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Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

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 John Carlson repeat his career year after signing a long-term contract?

Tarik: When a player has a career year and it coincides with the final year of his contract, the reaction from some fans and media is often a sarcastic, ‘Well, of course he did.’

And I’m sure there are some folks who wonder about Carlson’s breakout season and whether there was a connection between the uptick in his production and the potential of an enormous payday.

Indeed, the 28-year-old established highs in goals (15), assists (53), points (68) and ice time (24:47). He was outstanding in the postseason, too, amassing five goals and 15 assists while playing solidly in his own end to help lead the Caps to their first championship.

The financial reward came a couple of weeks later when he signed an eight-year, $64 million contract to remain in Washington.

Which brings us to today’s question.

It’s obviously impossible to say for sure what’s going to happen, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had another big season. Why? A few reasons:

  • As good as he was, last year wasn’t a total outlier, either. Carlson racked up 55 points (12 goals, 43 assists) in 2014-15, which was tied for fifth best among blue liners that year.
  • He was at his best last season skating with trade deadline addition Michal Kempny. Kempny, of course, also re-upped, agreeing to a four-year extension. So, in theory, Carlson should be able to pick up where he left off.
  • Carlson has credited Todd Reirden with helping him take his game to new heights. Well, Reirden is now the guy in charge of the whole operation. How could that not help?
  • A major reason Carlson puts up so many points is his role on the power play. And that unit, which really hit its stride in the postseason (29.3-percent), returns all five skaters.
  • Carlson has also been pretty durable, which is critical to being productive. In fact, last season he skated in all of the Caps’ games for the sixth time in eight full-time seasons.

So, yeah, it’s all setting up nicely for Carlson to have a strong 2018-19.

To me, the only unknown is whether he’ll have the same hunger and determination now that he’s got long-term security and that previously elusive championship ring.

Again, that’s impossible to predict. But I can tell you this: Over the course of two decades in this business, I’ve covered lots of players who inked life-changing contracts. With a few of them, I had immediate concerns.

I have no such reservations about Carlson's ability to play up to his new deal, particularly in the first several seasons of it.

JJ: There's nothing wrong with a player being motivated by a new deal, but I am always wary when players have career years on the last year of their contract.

The issue is whether or not a player can continue to play at the level they showed when a new contract is no longer a motivating factor. After signing a new deal for eight years and $64 million, Carlson won't have to think about money or contracts for a long time.

When it comes to motivation, a lot of the questions surrounding the Capitals this year will depend on how they react to winning the Cup. Of course everyone wants to repeat, but psychologically will they come into camp more motivated than ever to defend their title or will they be satisfied with finally winning it all?

For Carlson, there are several reasons to be hopeful. Tarik went over a number of those reasons above, but the two biggest for me are Michal Kempny and Todd Reirden.

This season, Carlson will have Kempny as his partner to start, rather than a cycle of practically every left-handed defenseman on the ice depending on the situation. Second, what Mitch Korn is to goalies, Reirden is to defensemen. With him as the head coach, I believe the ceiling for Carlson will only continue to climb.

Let's also go beyond the numbers. Matt Niskanen suffered an injury early last season that forced Carlson into a primary role on both ends of the ice. He was playing nearly 30 minutes a night and, with two rookies on the blue line who Barry Trotz did everything he could to shelter, those were very hard minutes. Yet, Carlson excelled. The offensive upside was always there, but the way he played defensively was a revelation.

While Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen will remain a solid pair for the Caps, I believe Carlson will be the guy heading into the season which will mean more minutes and more responsibility.

Plus, despite what he meant to the team's defense and despite leading all defensemen in points with 68, Carlson was not selected to participate in the All-Star Game, he was not one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy and he was not among the four defensemen named to the end of season All-Star team. His incredible season earned him no recognition at all other than his new contract. A $64 million contract is a heck of a consolation prize, but his season deserved more recognition than that.

You don't often see a player of his caliber enter a season with a chip on his shoulder, but Carlson should have a fairly sizable one.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?
Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?
Has Evgeny Kuznetsov made the jump from really good player to superstar?

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Life in the bubble: NHL details protocols for Phase 4 of return-to-play plan

Life in the bubble: NHL details protocols for Phase 4 of return-to-play plan

With the NHL season set to resume in a little over three weeks, the league has begun to finalize a plan for its bubble set up in two hub cities.

In an expanded postseason format, 24 teams will reportedly travel to Edmonton and Toronto to complete the 2019-2020 season and crown a Stanley Cup Champion in October. 

With speculations of how the NHL will complete its season brewing for weeks, the league created a 47-page document detailing how Phase 4 of its return will occur. The Athletic obtained a copy of this document and explained the extremely detailed rules and regulations.

Life inside the bubble remains a hot topic with the NHL finalizing its return-to-play plan and entering Phase 3 around July 13. 

From extremely intense testing protocols to elevator and water bottle regulations, here is what to expect from the NHL’s return.

Traveling parties

Similar to most bubble setups, the NHL will allow a limited traveling party to the hub cities. Each team is allowed 52 people in that party with no more than 31 players, three coaches, two athletic trainers, one team physician, one equipment manager, one massage therapist, one team psychiatrist/chiropractor, one team social media manager, one security official and one representative to serve as the compliance officer.

The new role of the compliance officer is tasked with certifying that the team complies with all Phase 4 protocol daily.

Every member of the traveling party as well as every staff member at the arena or in the bubble is assigned to a participant group based on their responsibilities. The participant groups determine how much contact they have with others and how strict their testing must be.

Group 1: Essential personnel to games being played

  • Who: Players, club personnel, on-ice officials, NHL hygiene officers, club compliance officers, locker room attendants, locker room security, facility compliance staffers, hotel conference service managers, world feed microphone staffers, event-level NHL staffers (social media, tech ops, penalty box officials, communications, hockey ops, player safety, NHL Studios), NHL staffers, NHLPA staffers, NHL event medical directors and those with the RT-PCR testing company.
  • Contact: These individuals will maintain close contact with one another but should have limited exposure to players.
  • Housing and testing: Group 1 will be housed in a secure-zone hotel with daily testing and temperature checks.t6

Group 2: Individuals with business functions

  • Who: Off-ice officials, credential staffer, certain hotel staffers and event coverage medical staffers
  • Contact: These individuals will not have access to player spaces. 
  • Housing and testing: Group 2 will also be housed in a secure-zone hotel and require daily testing and temperature checks.

Group 3: People with repeated contact with Groups 1 and 2 but for short durations

  • Who: Security, some event coverage medical staff, bartenders, food servers and ice crew
  • Contact: Group 3 is allowed limited contact with Groups 1 and 2.
  • Housing and testing: They will be housed in a separate hotel, may return home but will be tested and undergo temperature checks daily.

Group 4: Those with limited exposure to Groups 1-3

  • Who: Arena food and beverage workers, PA announcer, housekeepers, kitchen and prep staff and transportation staff
  • Contact: Group 4 will have very limited contact with the first three groups.
  • Housing and testing: They will also be housed in a separate hotel or at home and will undergo daily COVID-19 tests and temperature checks.

Group 5: No contact with any other group member

  • Who: Third-party vendors, other arena staff, other hotel staff, fire marshal, police and media
  • Contact: Group 5 is not exposed to any other group.
  • Housing and testing: They will be housed in a separate hotel or at home. They will not require coronavirus testing but will have daily temperature checks.

Finally, the NHL acknowledged that the bubble makes it difficult to players to support their families at home, so each team will assist in providing grocery and errand delivery services to their remaining family members at home. As needed, the league will also provide medical services like COVID-19 testing to players’ families.

Testing

Testing in the bubble will be done very regularly and thoroughly. Players, coaches, arena staff, hotel housekeepers and bartenders as well as many others may be tested daily. The league expects it may exceed 2,000 tests per day.

If players experience symptoms, they must immediately self-quarantine and contact a team doctor to undergo testing. If a player tests positive but is asymptomatic, they will receive an RT-PCR test to confirm the diagnosis. If positive, they will be expected to self-isolate until cleared. If negative, they must remain in isolation before they can be retested a day later. A person who tests positive and is symptomatic won’t be subject to additional tests unless a physician has reason to doubt the results.

If a player tests positive, they must show two negative tests to be deemed clear. Doctors must also declare players fit to return to game action.

Once a player tests positive, a contact-tracing investigation will immediately begin. Anyone who was in contact with that individual for 15 minutes or longer at a distance of six feet or less will have to self-isolate until further testing can be conducted.

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Safety precautions and hygiene in the secure zone

The NHL established a number of safety precautions and regulations within the secure zone and while at games. All members are expected to remain six feet apart at all times, including on planes and busses and while eating. Masks must be worn at all times except for when on the ice, coaches on the bench, broadcasters on air, officials during a game, players during an interview, while eating or drinking or while in someone’s own room. The league also advised players to wash hands regularly and be cautious with high-fives and fist bumps.

Within the secure zone, every player gets their own room and no guests are allowed in those rooms besides housekeepers and engineers. Family members who enter the bubble will be given their own room and must satisfy testing and quarantine requirements if they wish to reside in a player’s room. Every team will have its own floor.

The league also said elevator capacity must be limited and advised players not to use their fingers when pressing the buttons but rather their knuckles or elbow. Talking is prohibited in elevators.

Dining will be done in a buffet-style with plexiglass barriers separating servers from players. Players can also use contactless room service if preferred. 

While lobby and bar spaces will remain open, the NHL remarked that details for social activities will be provided closer to Phase 4 but cited the importance of mental health in that section.

In terms of in-game hygiene, water bottles cannot be shared, must be labeled and separated on the bench. Towels may not be shared either, and teams must have a minimum of 100 clean towels on the bench. Benches must be disinfected between periods.

Leaving the secure zone

Unlike other proposed bubble setups, the NHL is allowing its players to leave and return to the secure zone under certain circumstances. A player may leave if he is receiving a medical assessment or retrieving medical supplies, if he needs a consultation with a doctor of his choice or under extenuating circumstances like the birth of a child, family illness, death or another important event.

If anyone leaves, they must undergo four consecutive negative PCR tests over a four-day period and be quarantined until that happens to return. 

Penalties for noncompliance

The penalties for not complying to these regulations are severe. For players, they can face a strict quarantine for 10-to-14 days if they do not obey hygiene regulations. Teams can face fines or lose a draft choice. Third-party vendors can face contract termination. And NHL staff could face dismissal.

Opting out/cancelation

Once the league ratifies the protocol, players must notify the NHL within three days if they plan to opt out of the season. Throughout Phase 4, the NHL or NHLPA may contact the other at any point if it believes games should be canceled, postponed, delayed or moved for safety reasons.

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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 Edmonton and Toronto.

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