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How John Tavares' move to Toronto makes 2019 a critical offseason for the Caps

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USA TODAY Sports

How John Tavares' move to Toronto makes 2019 a critical offseason for the Caps

Both the Washington Capitals and the New York Islanders rolled the dice with their free agents this season.

Both John Carlson and John Tavares entered the 2017-18 season on the final year of their contracts. Both were players their respective teams could not afford to lose for nothing.

Only one of them re-signed.

While the Capitals managed to ink Carlson to an eight-year, $64 million contract, Tavares left Long Island to play for his hometown team of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

And the Islanders got nothing.

Tavares was the face of the franchise and New York desperately did not want to lose him, but the closer he got to free agency, the more of a possibility his leaving became. Regardless of whatever he said about staying on the island or about his loyalty to the team, the fact that he did not put pen to paper meant that he was at the very least considering going to another team.

It’s understandable why the Islanders would be hesitant to trade away the face of the franchise, but by waiting for free agency they ended up allowing him to leave for nothing which is much, much worse.

It’s a lesson not lost on the league’s general managers as evidenced by the mess already starting in Columbus with Artemi Panarin.

Panarin’s current contract expires at the end of next season which makes him eligible to sign a new contract with his current team. The Blue Jackets offered him a new deal which he turned down and now Columbus is looking into trading away arguably its best player before the season even begins a full year away from free agency.

Why?

Because the Islanders showed the risk of riding out that final year. Columbus can't afford to lose Panarin for nothing and if he's not interested in re-signing, they feel they have to make a move.

While trying to extend a star player a year ahead of time is not uncommon, it may just become the way teams do business in the NHL in the wake of the Tavares signing.

With this in mind, we should look ahead to Washington's 2019 free agents to see if there is anyone they need to attempt to re-sign now. to avoid a similar situation.

Since there’s no real urgency with restricted free agents given their limited rights, here’s a look at the Caps’ players who are set to become unrestricted free agents in 2019:

— Pheonix Copley
— Brett Connolly
— Nic Dowd
— Jayson Megna
— Aaron Ness
— Devante Smith-Pelly

Clearly, the team is in good shape. There is no player on this list that the team needs to rush to get signed. If you look just one more year into the future, however, it is a very different story.

2020 free agents:
— Nicklas Backstrom
— Braden Holtby

There may not be much officially on the line for the Caps in the summer of 2019 with Backstrom and Holtby both a year out from becoming free agents, but it still could prove to be a blockbuster summer with the legacy of Tavares looming large. Will Brian MacLellan feel compelled to lock up both big-name players a year early to avoid a similar situation in Washington??

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There’s no setback, but just when Michal Kempny will return remains uncertain

There’s no setback, but just when Michal Kempny will return remains uncertain

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Around the time when the Colorado Avalanche scored its fourth goal to take a 4-0 lead on Monday, the Twitter questions started rolling in. “When is Michal Kempny coming back?”

The Caps’ top-pair left defenseman has yet to play this season after tearing his hamstring in March. His loss was a major factor in the team’s first-round defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes in the playoffs and has led to inconsistent defensive play to start the season.

But the Caps’ defense is going to have to figure out how to defend against the star-studded Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday without Kempny as head coach Todd Reirden declared after practice on Tuesday that Kempny will not play.

“We're getting close,” Reirden said. “That's at least today's report on him without having spoken to our trainer or team doctor anything right now. I just know that he took another step in terms of visually from me that he is getting closer and closer to game action.”

At the start of training camp, the hope was that Kempny would be able to return for the start of the season. He was not. The team elected not to place him on long-term injured reserve which requires a player to miss 10 games. Now seven games into the season, Kempny’s timetable remains uncertain.

When asked if he was hopeful Kempny could return for Friday’s game against the New York Rangers, Reirden did not sound all that confident.

“I am, yeah. I mean, I'm hopeful every time I walk into the training room.”

For the timeline to keep getting pushed back has raised concerns over whether Kempny has suffered a setback in his recovery, but Reirden insists that is not the case.

“There's not nothing to be concerned about,” he said. “If there was a setback I would let you know. There isn't one. He's going on the path he's supposed to be going on and many other people would have this as a longer-term injury than it already has been so he's doing great.”

Kempny was cleared for contact on Oct. 2. and has been a full participant at practice ever since. Getting him back to a point where the doctors and the team can feel comfortable about getting him into the lineup, however, has proven difficult.

Even after losing four of their first seven games to start the season including all three home games, Reirden says the team is committed to remaining patient and cautious with Kempny’s recovery.

“It's making the choice that's the right thing for our organization and for Michal,” he said. “I think that we've been really happy with the development of this player since we got him and saw the strides he made last year and then we were able to realize how big of a loss he would be when we didn't have him. I think that doing anything now to set him up for anything less than success is not worth it. We have to view the risk versus reward and there won't be any risk, it will be that he is 100-percent cleared, ready to go and ready to play.”

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Holtby's early exit leaves Caps pondering their goalie situation

Holtby's early exit leaves Caps pondering their goalie situation

Capitals goalie Braden Holtby faced three shots in Monday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. All three went in.
 

That’s no way to start a game. Before the contest was eight minutes old Washington was down 3-0. Holtby knew what was coming. His day was done before it really even started. The frustration was evident as he skated off the ice to be replaced by rookie Ilya Samsonov. 
 
“You need to fight harder to find that first one and find a way to make a save on either of the second ones,” Holtby said. “It's unacceptable on my half and the last few games here, I feel like I've put a lot of that weight on my shoulders and it's something I really need to get better at. Because we fought hard and I just need to be better."
 
Holtby took the blame. Hard to make him shoulder all of it given that his teammates started slowly against a very good team. Colorado is now 5-0-0 after its 6-3 win at Capital One Arena.
 
Holtby probably could have stopped Erik Johnson’s slap shot from just inside the blueline 3:42 into the game. A nice screen in front by former Capitals teammate Andre Burakovsky made the puck hard to see. Still, it’s one Holtby would like back. 
 
At 6:00 of the first period Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen beat Capitals defenseman John Carlson to a clearing attempt and found defenseman Nikita Zadorov in front of the goal with a nice pass. Jonas Siegenthaler was nowhere to be found to cover for Carlson. Holtby was left out to dry. 
 
Just 1:54 later, Washington defenseman Tyler Lewington failed to read a cross-ice pass on a rush up ice by Jonas Donskoi. He hit Nazem Kadri in stride entering the offensive zone. Lewington was already beat by the time he realized what had happened. So was Holtby, who was faced with an oncoming skater on the left wing with no one in front to stop him
 
"I just gotta find a way. Sometimes it comes easy, sometimes it doesn't,” Holtby said. “You just gotta find a way to help the team win. Tonight I didn't do that and it's on me to make sure I improve that. It's frustrating. You just gotta go back to work, work even harder and find a way back into that mindset that success comes from."
 
No one is suggesting Holtby’s job status is in jeopardy. He is 14 months removed from a brilliant two months that helped Washington win the Stanley Cup in 2018 and he’s been a mainstay in net since 2012. But the numbers are rough through five games. Holtby has an .846 save percentage, 45thin the NHL. He has stopped 99 of 117 shots. 
 
“It's a team. We're a team. Our players are accountable to themselves, to one another,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “That's good that Braden said that and I'm sure there are some things that he would like to have done different. But there are some things that a lot of us will like to have done different. We're in this together and that's something that hasn't been a problem to start and it was tonight.”
 
Reirden did acknowledge, though, that Samsonov was playing well enough to give the coaching staff something to think about. He’s been solid. Expect Holtby to start Wednesday against the talented, skilled Toronto Maple Leafs as Washington looks for its first home win. But it’s a situation to monitor with Holtby in the final year of his contract and Samsonov the organization’s top prospect.  
 
Samsonov has 68 saves on 72 shots (.951 save percentage). But he is a rookie and that number is unsustainable for any goalie. He also showed his youth in the third period with a bad giveaway behind the net that Colorado easily converted into a goal. It didn’t seem to matter much at the time. The Avalanche took a 5-2 lead. It mattered a lot when Washington scored a late goal to cut the deficit to 5-3 and had another wiped away on video review. 
 
“Sometimes it comes easy, sometimes it doesn't,” Holtby said. “You just gotta find a way to help the team win. Tonight I didn't do that and it's on me to make sure I improve that. It's frustrating. You just gotta go back to work, work even harder and find a way back into that mindset that success comes from."

 

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