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Chase Priskie's reported reasoning for going to Carolina offers little insight into what went wrong with the Caps

Chase Priskie's reported reasoning for going to Carolina offers little insight into what went wrong with the Caps

The Capitals selected defenseman Chase Priskie in the sixth round of the 2016 draft. In April of 2019, he informed Washington he would not sign with the team prior to the Aug. 15 deadline and would become a free agent. Now he is with the Carolina Hurricanes.

But why?

The CBA offers college players an avenue to free agency and a player can have any number of motivations for signing with a certain team. Sara Civian of The Athletic dives into why Priskie chose Carolina in an article published Thursday.

It is very easy to jump to the conclusion that each of his reasons for joining the Hurricanes are things he was not getting or could not get from Washington. When you really dive into those reasons and analyze them, however, you see that this is not the case.

Through sources, Civian has three main takeaways on why she believes Priskie signed with Carolina.

Takeaway No. 1

“The Hurricanes have made it clear to Priskie’s camp that he will get a real shot at the NHL roster. They indicated to Priskie’s camp during the draft that at least one NHL defenseman on the roster would be gone. (Goodbye, de Haan). They’d been seriously pursuing him since.”

The biggest advantage Washington had over any other team last season was that they were the only team that could sign Priskie and potentially play right away. Except they couldn’t because the team was already at the maximum of 50 contracts when the college season ended. That is certainly a reason why Priskie would at least be open to exploring other options for the upcoming season.

But here is where things get murky.

Priskie felt he would get a shot at Carolina’s NHL roster in part because the team knew one NHL defenseman would be gone. So far, the Caps could have essentially offered him the same thing. The moment the Caps acquired Nick Jensen -- a top-four, right-shot defenseman -- it was a clear indication that Matt Niskanen could be traded. With the cap situation being what it was, Washington could not afford both Jensen and Niskanen.

So essentially, both Washington and Carolina had deep blue lines and were going to move one defenseman. The issue here is likely the makeup of the third pair.

Any team in the NHL can “offer” a player a shot at the roster. If you are good enough, you going to play. No general manager thinks during training camp, ‘gee that prospect defenseman who is cheaper than all of our veteran players is outplaying everyone and looks like one of our top guys. I hope he doesn’t play.’

Let’s assume, however, that a rookie coming out of college would probably have not earned a top-four role out of training camp so we would be looking at a possible third-pair role. If Priskie wanted to stay in Washington, maybe the team does not trade Niskanen for Radko Gudas, but look at the makeup of the third pair. We likely would have seen some sort of rotation between Jonas Siegenthaler, Christian Djoos and Priskie.

Therein lies the problem.

With Brooks Orpik gone, you do not have that steady veteran on that pair like both Siegenthaler and Djoos had. Two young players together on the third pair be something opponents would gameplan around in an attempt to exploit every single game. Todd Reirden would have to get creative with their usage and it would probably mean shuffling the pairs all game long. For a Caps team that still believes its championship window to be open, a Siegenthaler/Djoos - Priskie third pair does not seem like a viable option. If Brian MacLellan had the same conclusion then yes, Carolina offers Priskie more of a shot at the NHL this season that the Caps.

Takeaway No. 2

“‘It’s probably their combination of their ability to develop young defensemen, and more so their willingness to play them,’ a non-Hurricanes affiliated source said. ‘They must’ve shown him that they believe in him as a player and are willing to foster his development. At the end of the day, everyone wants to go where they’re going to play or at least get a chance to.’ So basically, the fact that there are tons of high-potential young defensemen in the system was actually seen as a positive.”

First off, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Siegenthaler and Djoos are all developed Caps’ prospects. Djoos played in 22 playoff games in the Cup run and both Djoos and Siegenthaler played in the playoffs last season. Clearly there is a willingness to play young defensemen in Washington. Second, there is no denying that Carolina has a pretty loaded prospect pool, but if there is one area in which the Caps’ prospect pool is also loaded, it is defense. Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary are two of Washington’s best prospects and there is also Lucas Johansen, Connor Hobbs and Tobias Geisser, among others. This is not an advantage Carolina had over Washington.

Third, that Carolina “must’ve shown him that they believe in him as a player and are willing to foster his development” is all well and good, but I am not sure how much that would have mattered until after he became a free agent. After all, the Caps tried to sign Priskie in 2018 and he turned them down to return to Quinnipiac.

I am not quite sure what the Hurricanes could have done to prove they “believe in him” more than what the Caps did.

Takeaway No. 3

“Regardless of offer sheet and GM contract drama, the hype around playing for the Hurricanes after last season is real. A player who grew up in a non-traditional hockey market isn’t afraid of some Duck Duck Goose, and he certainly wants to play for Rod Brind’Amour.”

Priskie decided he would not sign with the Caps in April when they were still the defending Stanley Cup champions. The allure of playing for a team that reached the conference final last season is real...but that didn’t matter when it came to playing with a team that won the Stanley Cup in 2018? With all due respect to the Hurricanes, they had a tremendous 2018-19 season, but why would that matter if Washington’s 2017-18 season did not?

If you want to say that Carolina’s window could be seen as just starting to open while Washington’s run may be closer to the end, that is a fair point, but it seems to simple to say the Hurricanes’ deep run in 2019 could have been a factor if there was no allure to playing for the champs.

As for the excitement over playing for Brind’Amour, that seems like a much more reasonable explanation.

So when looking at why Priskie may have chosen the Hurricanes, only two things jump out as factors that Carolina could offer Priskie that Washington could not: A clear path to the NHL in 2019-20 and the chance to play for Rod Brind’Amour. Everything else I have to question how important it was because if that wasn’t enough to keep him with the Caps, why would it be enough for him to sign with Carolina?

Let’s be clear, I am not questioning what Civian is being told by her sources or that these factors did not play a part in Priskie's decision. We also do not know what discussions between the Caps and Priskie were like behind closed doors the past few years. The point of all of this is to say his reasoning for choosing Carolina does not necessarily explain why he opted not to stay with Washington because most of the reasons Civian lists are not exclusive to the Hurricanes.

Of course the Caps believed in him and wanted to foster his development. They drafted him and tried to sign him a year ago. And it is not as if the Caps have shown an unwillingness to play their homegrown players. Prospects are sometimes forced to wait their turn because of the log jam of other defensive prospects, but that is a problem facing Carolina as well.

Undeniably, it would have been hard to fit Priskie into the lineup next season even if the team had not traded for Gudas and that, along with Brind’Amour, may have been the most influential factors in his decision because those are the only things that MacLellan could not give him.

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Ex-Bruins goalie Tim Thomas details mental health issues on day he's inducted into U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame

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Ex-Bruins goalie Tim Thomas details mental health issues on day he's inducted into U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame

WASHINGTON — The tears rolled down Tim Thomas’ cheeks. 

Honored with induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, the former Boston Bruins goalie, a Stanley Cup champion, one of the greatest American players of all time, spoke of the hard end to his playing career and the brain damage he sustained playing the sport he loved. 

While playing for the Florida Panthers in 2013-14, his final season, Thomas sustained a concussion that December which left him debilitated. It was an injury “that changed my life,” Thomas said. 

Speaking publicly for the first time since retiring from hockey in 2014, the reclusive Thomas, a Michigan native who now lives in Idaho with his family, described a darkening spiral. He awoke the morning after his concussion and couldn’t decide what he wanted to eat, where he wanted to go. He couldn’t plan a schedule. Thomas survived by just following the team schedule put together by the Panthers - and later, the Dallas Stars after a trade. 

One year after retiring, Thomas found he couldn’t keep up with the sport on television or in person. He underwent a CereScan, which measures the flow of blood to the brain by using radioactive isotopes. Thomas claims the numbers showed two thirds of his brain was getting less than five percent of the necessary blood flow and the other third was getting about 50 percent.    

“I've struggled mightily with how do I process the experience that I've been through and rectify that with the love of the game that I had my whole life until I crashed, so to speak,” Thomas said. “That happened. I still haven't worked my whole way through that process.”

Thomas was a late bloomer. He played four years at the University of Vermont and after turning pro bounced around minor leagues in North America and played in Europe, too. He was 31 before he earned a roster spot with Boston and 33 before he was the unquestioned No. 1 goalie. 

But he went on a brilliant seven-year run, winning the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie in 2008-09 and 2010-11. That year he led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP. He also played for 2010 U.S. Olympic Team in Vancouver, which won the silver medal. Hockey brought him immense joy and he was thrilled to be honored with induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.       

"I can see the positive sides of the whole hockey life and everything. It doesn't take away from that,” Thomas said. “I guess, I don't know where I stand completely on the game of hockey at the levels where people are injuring themselves to the levels that they actually are and my involvement in that.”

That will take some time. The pain is still raw. Thomas’ wife and children suffered because he was suffering with his mental health. He couldn’t communicate with anybody for a few years. He didn’t call his dad - or his old teammates, who were still stuck in that hockey life he had left behind. He just didn’t want to bother anybody. His love for the game was part of the heavy price paid.  

“There was a time period, yeah, where I hated the game,” Thomas said. “I didn't sit there and (say) I hate it. My rebound effect was like, this wasn't worth it. That's where I was then. Where I am today is past that. I ended up learning so many lessons out of the experience.”

But that doesn’t mean normal. Thomas isn’t sure what that word even means at this point. He’s endured ups and downs and only started to feel like his old self about two years ago. Oxygen therapy helped, Thomas said, and he believes plenty of special mineral water did, too. He wouldn’t have been able to make the trip to Washington to take part in this ceremony otherwise. Better doesn’t mean fully healed, though   

“I still can’t choose,” Thomas said. “I’m so much better, but I wake up every day and basically I have to reorder everything in my mind for the first couple hours of the day and then make a list and try to make some choices to get some stuff done, on which I have gotten to the level that I can.”

Thomas spoke haltingly to the gathered reporters. He paused, choked up multiple times and tried to keep his composure. The tears rolled down his cheeks anyway. On what was a monumental day honoring his accomplishments on the ice, this was as big a part of his story as any of that. After six years, he is finally able to talk and he hopes current hockey players can learn from his struggles with mental health.   

"I didn't want to talk about this. I didn't want to talk,” Thomas said “I didn't want to tell the world this stuff. Not untill I felt ready, and I didn't feel ready yet. But here I am.”

The book “Game Change” written by former Montreal Canadiens Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden helped, Thomas said. That story details the struggles of longtime NHL defenseman Steve Montador, who died in 2015 at age 35 and who researchers later determined had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the neurological disease caused by repeated head injuries.

Learning about Montador’s issues made Thomas realize he wasn’t unique, he wasn’t alone. He’s channeled the competitive drive that allowed him to become an elite NHL goalie and channeled that into learning about mental health. 

On Tuesday, Thomas attended his first NHL game since leaving the sport in 2014. Ironically, his old Bruins were in Washington to play the Capitals and the 2019 inductees were honored before the game. Thomas had only seen former teammate Johnny Boychuk a few years back, but otherwise had fallen out of touch with most others.

Tuesday, Thomas got to catch up with Bruins staffers still with the organization and also ex-teammates Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Kreiji. Those five are still with Boston and they were on the ice with Thomas that memorable night in Vancouver eight years ago when they won the Stanley Cup together. 

Seeing them again was a blast, even if for a short time - a chance to immerse himself in a game that had given him so much but for a long time has been lost to him. 

"Being welcomed back into the arms of the hockey family has been great,” Thomas said. “It's reminded me of all the great people that I crossed paths with all throughout my career. It's been very impactful."

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Capitals and Bruins put on a show worthy of Stanley Cup playoffs

Capitals and Bruins put on a show worthy of Stanley Cup playoffs

WASHINGTON — There are only a handful of nights like Wednesday during the course of an NHL season. 
 
Players and coaches grind their way through 82 games with one running into the next. Sometimes, for the very best teams, the Stanley Cup playoffs can seem like a desert mirage off in the far distance. 
 
The Capitals and Bruins reminded us what the spring will bring during Washington’s 3-2 win on Wednesday. The NHL’s two best teams gave us physical play, great goaltending and world-class skill all in one wildly entertaining package. 
 
“No matter where you are in the standings, games against those teams, Boston, Tampa, games like that, in a way they are measuring stick games,” Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said. “You want to see how you measure up to what they are bringing that particular year or that particular time during the season. Tonight was no different.”
 
Oshie scored twice – one after a spectacular inside-out move that stands as Washington’s goal of the year so far. John Carlson continued piling up the points with an assist and the game-winning goal in the third period off a pass from Nicklas Backstrom. 
 
These Capitals, playing against a Bruins team that came within a game of the Stanley Cup last season, continue to show they measure up. The roster has turned over some, but the fight hasn’t gone out of the 2018 championship team yet. 
 
“The crowd was into it a little bit more than your average game,” Carlson said. “I think both teams were flying around, going that extra step to hit someone all the time and that sort of thing. It was a fun game, it was fun to play in. Still not playoffs.”
 
No, not yet. Carlson has been through all this before. He has played on three teams that won the Presidents’ Trophy (2009-10, 2015-16, 2016-07) and none of them made it out of the second round of the playoffs. 
 
The Capitals are just happy to be where they are, now five points clear of Boston for the NHL’s best record and with a nine-point lead in the Metropolitan Division over the New York Islanders and the rest of their rivals. 
 
But they know none of it will matter in mid-April. The slate gets wiped clean and they will have to beat the Islanders or the Hurricanes or the Flyers or maybe the Penguins – isn’t it always the Penguins - four times in seven games. And then they’d have do it again with one of those teams in the second round. Only then would they even get a crack at these Bruins - or maybe the Tampa Bay Lightning - once more in the Eastern Conference Final. 
 
There are still 49 games to go before all of that and upsets are a fact of life in the playoffs so you might as well enjoy the journey to get there. So far, Washington (23-5-5, 51 points) is off to the second-best start in team history through 33 games. 
 
Only the 2015-16 Presidents’ Trophy winner was better at 25-6-2 with 52 points. That group also led the Islanders by nine points in the Metro Division race at this point in the season. It’s a comfortable place to be and a nice cushion for the endless, cold nights of winter when illness or injuries strike and the schedule wears you down and you lose a couple of games in a row and frustration sets in. 
 
That will happen at some point for these Capitals. It’s inevitable over the course of a long season. But if Wednesday tells them anything, it’s that they still have that reserve of confidence to rally even against the very best teams in the league. 
 
Down 2-1 in the second period, Oshie banged home his own rebound when left alone in front. And 3:30 later he undressed the Boston defense and beat goalie Jaroslav Halak with a backhand roof shot that left the crowd unhinged and Washington ahead.  
 
It wasn’t an easy game. The Capitals had to kill five Boston power plays and their video department helped save the game by getting a Bruins goal overturned on replay after a missed offsides call. That kept the score 1-0. Washington might “own” Boston at 16-1 in the past 17 games, but no one thinks that would mean much in any playoff series. Instead, nights like this are a dress rehearsal for the games that matter most. 
 
“Our team usually plays better against teams like that, teams that work hard, play an honest, hard game structurally,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “It's fun for us to play in those games, especially in the regular season. It kind of feels more like a playoff style. We've been fortunate to have success, but there's been a lot of real close games against them the last little bit, games that make us better in the long run."

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