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How Kuznetsov's suspension helps the Caps' salary cap situation

How Kuznetsov's suspension helps the Caps' salary cap situation

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The suspension to Evgeny Kuznetsov means the Capitals will begin their brutal October schedule without one of their top centers for the first three games. There is a silver lining, however, in terms of the salary cap. Generally when a player is suspended, his cap hit continues to count against the team even though he is not playing. According to a team official, however, because the suspension is not a Department of Player Safety issue, his cap hit will not count during this suspension giving Washington a massive $7.8 million worth of cap room to work with for the first few days of the season.

For a team facing some serious cap issues heading into the season, that is a huge break.

Initially, it appeared a Capitals team that was already over the cap would have to find a way to shed enough salary to afford another player to replace Kuznetsov or go the first three games without an extra forward at all. Instead, the extra cap room essentially gives Washington another week to make the tough roster decisions it will ultimately need to make to get under the cap.

“This is something we have to deal with and react accordingly as a team and putting the best players on the ice in the best spots,” head coach Todd Reirden said Saturday. “We’ll start to get a look at some different combinations.”

It is important to note that the Caps will not be banking cap space. This will work in much the same way as long-term injured reserve. Kuznetsov will not count against the cap for the first three games, but Washington will not be recouping the cap space it will not be using in his absence.

Eventually the Caps will have to pick a fourth line and move Chandler Stephenson, Travis Boyd or Brendan Leipsic to Hershey. Djoos’ $1.25 million salary will force someone on defense to get traded or waived. Now, however, those decisions can be made based on actual regular-season games against NHL competition rather than based on training camp projections and preseason games.

This also could be an opportunity for Washington to get younger players into a game they otherwise would not have been able to afford.

“There’s going to be some opportunity potentially for some different guys,” Reirden said. “They should take advantage of an opportunity here that is going to be in front of them.”

The team has raved about Martin Fehervary since returning to camp, does he get one of the first three games? Does the team bring in a prospect forward to play center with Kuznetsov out? Getting Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek playing time this season is a goal for the team as well. This could give general manager Brian MacLellan an opportunity to get one of them a game without having to place Pheonix Copley on waivers to free up space.

One of the biggest storylines of the Caps’ training camp was the salary cap and how the team intended to get under the ceiling by Oct. 1. The Kuznetsov suspension is not good news for the team, but it does give MacLellan an extra week to make the really tough decisions.

“There’s a lot of things that can possibly happen,” MacLellan said on Thursday during media day. “We’re going to try to play it out until the end. If something makes sense in the meantime, I think we’d pursue it.”

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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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