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Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

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Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

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

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss 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: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

Tarik: The term ‘Stanley Cup Hangover’ exists because, well, it’s a real thing. And the Caps, like all teams that battle into early June, are vulnerable to suffering from it next season.

Why? Think about it. No. 1, the core group just completed the longest season—106 games—of their lives (and, somewhere, the party is still going). No. 2, the top guys aren't exactly a bunch of spring chickens. No. 3, human nature.

A little more on that last one. Alex Ovechkin and Co. have spent the entirety of their professional hockey careers chasing Lord Stanley’s Cup. And now they have it. At long last. Hoisting the Cup was as much a moment to cherish as it was a gigantic relief for a team that had been labeled perennial underachievers. Shifting gears from that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment back to hunger and determination is difficult.

Something else that worries me a bit? They don’t have experience dealing with a truncated offseason. Rest and recovery matter. And they aren’t going to get much of either this summer.

All that said, they don’t have to stumble through the 2018-19 season. If you're looking at things from the optimist's point of view, the Cup run did something for Ovechkin and his teammates that none of the previous failures could: It showed them EXACTLY what it takes to play deep into the spring.

Eleven out of 12 forwards from the championship squad are expected back. Five of six defensemen and the goalie are returning, as well. Sure, they’ve got a new head coach, but he’s been here for four years already, giving him a huge advantage over a bench boss who’s starting from scratch. So there’s continuity and chemistry already built in.

I look at it like this: The core guys who’ve been around a while—Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, Holtby, etc.—have a rare opportunity before them. After coming up short for so many years, they’ve been gifted an extraordinary chance to make up for lost time over the next 12-24 months. In fact, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Oshie, Eller, Carlson, Niskanen, Orlov, Kempny and Holtby have two more years together, as a core, before the next round of tough decisions will need to be made.

But it’s going to be up to them. Are they going to be satisfied with one Cup? Or will they get greedy? I’m betting on the latter.

Regan: The Capitals could enter next season hungry, motivated, in the right mindset, completely prepared in every way to avoid a Cup hangover and it may still happen. Why? Because the Capitals (and Vegas for that matter) will enter next season with less time to rest, recover and prepare after a grueling playoff run than any other team in the NHL.

First things first, no, I do not think the Caps will struggle because they are are partying too hard this summer and won't be ready for the start of the season.

It took a long time Washington to finally reach the top of the mountain. It won't be lost on Alex Ovechkin, or any of the veterans, that the year he came into training camp early and in really good shape, that was the year he was able to lead his team to the promised land. Considering all the struggles, all the early playoff exits, all the years it took to finally win, I expect the veterans will look at how they prepared last season and take that lesson to heart going into camp. Those players will enter the fall in as good a shape as the time they have this offseason will allow them to be.

But this team is not just composed of veterans of the Ovechkin era who suffered through all of those postseason struggles.

What about the youngsters? Will Jakub Vrana have the same motivation as Ovechkin or a Nicklas Backstrom to show up to camp ready next season? What about Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey? If any of the team's young players aren't exactly in "game shape" by the fall, they won't be the first and they certainly won't be the last to struggle with early career playoff success.

There's also a new head coach to consider. In a lot of ways, I think coming into the season with a new coach in Todd Reirden will help. I don't expect too much adjustment under a coach the team knows very well, but I do expect more motivation at the start of the regular season than you usually see from a team coming off a championship.

There are a lot of reasons why the Caps could actually avoid a Cup hangover, but the fact is that time puts them at a disadvantage. Even if they overcome all the other factors, there's nothing they can do to suddenly give themselves more time to recover and to train. For that reason alone, I do expect a few early-season struggles from the defending champs.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

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NHL reports nine new COVID-19 cases, bringing total to 35

NHL reports nine new COVID-19 cases, bringing total to 35

The NHL announced on Monday that nine additional players tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the league’s total to 35 confirmed cases since testing began in June.

Under Phase 2 protocol, 396 players returned to their markets to begin voluntary workouts. Eight of the most recent positive tests were conducted by the NHL at its testing facilities with one other player testing positive outside of the team markets.

Now, the NHL has tallied 23 cases within those who returned for optional participation and an additional 12 outside.

RELATED ARTICLE: NHL COACHES WON'T BE REQUIRED TO WEAR MASKS DURING GAMES, PER REPORT

The league released a statement explaining its positive cases as well as the extensive testing that has taken place since early June.

“As of Monday, July 6, the NHL has had 396 Players report to Club training/practice facilities for optional participation in Phase 2 activities," the statement read. "There have been in excess of 2,900 COVID-19 tests administered (including more than 1,400 this past week) to this group of Players. Those tests have resulted in a total of 23 returning confirmed positive tests results for COVID-19.

"In addition, since June 8 (the opening of Phase 2), the League is aware of 12 additional players who have tested positive for COVID-19 outside of the Phase 2 Protocol. All players who have tested positive have been self-isolated and are following CDC and Health Canada protocols. The NHL will continue to provide regular updates on the number of tests administered to Players and the results of those tests. The League will not be providing information on the identity of the Players or Clubs.”

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Of those tested by the league, 5.8 percent have the virus. However, that does not include the 12 players outside NHL facilities and others yet to be tested.

The league did not disclose which teams have cases, but the Capitals have not yet reported any positive tests within their organization. 

Phase 3 is now set to begin no earlier than July 13 after the league postponed the phase’s start from July 10. The NHL season is set to resume July 30, and 24 teams will compete in an expanded postseason in two hub cities. While neither hub has been identified yet, reports suggest Edmonton and Toronto as the frontrunners. 

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Report: NHL coaches won't be required to wear masks during games

Report: NHL coaches won't be required to wear masks during games

The NHL and NHLPA finalized extensive safety protocols for the season's restart Sunday and one major takeaway has been the rules pertaining to mask-wearing during games. 

Anyone inside the bubble is required to wear a mask once they leave their hotel rooms, and masks may be removed during exercise and play on the ice. As far as coaches and officials, they are not required to wear masks during games either. Also, if social distancing guidelines are being followed, broadcasters and players involved in interviews are not required to wear masks either. 

So basically, players and coaches have to wear masks everywhere inside the bubble and aren't allowed to visit each other's rooms, but once it's time to hit the ice, masks can come off. 

This, of course, doesn't mean every coach will go maskless during games. Those more at risk to the dangers of coronavirus still can, and probably should, wear a mask whenever they aren't in their rooms. 

According to TSN's Frank Seravalli, other notable protocols include daily tests for COVID-19, players, staff, officials, arena ice crew, security, hotel bartenders, food service staff, arena food and beverage staff, hotel housekeeping, hotel kitchen and food prep staff, and bus drivers. 

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Twenty-four teams are allowed to bring a maximum of 52 people, so there'd be approximately 2,000 tests conducted every day inside the bubble. 

If someone tests positive for COVID-19, they'll be required to isolate immediately. They'll undergo a second test, and if that one comes back positive, they'll have to remain in isolation until they're medically cleared. Individuals will need two consecutive negative tests to return to normal activities. 

RELATED: NONE SHOULD CRITICIZE PLAYERS WHO OPT-OUT OF RESTART

No players who test positive will be revealed to the public, though anyone considered to be in contact for 15 minutes or longer and at six feet or less of a positive case in the 48 hours leading up to the time of the positive test will be immediately removed and tested.

The nature of these safety protocols shows just how much of a logistical challenge the season restart will be. However, following these guidelines will be key to successful conclusion of the playoffs and eventual crowning of a Stanley Cup champion. So, for those who leave the bubble or violate health and safety protocols, they and their teams will be subject to penalties including fines, loss of draft picks and even an altogether removal from the bubble.

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