect to happen this summer - or not at all if Holtby rightly pursues a top-level goalie contract. 

Montreal goalie Carey Price has a $10.5 million cap hit, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist is at $8.5 million and Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky could hit double figures as he enters the free agent market this summer. 

Backstrom, too, a bargain for nine years now, will want a raise. He now has the 20thhighest cap hit for a center ($6.7 million). You’d have to think he’d seek well over $8 million. Teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov has had a $7.8 million cap hit since 2017.

Niskanen knew all of this, of course. He understands the business side of the sport. A player with his own moral code, who was always, always at his locker when he made a mistake in a game or when someone had to account for a poor team performance, leaves Washington after five years with a Stanley Cup and few regrets. It’s what he came here to do.  


Quick Links

The Niskanen trade helps the Caps’ salary cap situation, but tough decisions are still ahead

The Niskanen trade helps the Caps’ salary cap situation, but tough decisions are still ahead

The 2019 offseason for the Capitals was always going to revolve around the salary cap. The first domino fell on Friday with the trade of defenseman Matt Niskanen and his $5.75 million cap hit to the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Caps received defenseman Radko Gudas in return with the Flyers retaining 30-percent of his $3.35 million cap hit. In total, Washington freed up $3.405 million worth of cap space for next season.

But that was just step one. There is still a lot of work left for general manager Brian MacLellan to do over the summer to fill out a full roster. Just how much easier did his life get on Friday?

With the move, the Caps now have eight forwards, six defensemen and two goalies under contract for next season for about $69.5 million. Ideally, a team wants 22 players with 13 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies. The salary cap has not yet been officially set, but it is projected to be $83 million. That means the team still needs five forwards and one defenseman and has about $13.5 million worth of cap space to work with.

Jakub Vrana and Christian Djoos are both restricted free agents and both will almost certainly be back. That is one forward and one defenseman off the wish list. Vrana will probably come in at about $4 million per year and Djoos at $1 million, giving the team about $8.5 million left for four forwards.

The good news is that the team is pretty much set in the top-six which of course means MacLellan will not need to find a big money player. The Niskanen trade allows the team room for a significant depth forward somewhere in the $4 million range for the third line with enough left over to fill out the remaining depth spots. The bad news is that still leaves the team with some tough choices to make.

Carl Hagelin and Brett Connolly are both unrestricted free agents and the team may have enough money for one, but not both. There is also still the question of what to do with Andre Burakovsky. Do you qualify him for $3.25 million? That may not be as tough a pill to swallow at this point, but it is still a significant amount of money to commit to a player with 12 goals in each of the past two seasons. And then there are the team’s other RFAs Chandler Stephenson and Dmitrij Jaskin. MacLellan will have to make a decision on all of those players while still putting together a team with enough depth to compete for the Stanley Cup before the window closes on the Ovechkin era completely.

The Caps lost a good player and locker room presence in Niskanen and now have more cap flexibility as a result, but it does not solve all of the team’s salary cap problems. The team will not be able to add as much offensive depth as perhaps it would have liked and MacLellan will still have to get creative to put together a bottom six formidable enough for a deep Cup run.