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Was 2019 a missed Stanley Cup opportunity for the Capitals?


Was 2019 a missed Stanley Cup opportunity for the Capitals?

The Boston Bruins’ Game 6 victory Sunday ensured a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final between Boston and the St. Louis Blues.

A series that no one saw coming is going to go the distance. Whatever happens on Wednesday, it will be a fitting ending to a crazy postseason. But as the playoffs draw to a close and we sit just one game away from a new champion being crowned, the question that haunts the city of Washington is this: Was this season a missed opportunity for the Capitals?

After the first round, the answer to this question seemed obvious.

The Presidents’ Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning were swept, as were the Pittsburgh Penguins — frequent foil of the Caps. On the other side of the bracket, division winners Calgary and Winnipeg also suffered early defeats. It especially stings considering that the Hurricanes were able to expose the Islanders — who would have been Washington’s second-round opponent — in a sweep. The conference final would have matched the Caps up with a Boston team they have dominated in recent years. Washington has won 14 of its last 15 contests against the Bruins.

Boston certainly took advantage of a suddenly wide-open bracket, as it lost only twice in the second and third round and blew through the rest of the conference.

As we are talking about the NHL, however, it is important to remember that had the Caps beaten Carolina in the first round, that is no guarantee they would be sitting where Boston is now playing the Blues for the Cup.

The Islanders would have proven a tougher matchup for Washington than Carolina because it would have meant facing former head coach Barry Trotz, who knows the Caps players as well as anyone and would have had his team prepared to matchup against them.

Tuukka Rask has been unreal for Boston in the playoffs, and Washington knows better than most how a hot goalie can turn a series. Then it would have meant playing a Blues team that has the feel of destiny about them after being dead last in the NHL on Jan. 3. St. Louis’ turnaround began that day with a win over… the Caps. In fact, the Blues dominated the Caps twice during their impressive turnaround.

So while Washington’s early playoff exit may sting, Caps fans can take at least some comfort in the fact that the unpredictability of the Stanley Cup Playoffs means that though a run to a second Cup was certainly possible, it was also far from guaranteed.

Still, knowing that the road to the Cup for the Caps in 2019 ran through Carolina, Brooklyn, Boston and St. Louis, that does not seem as nearly as daunting as the gauntlet Washington faced in their 2018 Cup run.


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Free Agency Bracket: Brett Connolly vs. Devante Smith-Pelly

Free Agency Bracket: Brett Connolly vs. Devante Smith-Pelly

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 quarterfinal matchup:

Region: Capitals free agents

Brett Connolly vs. Devante Smith-Pelly
2018-19 stats

Brett Connolly (27 years old): 81 games played with the Capitals, 22 goals, 24 assists, 46 points, 13:20 TOI
Playoffs: 7 games played with the Capitals, 2 goals, 0 assists, 4 points, 13:50 TOI

Devante Smith-Pelly (27 years old): 54 games played with the Capitals, 4 goals, 4 assists, 8 points, 10:51 TOI

Playoffs: 3 games played with the Caps, no goals, no assists, no points, 9:47 TOI

Hockey-Graph contract projections

Brett Connolly: 3 years, $3,536,091 cap hit
Devante Smith-Pelly: 2 years, $1,149,369

The case for Brett Connolly

The Capitals have already re-signed one of their third-line free agents with Carl Hagelin’s new deal. Is there room left for Connolly? Connolly has made himself comfortable in Washington. He tied his career highs in goals twice (15) and then broke through with a career-best 22. And he is one of the league’s most productive players given his limited ice time. 
There are just too many big names in front of Connolly to get him much power-play time. Those 22 goals wouldn’t be easy to replace and GM Brian MacLellan said scoring depth is a concern this offseason. If he is again willing to sacrifice role for a bump in pay and some security then maybe Connolly returns to a place he re-ignited his career. The talent is certainly there as the No. 6 overall pick in the 2010 draft and Connolly is headed into his age-27 season so a three or four-year deal takes care of his prime years. 
But the argument ultimately rests on the salary cap, which at $81.5 million is problematic. It might be out of Washington’s hands anyway. Even if the Capitals want to keep him, other teams could use money AND ice time to entice Connolly. But can they strike gold again with another cheap third-line winger as they did with Connolly? That’s not easy to replicate. They could simply sign Connolly and take care of it, but the salary cap is tight.

The case for Smith-Pelly

There is no question that Smith-Pelly can be inconsistent, but he always seems to bring it in the playoffs. Before his seven-goal performance in the 2018 Cup run, Smith-Pelly was brilliant with the Anaheim Ducks scoring five goals in 12 games back in 2014.

With Carl Hagelin re-signed and players like Jakub Vrana, Christian Djoos and other depth pieces still on the horizon, affordability is pretty much the biggest asset for any free agent available to Washington and it won’t get much more affordable than Smith-Pelly.

Hockey-Graphs can be spot on with some of its projections and outright wrong for others and this case is definitely the latter. Smith-Pelly’s contract for the 2018-19 season was a one-year deal with a cap hit of $1 million. After scoring just eight points and getting demoted to the AHL, there is no way he walks into next season with a two-year deal and a raise. The cap hit is going to be low for Smith-Pelly and that makes him a very attractive choice for the Caps – if both sides can put last year’s awkwardness behind them. 

Who’s your pick? Vote here. 


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Capitals announce full 2019-2020 schedule

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Capitals announce full 2019-2020 schedule

The Capitals formally announced their 2019-2020 schedule, and there are plenty of games to circle on the calendar.

Early last week, the NHL announced the Caps would open their season on the road against the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, and that during the preseason they'd take on the Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks and Blues.

Here are the games we're circling on our schedule for the upcoming season:

Home Opener

The Caps will take on the Carolina Hurricanes, who eliminated them from the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, in their home opener on Oct. 5 at 7 p.m.

Jack Hughes watch

The Caps take on number one overall pick Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban and the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Prudential Center.

Crosby and company

The rival Pittsburgh Penguins don't take on the Caps until Feb. 2nd for a matinee smackdown at 12:30 p.m.

Road tripping

Washington will take to the road early for their California road trip in early December. They take on the San Jose Sharks Dec. 3, the Los Angeles Kings Dec. 4 and the Anaheim Ducks on Dec. 6.