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Key Caps questions: Are Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey ready for everyday roles?

Key Caps questions: Are Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey ready for everyday roles?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Are Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey ready to be everyday NHL players?

Both Djoos and Bowey looked like players who could break into the NHL lineup last season and both did. The results were largely impressive for two young rookie players on the blue line.

Let's start with Djoos. Djoos ultimately played in 63 games with three goals and 14 total points. His size was a concern all season long, but the fact that he was able to step in and play 22 games in the playoffs when the play becomes very physical, that's a good sign. He's never going to be a physical juggernaut, but he appears to be a smart enough a player to mitigate the physical disadvantage of being only 169 pounds.

Bowey's season was much more up and down. He played in 51 games with 12 points, is still looking for his first NHL goal and did not play at all in the postseason. It is important to remember, however, that Bowey was put in some difficult situations.

Despite clearly being one of six best defensemen in training camp, Bowey found himself in Hershey to start the 2017-18 season because he was waiver exempt and the Caps were up against the salary cap. He was recalled after Matt Niskanen suffered an injury and, because it was a back-to-back for Washington, was thrust into the lineup the same day against Philadelphia in what turned into a blowout loss for the Caps.

Something else to consider is that Djoos played much more sheltered minutes than Bowey. One way to measure this is by comparing how many offensive zone face-offs a player was on the ice for versus how many defensive zone faceoffs. If a defenseman is on the ice for significantly more offensive zone face-offs, that is a reflection of how a coach is utilizing him and sheltering him from more defensive responsibilities.

Per Natural Stattrick, in the regular season at 5-on-5 play, 60.43-percent of the faceoffs Djoos was on the ice for were in the offensive zone (note: this stat excludes neutral zone face-offs and focuses only on the percentage of offensive and defensive face-offs). That's the highest among all of the team's defensemen including Taylor Chorney and Aaron Ness. That's higher even than Alex Ovechkin who we know is not typically used in defensive situations. Bowey's percentage was 54.62, fourth among the team's defensemen.

Djoos may have had the more impressive season, but it seems Bowey was much more trusted in his own end. I bring this up not to discredit Djoos, but to show Bowey had a tougher season last year because he was given tougher minutes. This was also reflected in the fact that the team re-signed Bowey with a two-year, one-way contract. Clearly he is expected to play in the NHL this season.

While I do believe they are ready for bigger roles, I do not anticipate either playing 82 games next season even if they are healthy.

With Michal Kempny and John Carlson back, the team's top-four is pretty much set with Kempny-Carlson and Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen as the top two pairs. As much faith as the team may have in both Djoos and Bowey, they are not ready to be their own pair. We will no doubt see it at times this season, but for the most part, I would expect a cycle between Djoos, Bowey and Brooks Orpik throughout the campaign.

So, to answer the question, do I believe both players are ready for everyday roles? Yes. Will both players end up playing every game when healthy? Probably not.

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NHL Players' Association Executive Board approves return-to-ice plan as league takes one step closer to return

NHL Players' Association Executive Board approves return-to-ice plan as league takes one step closer to return

The NHL took another step toward a return to the ice late on Tuesday night when the Executive Board of the NHL Players’ Association approved the tentative agreement between the league and its union. 

There are still two steps to go. The NHLPA Executive Board now opens up the memorandum of understanding to its full membership. Every player will have a vote. The NHL Board of Governors also must approve the MOU. 

If that happens? We will have hockey soon – barring the coronavirus pandemic wrecking things as it has for months. 

Players will report to their team facilities by July 13 for training camps as the league attempts to execute its return-to-play plan. Twenty-four teams will travel to the two hub cities, Toronto and Edmonton, on July 26 for round-robin games, qualifying playoff games and the full 16-team Stanley Cup playoffs. 

There is no set date for when owners must approve the memorandum, but players are expected to be finished their vote by next Monday in time for training camps.

RELATED: NHL, NHLPA ADD 4 YEARS TO CURRENT CBA  

The Capitals are set to play the Bruins, Flyers and Lightning in a round-robin tournament for seeding in the Eastern Conference. The defending champion Blues, Oilers, Avalanche and Golden Knights will do the same in the Western Conference. 

The 16 other teams that will continue play have a best-of-five preliminary round to whittle the Stanley Cup field to its usual 16 teams playing best-of-seven series. 
The agreement also extends the current Collective Bargaining Agreement until at least 2026, buying labor peace the NHL has rarely found with its players. It also opens the door to Winter Olympics participation in Beijing (2022) and Milan (2026). 

Now, we wait for the next two crucial votes and hockey will be in sight. 

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NHL, NHL Players' Association agree to tentative return-to-play plan, CBA extension

NHL, NHL Players' Association agree to tentative return-to-play plan, CBA extension

The NHL and NHL Players' Association came to a tentative agreement on a Return to Play plan and added four years to the current Collective Bargaining Agreement on Monday evening.

Players will report to their team facilities by July 13 for training camps as the league attempts to return from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Twenty four teams will travel to the two hub cities, Toronto and Edmonton, on July 26 for round-robin games, qualifying playoff games and the full 16-team Stanley Cup playoffs. 

The memorandum of understanding still must be approved by the full NHL Board of Governors and the NHLPA’s Executive Board and full membership. That process will take place this week with no formal date set for ratification by all parties. 

That brings the NHL a huge step closer to its long-awaited return to the ice. There are still hurdles between now and then, however.

MLS was set to begin play this week on its own before FC Dallas had to withdraw from the MLS Is Back tournament in Orlando when 10 players and a staff member tested positive for the coronavirus. The NHL shut down on March 12 and entered the day with 35 players testing positive for the novel coronavirus since June 8.

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There is still a long way to go before the Capitals arrive in Toronto to play round-robin games against the Flyers, Bruins and Lightning. Those games and the qualifying round for now are set to start Aug. 1. 

That’s the big news for this season. There was more news for the future, though. The NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement was set to expire after the 2021-22 season. 

Now, it will continue through 2025-26. NHL players will return to the Winter Olympics in 2022 (Beijing) and 2026 (Milan) - as long as the league and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) can agree on terms. That’s always a giant question mark, but at least there’s hope there. Players were furious at having to miss the 2018 games in South Korea after the IIHF and the NHL failed to agree. 

It could still be a week before NHL players can approve the deal and the coronavirus has proved for months it can wreck anything at any time. But for now, hockey is on track to return next month. 

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