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Stephenson signing pushes Caps further over the salary cap and decisions loom

Stephenson signing pushes Caps further over the salary cap and decisions loom

The Capitals went over the NHL’s $81.5 million salary cap earlier this week. Friday night they just kept spending.


Washington signed forward Chandler Stephenson to a one-year contract worth $1.05 million. That avoids an arbitration hearing that was scheduled for on Aug. 1. That’s good because those can become contentious.


But Stephenson’s salary means the Capitals are now, according to the website CapFriendly.com, which broke the news Friday night, about $1.364 million over the cap. That’s fine for now. Teams can exceed the salary cap by 10 percent up until the end of training camp. But they will have to get below it by Oct. 2. There’s no other choice.  
 
The roster is full now. Washington has 14 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies. It’s still unclear if Stephenson will be part of that mix. Maybe a trade is coming – though it’s hard to find an identifiable candidate who isn’t a key player or a free agent the Capitals just signed (Richard Panik, Garnet Hathaway, Brendan Leipsic). 
 
Stephenson has primarily been a fourth-line winger during his career. He was used heavily on the penalty kill the past two seasons. He has some skill, and definitely some speed, but 11 points in 64 games (five goals, six assists) and frustrating inconsistency often left the coaching staff turning to other options. The Hathaway and Leipsic signings clearly showed Washington’s front office wanted to upgrade the fourth line. 
 
That doesn’t mean Stephenson or fellow fourth liner Travis Boyd can’t compete for a job. But the cap constraints mean someone is going to be left out barring a trade. Just a few days earlier, Djoos went through with his arbitration hearing and earned a one-year contract worth $1.25 million. 
 
Remember, Stephenson was a nice contributor during the Stanley Cup title run in 2018 as a rookie. He had two goals and five assists in 24 playoff games. But it’s fair to say he didn’t build on that in his second season. 
 
The Capitals can go in several different directions before the Oct. 2 roster deadline. But now just cutting Stephenson or Boyd ($800,000) won’t be enough. They could save $175,000 million by having top goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov take over for backup goalie Phoenix Copley ($1.1 million). But ideally you’d want Samsonov developing his game at AHL Hershey. It’s not clear if he’s even ready for NHL duty.    
 
Given that Washington’s scoring depth took a hit by trading Andre Burakovsky and simply replacing free agent Brett Connolly with Panik, it’s hard to imagine a trade of any top-nine forward. Moving any of the top five defensemen seems unlikely, too, especially on the left side where depth is in shorter supply. 
 
There are going to be promising recent high draft picks on defense at AHL Hershey (Lucas Johansen, 21, Alexander Alexeyev, 19, Martin Fehervary, 19), but none has played in an NHL game yet. They, too, need to prove themselves. 
 
Trading Djoos for non-roster assets and employing Tyler Lewington, 24, in that No. 7 depth defenseman role would save $575,000. Lewington would make $675,000 with the Capitals and at least played in two NHL games last season. Combine that move with keeping just 13 forwards would slide Washington under the cap. 
 
But for now, the best bet is let all of these players, and a few more, compete for the final roster spots in what should be a competitive training camp. If someone is injured enough to go on long-term injured reserve, that could solve the problem. If a cheaper player steals a job that would ease the crunch, too. The Capitals have decisions to make, but time to make them. Now, at least, Stephenson will apparently be in that mix again.

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Possible playoff opponents for the Capitals are starting to come into focus

Possible playoff opponents for the Capitals are starting to come into focus

With their 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, the Capitals' playoff future is starting to come into focus. Washington has only one game remaining and can finish in either third or fourth in the round robin standings. That limits the number of possible playoff opponents for the Caps when the games really start to matter.

First, before talking about who the Caps may play, it is important to remember why. Under the NHL's regular format, a normal year would see teams advance in a bracket, meaning each team knows going in they will be playing the winner of a specific matchup if they advance. This year, the NHL is going back to its old format of re-seeding after each round. This makes determining matchups a bit harder to figure out.

Here's what we know. The Caps are going to finish in the bottom half of the round robin meaning they will play one of the highest two seeded teams coming out of the qualifying round. The Carolina Hurricanes swept their qualifying round series against the New York Rangers. As the No. 6 seed coming in, Carolina is going to be one of the top two qualifying round teams.

RELATED: DEFENSIVE BREAKDOWNS AND MORE FROM CAPS LOSS TO FLYERS

Washington's final seed will be determined by Sunday's game against the Boston Bruins. A win in regulation, overtime or a shootout will mean the Caps are No. 3, while a loss in any fashion will bump them down to No. 4.

The simplest scenario for Washington is that If the Pittsburgh Penguins rally to win their series against the Montreal Canadiens, the Caps are guaranteed to play either Pittsburgh or Carolina as the No. 5 and 6 seeds, respectively. It gets a little trickier if the Penguins lose. If that happens, the Hurricanes become the top qualifying team and will play No. 4. The top team behind them then becomes No. 6 which, as of now, could be the New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs or the Columbus Blue Jackets.

So a rematch with the Hurricanes is a definite possibility for the Caps, as is a matchup with the rival Penguins.

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Penguins eliminated in qualifying round but now could win the top-overall draft pick

Penguins eliminated in qualifying round but now could win the top-overall draft pick

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ postseason came to an abrupt end on Friday as they were defeated in just four games by the 12th-seeded Montreal Canadiens.

The Canadiens shut out Pittsburgh in Game 4 to close out the series. Few gave Montreal, a team with a 31-31-9 record in the regular season, much of a chance, but the Canadiens have now authored the biggest upset in the postseason thus far.

The Penguins began faltering down the stretch of the regular season, but with four new additions at the trade deadline and over four months to adjust, no one thought Pittsburgh would not be able to at least make it past the Habs.

And yet here we are.

RELATED: POSSIBLE PLAYOFF OPPONENTS FOR CAPS COMING INTO FOCUS

In four games, Sidney Crosby was limited to three points, Jake Guentzel three, Jason Zucker two and Evgeny Malkin only one. The only chance many gave Montreal was if goalie Carey Price stood on his head, but in fact he was not tested nearly as much as one may have thought in a series as seemingly lopsided on paper as this one.

Pittsburgh has now lost nine of its last 10 playoff games and the future of the team with the current core now is very much in doubt.

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Before you cheer too hard, Capitals fans, the silver-lining for Pittsburgh is that they will now have a 12.5-percent chance of winning the draft lottery and earning the chance to select phenom Alexis Lafreniere with the No. 1 overall pick. As Pittsburgh begins to think about life after Crosby and Malkin, getting the No. 1 overall pick will certainly jumpstart the eventual rebuild.

The loss means that Washington will play either the Carolina Hurricanes or New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs. If the Caps win their final round robin game against the Boston Bruins on Sunday, they will face the Islanders. If they lose, they will play the Hurricanes.

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