Capitals

Quick Links

NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

There was a lot of excitement to start the season for the Caps. First, there was the home-opener and the banner raising against the Boston Bruins. Then there was a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the rival Penguins. After that, it was a Stanley Cup Final rematch against the Vegas Golden Knights.

And all of that was followed up with a trip to Newark.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

With all due respect to New Jersey, given the slate the Caps faced to start the season, it was no real surprise to see the team struggle to get up for Thursday’s game against the Devils, a game in which the Caps were blown out 6-0. Of all the games Washington faced to start the season, the trip to New Jersey was definitely the least exciting.

But not every game is going to be a big rivalry matchup or a playoff rematch. With every team gunning for the Caps, they better make sure they can get themselves ready for the grind of an 82-game season that won’t always feature a big-time matchup.

A trip to Newark may not be flashy or exciting, but it still counts as two points.

The Caps dropped the game in New Jersey and lost a tight contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Where do they stand now after two straight losses?

FIND OUT HERE IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS

MORE CAPS NEWS:

 

Quick Links

Metropolitan Division Outlook 2019-20: The Philadelphia Flyers

Metropolitan Division Outlook 2019-20: The Philadelphia Flyers

The Capitals enter the 2019-20 season looking for their fifth consecutive Metropolitan Division title. 

But this could be the most challenging year yet. The bottom of the division has improved dramatically with offseason moves and the top of the division still has quality teams. It’s hard to figure who will crater and finish last. The winning team might not top 100 points.  

For the next two weeks, NBC Sports Washington will take a look at each Metro team and where they stand with training camps opening in less than a month. Today: The Philadelphia Flyers. 

Few teams were as confusing last year as the Flyers. They began the year a lethargic and uninspired 12-15-4 and fired coach Dave Hakstol in mid-December. After a dead cat bounce under interim coach Scott Gordon, Philadelphia then went winless in eight games in early January. They gamely finished the year 22-15-2 and for a time were even on the edge of the Eastern Conference playoff race into early March. But it was too late. They finished a thoroughly mediocre 37-37-8 with 82 points and in sixth place in the Metro. 

The roster just wasn’t deep enough and help in goal from rookie Carter Hart came too late. It was all somewhat baffling given the talent on hand. This year, with an experienced new coach in Alain Vigneault, a full season expected from Hart and some offseason upgrades, Philadelphia should make a darkhorse run at an Eastern Conference playoff spot.

It all starts with Hart. An organization that has been inept in goal for well over 20 years, finally has a top prospect who looks like the real deal. Hart had a .917 save percentage in 31 games after his promotion from the AHL. He’s still just 21 so there’s no guarantee he won’t fall victim to the Flyers’ goalie curse. But Hart has the pedigree to be a top-tier NHL goalie. He’s in line, for now, to split the gig with veteran Brian Elliott, which should ease some of the pressure. 

If Hart is as good as advertised, though, there is talent to work with in front of him. A top line of Claude Giroux (22 goals, 63 assists), Sean Couturier (33 goals, 43 assists) and Travis Konecny (24 goals, 25 assists) should be one of the best in the league. Couturier, especially, has become a terror of a two-way player and was sixth in the Selke Trophy voting. Konecny is still just 22, the vanguard of young talent in the organization. 

The Flyers tried to upgrade the second line and did with center Kevin Hayes coming from Winnipeg as a free agent. The deal was a bit much with a cap hit at $7.14 million for seven years. Hayes is a good player, but has never had more than 55 points and has topped 25 goals just once. That’s a steep price. But it does make Philadelphia deeper. 

Jakub Voracek is still good to make a run at 70-to-80 points and maybe playing with Hayes helps get him back there. His career with the Flyers has been a yo-yo with point totals bouncing from the low 60s every other year to the low 80s. Last year Voracek was at 66. Notch that a little higher and Philadelphia will be a tough matchup with two powerhouse lines. At 23, Oskar Lindblom (17 goals, 16 assists) could make a big leap playing with Hayes and Voracek. 

Another key young player is Nolan Patrick, who figures to be the third-line center. At 21 just before the season starts, the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft has taken his lumps in two full NHL seasons. But the talent is there. If he can make that jump then the Flyers will really be moving in the right direction. Patrick should have James van Riemsdyk on his line and while his numbers dipped last year (27 goals, 21 assists) in just 66 games, there’s no reason to think he can’t rebound to the 60-point level he’s reached before. 

It’s the blue line that’s in question. The Flyers traded Radko Gudas to the Capitals for Matt Niskanen, which 18 months earlier would have been an easy win. But Gudas got better last year at age 29 and Niskanen declined alarmingly before a brief rebound near the end of the season and will be 33 in December. And he’s projected on their top pair with Ivan Provorov, who seemed to take a step backward in his age 21/22 season. 

It’s a young group with Travis Sandheim, 23, on the second pair and the promising Phillippe Myers, 22, likely on the third pair after playing 21 games as a rookie. 

Maybe that’s why Philadelphia traded for Niskanen and San Jose’s Justin Braun, 32, who also seemed to lose a step last season with the Sharks despite playing with Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Shayne Gostisbehere, 26 now, is an offensive dynamo but has stagnated. This is a weird mix of players. It’s on Vigneault and his coaching staff to get them to gel. 

The Capitals and Penguins are beginning to show signs of age. The Devils and Rangers made splashy moves in free agency and the draft and via trade. The Islanders virtually stayed pat, but they finished second in the division and Barry Trotz won the Jack Adams Award. Carolina reached the Eastern Conference Final and probably has the youngest talent in the division. 

The Flyers are getting lost in the shuffle in this wide-open Metro. Only Columbus, which lost its two best players, has as many questions. But there is talent here and Philadelphia was a much better, more cohesive team in the final three months of the season. 

Can that carry over under a new coach who knows how to build teams? Vigneault took the Rangers to the Cup Final in 2014 and the Eastern Conference Final in 2015. Making a run at the playoffs and seeing legitimate development from young players like Hart and Sandheim and Patrick and Lindblom would be a rousing success. Don’t discount them.   

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: In defense of Washington fans

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: In defense of Washington fans

It’s time for a new Capitals Mailbag! You can read Wednesday’s Part 1 here.

Check out Part 2 below.

Have a Caps question you want to be answered in the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Nathan S. writes: Lots of recent debate among DC sports media and fans about how Nats fans just aren't as passionate as in many other cities and that DC fans in general aren't great sports fans. The Caps fans seem an obvious exception to that although the atmosphere was often tense in playoffs before team beat the Penguins in the 2018 playoffs. In your view, how does Capital One Arena compare to other cities in the regular season on average? In playoffs, the place can get both raucous and tense although Canes fans were definitely louder in 2019 playoffs.

The attack on D.C. sports fans is a topic I could write about endlessly for hours. I do not know why Washington as a city seems to get singled out, but it is completely ridiculous. First, the Nationals rank 16th in MLB attendance above teams like Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. I do not know why a team should be bashed for having average attendance, especially for a team that only returned to D.C. in 2005 and does not have the same history as a team like the Yankees or Dodgers.

The reason why baseball is experimenting with clocks and robot umpires is that interest in the entire sport of baseball is down, not because of a random Nationals game. That is totally overblown.

The city of Washington is a transient city. There are a lot of people here from a lot of other places who come here to live and it is also an easy place to get to, traffic aside. The result is that more traveling fans end up going to games meaning a lot of Cowboy fans, Phillies fans and Penguins fans. That is a reflection of the city’s population and geography, not its fan bases.

You ever try to get to Pittsburgh? It’s not easy. It’s no wonder why they have such a great home crowd.

I do not know why in the national scene, Cleveland cornered the market on lowly sports teams for so long. From 2005 to 2018, the Cleveland Cavaliers made it to the NBA Finals five times and won once. When the Capitals won the Stanley Cup in 2018, they did not just snap a championship drought from 1998. The fact is that no Washington team from the four major sports even made it to a conference or league final since 1998. Everyone looks at Cleveland fans and says good for you then they trash Washington for being a garbage sports city.

At some point, teams have to justify their fan’s faith in them. Blind faith is not the sign of a good fanbase, it is a sign of stupidity.

Sorry for the tangent there, but I find this whole topic ridiculous. No one could say Philadelphia’s fans are not passionate, but I would rather have Washington sports fans and not have to worry about someone intentionally throwing up on a child because they cheered for the wrong team when I go to games.

For Caps fans specifically, the only legitimate criticism comes from how the crowd reacts in the playoffs. After years of playoff disappointments, a sense of trepidation began to hit in the postseason. Whenever something went wrong, fans would quickly become deflated. The arena would always be packed, loud and raucous at the start, but the moment something went wrong it would take the wind out of the Caps faithful. Excitement turned to panic, which turned to cynicism. When Washington finally got past the Penguins in 2018, people could sense the tide was turning and the crowd responded. Those crowds for the conference final and Stanley Cup Final were great and they were loud. That sense of trepidation was gone, even in moments like Game 6 against Tampa Bay when the Caps had lost three straight and were facing elimination. The crowd was with them then and it was with them last year even when locked in a tighter than expected series with the Carolina Hurricanes. I wonder if the honeymoon period from the Stanley Cup will fade this year in the postseason, but we will have to wait and see.

But in terms of support, besides the postseason panic, the Caps have a great fanbase overall and this is evident on the road as well as at home. I went to a game in Pittsburgh in 2009 and if I had to estimate the number of Caps fans there I would put it somewhere in the hundreds. This changed drastically in the last few years, even before Washington won the Cup. I went to a game in San Jose in 2017 and I would estimate about 15 to 20-percent of the crowd was wearing red.

Washington fans are great, they just get a bad rap for whatever reason.

Roger B. writes: I don’t understand the Caps’ fascination with Christian Djoos. At 5’11 and 170, his lack of size and strength compromise the Caps’ ability to win puck battles and clear the crease. Unlike other younger blueliners in the organization, he doesn’t project to being a top 4. Why not trade him to get under the cap and keep Pheonix Copley as insurance for Braden Holtby in 2019?

I’m not sure “fascination” is the best way to put it. He is coming into this season likely competing with Jonas Siegenthaler for the last spot in the lineup and I doubt he will play 82 games this season. I do not think that qualifies as “fascination.”

The Caps played 24 playoff games in 2018 on their way to the Cup. Djoos played in 22 of those games. The two he did not play were losses to Columbus.

Djoos’ size will never not be a factor and he clearly handled it better in 2017-18 than he did in 2018-19. There is no denying he got pushed around more so last season, but he also had a serious injury and I do not think he was totally 100-percent when he returned.

Djoos has had one good season and one bad season. I think wanting to see which defenseman is closer to the truth is entirely reasonable, it just stings a bit because I think the arbitrator’s award of $1.25 million caught everyone off-guard.

Having said that, it is fair to point out that the Caps have a boatload of left-shot defensemen both on the roster and among their prospects. The reason why you do not trade Djoos now, however, is because you would not get anything back for him. At all.

Djoos is coming off a bad year, he has only two years of NHL experience so you are not sure which player he really is, he is undersized and every general manager in the league knows Washington needs to shed salary. The Caps would be getting no value in a trade whatsoever.

If the roster is better of with Djoos on it in a No. 6/7 role and he has no trade value then there is no point in trading him. If the team can make the salary cap work they are better off with Djoos as a No. 7 than Tyler Lewington.

Greg C. writes: What goes into a team's cap total besides salaries? I ask because, according to Cap Friendly (as of 8/13), the Caps' combined salaries (not including Jonas Siegenthaler's) for 19-20 total $81,000,128, but their cap hit is $82,864,294. What makes up the difference?

Not sure why you would not include Siegenthaler’s. The Caps will certainly want to carry seven defensemen into the season and Siegenthaler will almost certainly be one of those seven.

If you add Siegenthaler’s salary, you get $81,714,294. Then you have to add $1.15 million for a carryover bonus overage penalty from last season.

Performance bonuses do not count against the salary cap until they are earned. When bonuses are earned, the team still needs to fit within the salary cap. If it does not, then the bonus overage slides to the next season and count as dead space.

Bonuses put Washington over the cap last season and the remaining $1.15 million carries over to 2019-20. Add that into the team salaries and that is why the Caps are at $82,864,294.

I honestly have no idea how to answer this question, I just included it because of the response from Bottoms Up.

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: