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A legacy defined as Alex Ovechkin, Capitals claim first Stanley Cup title

A legacy defined as Alex Ovechkin, Capitals claim first Stanley Cup title

LAS VEGAS — Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup champions.

At long last.

I’ve got to be honest, there have been (many) times over the past few years when I wondered if I’d ever have the privilege of typing those words.

And yet here we are.

Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup champions.

Here’s what it means to the long-suffering fans of Washington D.C., the 44-year-old franchise and the legacy of its superstar captain:  

To the area, it means we’re no longer the swamp of pro sports cities.

As a lifelong Washington resident, I feel eminently qualified to weigh in on the subject.

This is the first championship in the Big Four sports since the Redskins claimed the Lombardi Trophy in 1992.

With the exception of the Caps’ previous run, way back in 1998, we hadn’t even come close to planning a parade in the years since. Instead, we’ve suffered through multiple postseason indignities, authored by division champions that appeared poised to win it all…only to fall flat on their face. The Caps did it. The Nationals and Redskins followed suit. Then the Caps did it again, and then again. Indeed, in recent years, being a D.C. sports fan required a measure of delusion—and perhaps some therapy. No more.

For the franchise, it ends four decades of futility.

By the mid-1980s—the teams of my youth—the Caps had become perennial postseason invitees. But were any of those squads actually good enough to make a legitimate run at a championship? That’s debatable.

Then, on June 26, 2004, everything changed. The Caps drafted Alexander Ovechkin and, within a couple of seasons, the Young-Guns-Rock-The-Red era was in full swing. As the beat writer for The Washington Post from 2004-2011, I enjoyed a front row seat and, occasionally, a peek behind the curtain of the thrilling highs and soul-snatching lows.

As it turned out, winning hockey’s Holy Grail, is much more difficult than anyone imagined. In 2010, 2016 and 2017, the Caps iced the best team in the regular season and entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed. Three times the curse of the Presidents’ Trophy had other ideas. Interestingly, this WASN’T supposed to be the year. The two-year window was supposedly closed.

This was supposed to be a transition year.

Instead, it became THE year thanks to an unlikely confluence of occurrences.

Led by Ovechkin, the stars played like stars. Young players emerged. Unheralded career grinders stepped up. A free agent head coach pushed all the right buttons. And, perhaps most important, the group became a team in every sense of the word—a critical step in the process that for some reason had eluded previous versions.  

To Ovechkin, this means everything.

Just look at the many GIFs of his emotional outbursts during these playoffs.

Not to minimize what the Cup to the other two dozen players and coaches, but it’s different for Ovi, the first Russian-born player to captain a Cup champion. He’s been the face of the league for 13 years and the face of the franchise for just as a long. And, right or wrong, his name had become synonymous with regular season accolades and postseason failure. Well, no more. Three MVPs. Seven goal scoring titles. A points title. And now, No. 8’s impressive resume also includes the crowning achievement for a sure first ballot Hall of Famer: a Cup.

It’s okay if you’d started to doubt. But you’re still here. And, now, so is the Cup.

Repeat after me. Say it loud. Say it proud.

Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup champions.  


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Free Agency Bracket: Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

Free Agency Bracket: Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s semifinal matchup:

Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

2018-19 stats

Joonas Donskoi (27 years old): 80 games played for the San Jose Sharks, 14 goals, 23 assists, 37 points, 13:25 TOI

Playoffs: 12 games played for the San Jose Sharks, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 12:26 TOI

Carl Gunnarsson (32 years old): 25 games played with the St. Louis Blues, 3 goals, 4 assists, 7 points, 15:15 TOI

Playoffs: 19 games played with the St. Louis Blues, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 14:57 TOI, won Stanley Cup

Hockey-Graph contract projections 

Joonas Donskoi: 3 years, $2,847,521 cap hit

Carl Gunnarsson: 1 year, $731,159 cap hit

The case for Joonas Donskoi

Maybe Andre Burakovsky’s qualifying offer of $3.25 million means he’s back with the Capitals for another year. But it doesn’t preclude a trade and in Donskoi you’d have a similar option at a cheaper price, which matters if you only have $9.2 million in cap space left for now.

Donskoi made the offense better in San Jose in whatever role he was asked to play. He can go up and down the lineup and had a consistency to his game that Burakovsky at times lacks. Donskoi’s stats may not always reflect that, but making his teammates around him better is a valuable asset. Either way, depth scoring is important and a priority for the Capitals. 

Donskoi has every bit the Stanley Cup playoff experience as Burakovsky does if that matters to you. Donskoi has nine goals and 12 assists in 50 playoff games and Burakovsky has nine goals and nine assists in 56 playoff games. Not much to chose between the team except Donskoi would be cheaper if Washington decided to trade Burakovsky. 

The case for Carl Gunnarsson

The Caps will need a No. 6/7 defenseman after Brooks Orpik retired on Tuesday. Yes, they gave a qualifying offer to RFA defenseman Christian Djoos and they have Jonas Siegenthaler under contract, too. Both are natural left side defensemen. Going with the kids is an option. But both of them? That becomes problematic when someone gets hurt in your top two pairings and players have to bump up. 

Gunnarsson was the hero of the “Boston Pee Party” when he scored the overtime winner in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final after declaring to head coach Craig Berube at the urinal he just needed one more opportunity. Gunnarsson had just seven points in the regular season so no one should expect a ton of offense, but the point is he delivered when it mattered most.

When he is not playing the overtime hero, he is a third-pairing, stay at home defenseman who can play on the penalty kill which is pretty much exactly what the Caps need in a depth defenseman.

Take a look at Gunnarsson’s contract projection. You can’t beat that price. Sure, those projections came out before he won the Stanley Cup, but even if his price goes up, it will not be significant. You’re tinkering at the margins of the roster here and championship experience matters. 

Who’s your pick? Vote here:


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Burakovsky receives qualifying offer from Capitals

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Burakovsky receives qualifying offer from Capitals

The Capitals tendered qualifying offers to six of their seven restricted free agents at Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline, including forward Andre Burakovsky. 

Burakovsky, 24, had been the subject of trade rumors up until the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 25 and also in the days leading up to last week’s NHL Draft in Vancouver. Nothing came of them. Washington general manager Brian MacLellan made it clear that while teams were calling, he wasn’t about to just give away a 2013 first-round draft pick. 

“We like the player. There's been some inconsistencies there, but when he's on his game, he's a good player,” MacLellan said last Thursday. “We'd like to keep him around but obviously his name is out there a little bit, so we do talk to some teams about him. But we're not going to move him unless we get something we're comfortable with back.”

But the Capitals are still in a salary cap crunch and that could still land Burakovsky elsewhere in the coming days. His qualifying offer is $3.25 million. Washington is only $9.235 million below the salary cap of $81.5 million. If Burakovsky signs, he would provide scoring depth. He has a career-high 17 goals and has scored 12 each of the past two seasons.

The Capitals do need to see more from Burakovsky. He has struggled with confidence and consistent production over the years. But if he returns, he would be a good option to replace the expected-to-depart Brett Connolly at right wing on the third line with Lars Eller and Carl Hagelin. Connolly is an unrestricted free agent and likely out of Washington’s price range. 

By tendering a qualifying offer, the Capitals ensure that they will keep Burakovsky’s rights. If they had not then he’d be an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team. That’s not a smart use of an asset that could still help in 2019-20. They could, of course, still trade him at any time. 

Meanwhile, forward Dmitry Jaskin was not tendered a qualifying offer. He is a free agent now. Jaskin never gained the trust of the coaching staff last season. He appeared in just 37 games despite analytics that showed he had a positive impact on the fourth line. Jaskin picked up on waivers from the St. Louis Blues in October, had two goals and four assists. He did not play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

Winger Jakub Vrana also received a qualifying offer, but that’s not expected to matter much as the two sides try to put together a long-term contract extension after his breakthrough 24-goal season in his second NHL year. 

The Capitals did tender a qualifying offer to defenseman Christian Djoos. An ugly thigh injury that turned into compartment syndrome and limited him to 45 games. But with Brooks Orpik retiring on Tuesday, Washington could go with Djoos and Jonas Siegenthaler as their No. 6/7 defensemen on their natural left sides. 

Fourth-line winger Chandler Stephenson also received his qualifying offer. AHL Hershey forward Colby Williams and goalie Vitek Vanacek also received qualifying offers from Washington.