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Is it time to reunite the Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie line?

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Is it time to reunite the Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie line?

The Caps are struggling of late and the top six is a big reason why. Washington has lost three of its last four games and has been outscored in those four games 17-9, but the top six’s problems have been lingering for longer than just these past four games.

Nicklas Backstrom has only two even strength points in his last 13 games and no goals since Oct. 14. T.J. Oshie is producing well on the power play, but he is also struggling five-on-five with one goal and four assists in his past 17 games.

Likewise, the second line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Devante Smith-Pelly is also struggling. They have not scored an even-strength point in six games.

A team cannot be successful if its top players are not producing offensively. Do these recent struggles show that it is time for Washington to go back to the Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie line?

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Despite their past success, the trio has not started together at any point this season. Head coach Barry Trotz denied on Tuesday that he has any hesitancy towards putting those three back together and pointed out that he did actually use that line in the team’s loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

“In Colorado I tried to do that,” Trotz said, “Put Ovi, Osh and Backstrom against their second line and they allowed that and they didn't get any production so I'm trying it. Their top line outplayed our top line.”

When asked why he had not used the line from the start of a game, Trotz essentially dismissed the question saying, “Just don’t feel like it.”

Despite Trotz’s denial, there does seem to be some hesitancy from him to go back to a line that has been incredibly successful in the past. Backstrom and Ovechkin have been on the ice five-on-five for a grand total of 16:46 this season. In addition to Oshie who has been his consistent linemate, Backstrom has spent more even-strength ice time with Andre Burakovsky, Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson and Tom Wilson than he has with Ovechkin.

Why?

One reason is Trotz remains unconcerned with Backstrom’s slump. While he may not be generating points, the chances are still there.

“Against Minnesota [Backstrom] could have had a hat trick and they're not going in easy for him,” Trotz said. “I think you have more concern when you're not getting any chances than when you are getting chances. When you're getting chances, you're obviously getting the good spots, you're doing lots of good things, they're just not going in for you. When you're not getting any chances and any looks, then it gets frustrating for you.”

Another reason is Backstrom’s defensive responsibilities. He is one of the team’s top shutdown forwards and defense is not a strong part of Ovechkin’s game. It is hard to put Backstrom in shut down situations if his line is not suited for those responsibilities.

Let’s say the Caps do unite Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie. What would the rest of the forward lines look like?

Here’s a possible projection:

Stephenson – Kuznetsov – Vrana
Connolly – Eller – Wilson
Smith-Pelly – Beagle – Chiasson

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You can make your own lineup, but you can see there’s not a whole lot of depth behind that top line. This team is not nearly as deep as it has been in years past and the forward lines look even thinner when you put Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie all together on the top. This would be an incredibly top-heavy lineup and it is hard to find success that way.

Then again, they top-six is not having much success now.

Oshie admitted after practice Thursday he would like to see that line reunited, but he remains confident in Trotz’s lineup choices.

“Whatever [Trotz] thinks,” Oshie said. “My game doesn't change much from playing with one player to the next. We've played together at times this year, we've had a couple shifts together so I think he's just still trying to see what works and what he can use. I think we know that we can have success playing us three together. Whatever the lines are is just fine with me.”

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Grading the Caps' 2013 draft

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Grading the Caps' 2013 draft

The NHL is different from the NBA and NFL. Unless you have one of the absolute top picks of the draft, chances are you are not going to see any players from a draft class for several years. That makes it pretty hard to evaluate how a team did with its picks.

As the Caps prepare for the draft to begin Friday, let’s turn the clock back five years and see how they did in the 2013 draft.

First round, 23rd overall: Forward Andre Burakovsky

The draft is all about finding players skilled enough to produce in the NHL. They certainly found that in the young Swede. There’s no question that Burakovsky has top-six talent, but we all keep waiting for that breakout season when he takes his game to the next level. Even after four NHL seasons under his belt, he still can’t quite get there. Consistency has always been an issue for him and the root of that problem comes from both his durability issues and between the ears. He should be a 20-25, maybe even 30-goal scorer if he can put it all together.

Overall though, this was a solid pick for the Caps. Judging by the players drafted after him to fill out the first round, either Burakovsky or defenseman Shea Theodore were the two best players available. Washington picked one of them and got a top-six forward out of it.

Second round, 53rd overall: Defenseman Madison Bowey

Bowey made his long awaited NHL debut this season, but the jury is ultimately still out on just how good he is. The potential is certainly there, but the growing pains of a rookie were still there as well. The Capitals have an NHL-caliber defenseman in Bowey, but time will tell if he is a top-four one.

Second round, 61st overall: Forward Zach Sanford

Drafted players can provide value in two ways: on the ice and as trade value. Sanford was a traded to St. Louis as part of the package that brought Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington. Sanford was a tweener last season in that it looked at times like he was not quite ready for the full-time switch to the NHL, but was brilliant when he played in the AHL. An injury limited him to just 20 games in the AHL this season, but he looks like he could be a solid bottom-six addition in the NHL if he can get healthy again.

Fifth round, 144th overall: Defenseman Blake Heinrich

This one was a miss. Heinrich’s career has not gone past junior. He has 132 career games in the WHL, 85 games in the USHL and spent the 2017-18 season playing for the University of Manitoba.

Sixth round, 174th overall: Forward Brian Pinho

Pinho spent four years developing his game at Providence College and developed into a very strong two-way player at the collegiate level. He signed an entry-level contract with the Caps at the end of his senior year just before the end of the regular season. He skated with the team a few days before he was allowed to return home to finish his degree. He will likely start next season in the AHL, but there is some potential for him to become a bottom-six center in the NHL which would make him a steal in the sixth round.

Seventh round, 204th overall: Defenseman Tyler Lewington

A hard-nosed defenseman who is never afraid to drop the gloves, Lewington has certainly found a home in Hershey. Overall, his skillset is much better suited for that level and I do not see any extensive NHL time in his future, but to find a dependable AHL defenseman in the seventh round is a good find for Washington.

Overall Grade: B+

Picking at No. 23, there were not many superstars to choose from. The Capitals still found one of the best players available in Burakovsky. With no third or fourth round pick, Washington really needed to nail their two second round picks. It’s too early to tell exactly how good Bowey will be and the evaluation for Sanford changes now that he was traded from “how good is he?” to “was this good asset management?” It’s still a bit too early to answer that question as well. There is only one real bust in the draft class, but the fact that the Caps found value in both the sixth and seventh round including one player who still could potentially fill an NHL role gives this class a high grade.

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Now the Islanders' coach, Barry Trotz explains why he left the Capitals

Now the Islanders' coach, Barry Trotz explains why he left the Capitals

DALLAS — Hours after being named head coach of the New York Islanders on Thursday, Barry Trotz made his first public comments since stepping down in Washington earlier in the week.

And, from the sounds of it, his departure was mostly a business decision.

“Yeah, obviously, I love the D.C. area,” he told reporters on a conference call. “But when it came to the business aspect, from my standpoint, I felt that it wasn’t really sincere [given] what we did together. So I decided that it was better to just move on.”

“I thank the fans,” he added. “I’m glad we could get it done. I said we could get it done in four years, and we did.”

Although the value of his contract with the Islanders has not been publicly disclosed, Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Trotz is set to earn “at least $4 million” per year—or more than twice what he was earning in Washington.

A source told NBC Sports Washington earlier this week that Trotz, who directed the Caps to their first Stanley Cup two weeks ago, sought $5 million per season for five seasons. The five-year term, that source said, was a non-starter as far as the Caps were concerned, given the relatively short shelf life of NHL coaches and the fact that Trotz had already been in Washington for four seasons.

When it became clear that the sides weren’t going to close the considerable gap between their positions, Trotz offered to step down and the resignation was accepted, making the 55-year-old a free agent.

When “I got the [counteroffer], I guess I knew it was time to go in a different direction,” he said.

In New York, Trotz replaces Doug Weight, who was fired earlier this month along with GM Garth Snow. Lou Lamoriello, a longtime NHL executive, took over for Snow and immediately started a search for a new head coach.

Once Trotz became available, it didn’t take Lamoriello to zero in on the NHL's fifth all-time winningest coach. The two met, exchanged ideas and quickly realized that they had found a good fit in one another. Trotz said he's already reached out to the Islanders' star captain, John Tavares, who could become the biggest prize on the free agent market on July 1. 

And, like that, Trotz now is the coach of a Metropolitan Division foe. The Caps and Isles will face off four times next season, beginning with a Nov. 26meeting in New York.

It’ll be weird, for sure. But professional sports is a business. And all sides involved in the Trotz saga were served a painful reminder of that this week.

Asked if he felt wanted in Washington, Trotz said: “Well, I’ll leave that up to the Caps to answer that. I think, absolutely. We just won a cup together and so I don't think that was an issue. I think it was more principle.”

In the end, Trotz wanted to be compensated like one of the top coaches in the game. And now he will, settling in behind big market coaches such as Toronto’s Mike Babcock ($6.25 million per year), Chicago’s Joel Quenneville ($6 million) and Montreal’s Claude Julien ($5 million).

“It’s good to be wanted,” he said. “It happened really quickly because you go from one emotion of winning the cup to the next emotion of leaving the team that you just won the Cup with, and you have to make some quick decisions. I know the timing of it—end of the season, the draft coming up, free agency [and] all that—there was some urgency on that. Both parties knew that, so we went to work at it and got it done.”

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