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With Kempny out indefinitely, Djoos set to play for Capitals tonight vs. Minnesota

With Kempny out indefinitely, Djoos set to play for Capitals tonight vs. Minnesota

ARLINGTON, Va. – Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny will be out “an indefinite” amount of time, according to coach Todd Reirden. 
 
Kempny sustained a lower-body injury in Wednesday’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning when he fell to the ice during a scrap with forward Cedric Paquette. He had to be helped off the ice and could not put any weight on one leg. He did not return to the game. 
 
“I'd say we're going to have to be without him for an indefinite amount of time right now,” Reirden said. “We're just getting some more tests before we can make an official time statement on that, but I would just say right now that indefinitely he's out of our lineup.”
 
Christian Djoos will take Kempny’s place on the top pairing next to John Carlson. Djoos was bumped from the lineup on Feb. 23 after Washington acquired Nick Jensen in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings. Djoos finally returned to the lineup on Tuesday in a 4-1 win against the New Jersey Devils when the team rested 38-year-old veteran Brooks Orpik. 
 
Djoos and Carlson played together last season when Matt Niskanen missed 13 games with a left thumb injury. They have some history, which should help with on-ice communication. The duo have played together 600 minutes, 15 seconds since last season. Their Corsi-for percentage (53.45) is above water. That’s lots of shots directed at their own net, though that sample size is reasonably small over the course of a full season. With Kempny, Carlson has played 1150:19 and they are at 51.11 percent in 92 games.  
 
"I don't know about communication. I think just not having to communicate is the big thing, and fortunately for me I think Djoos, he could be the smartest hockey player in this room altogether,” Carlson said. “That's everyone. We've had stints. When [Niskanen] went down beginning, middle of last year, we played a lot together. Always kind of sneak in shifts here and there with him this year. I feel comfortable with him. That's not an issue for me.”
 
Losing Kempny is a blow, however.

The Feb. 19, 2018 trade for Kempny helped stabilize a blue line that was constantly in flux and relying on rookies in key spots last season. His addition helped balance Washington’s pairs, gave them another strong skater and was a big part of their 15-7-0 finish in the regular season and their Stanley Cup title run. 
 
Djoos is also a fine skater and makes for an interesting match with Carlson. But he’s also undersized at 6-foot, 169 pounds. He did play the final 22 playoff games last season on the right side next to Orpik on the third pair. Djoos is more comfortable on the left side, where he will be with Carlson. For now. 
 
“That opportunity for Christian is first and foremost tonight for him,” Reirden said. “It's a great opportunity, I've seen those two play together before and I thought he had a strong game the other day against New Jersey. This is why we have the depth we do. We'll put him in that situation tonight, but it's going to be probably a little bit of a committee as you move forward depending on the game.”
 
Reirden was not ready to say Kempny will miss the rest of the season. It’s too soon for that. 
 
“Obviously we'll miss Michal, he's been a really good player for us in the playoffs last year,” Reirden said. “He's had a strong regular season push his numbers to career highs and stuff. Hopefully we can get some better news on that, but for now Christian will be starting there and expect to see some movement in those spots as well.”
 
Added Carlson: “I think I'm a little bit more aggressive at the line and keeping guys out of the zone, and in-zone [Kempny is] a little more aggressive in terms of down below the goal line. We obviously know each other's games and work off each other pretty well. He's a big piece of this team and we're gonna have to all step up."

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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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NHL to suspend Caps center Kuznetsov for start of regular season

NHL to suspend Caps center Kuznetsov for start of regular season

The NHL will suspend Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov for three games for conduct detrimental to the league, according to a press release from the NHL. He is not expected to appeal. 

Kuznetsov, 27, tested positive for cocaine at the World Championships in May playing for Russia and was suspended four years by the International Ice Hockey Federation. 

That normally would not affect his NHL contract. Under the CBA, “drugs of abuse” like cocaine don’t require a suspension. Instead, the league steers players toward treatment. 

Kuznetsov agreed to take advantage of the NHL Players Association’s treatment programs and extra testing. He also arrived in Washington much earlier than normal for European players in August to take part in informal workouts.  

But Kuznetsov misled the NHL and the Capitals during an investigation of a video that surfaced on May 27 showing him in a Las Vegas hotel room with a white powdery substance on a table directly in front of him. Kuznetsov insisted he’d never used cocaine, which wasn’t true giving the timing of the failed drug test at Worlds. 

The failed IIHF drug test proved that false. Kuznetsov’s positive test came from a sample taken on May 26 the day Russia played the Czech Republic for the bronze medal at Worlds in Slovakia. That was the day before the video appeared on social media. 

“We’ve had discussions after, and I think for the most part, he’s been truthful,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said at media day on Thursday. “I think we want to get him in a spot where he’s going to make a different choice next time.”

Kuznetsov’s salary-cap hit is $7.8 million per season, but this year his base salary and bonuses amount to $8.4 million. He is expected to forfeit some salary for the suspension and his hit will still count against Washington for the time he is out. 

On May 31 the NHL released a statement by deputy commissioner Bill Daly saying the league had reviewed the video, interviewed Kuznetsov and cleared him. 

"While we certainly do not condone or endorse some of the decisions he made on the night in question, Mr. Kuznetsov's account of the events that transpired aligns with other information we have been able to gather, and we have found no basis to question his representations with respect to what did -- and what did not -- occur," Daly said. 

 The Capitals also met with Kuznetsov to hear his side of the story and released a statement attributed to him that same day. 

"While I have never taken illegal drugs in my life and career, I would like to publicly apologize to the Capitals, my teammates, our fans and everyone else, for putting myself in a bad situation," Kuznetsov said. "This was a hard lesson for me to learn."

Kuznetsov was provisionally suspended by the IIHF just two weeks later on June 13 after the failed test. That was upheld and made public on Aug. 23. That led to an in-person interview with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman this week and the subsequent suspension. 

The Capitals expressed both disappointment and support for Kuznetsov. MacLellan was asked if cocaine use affected Kuznetsov’s play during an up-and-down season where he still finished with 72 points. 

“I mean, that’s hard to say. You’d have to ask him that,” MacLellan said. “There’s no indication that those are correlated. It could’ve had an effect, or other stuff could’ve had an effect.”

No teammate said Thursday that Kuznetsov had to address the group about his cocaine use and the consequences. He is banned from international competition until June of 2023, which means Kuznetsov will miss the 2020 Winter Olympics in Beijing if NHL players are allowed to participate. 

“That’s ultimately up to him. Our job right now is we support him,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “There’s always consequences to actions. But main thing that we want to be there for (him) as teammates is to help him come through stronger, whether it’s off the ice, on the ice, to support him to make himself and make our team stronger.”

Kuznetsov will miss games against the defending champion St. Louis Blues on Oct. 2, the New York Islanders on Oct. 4 and the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 5.

“It’s very unfortunate what happened,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. “But at the same time for us as friends, I think it’s really important we support him no matter what and we’re going to fight this together as a family here.”

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