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Why Chandler Stephenson's new contract says he is on thin-ice in Washington

Why Chandler Stephenson's new contract says he is on thin-ice in Washington

On Friday morning, the Capitals were already over the salary cap thanks to an arbitrator’s award to Christian Djoos of $1.25 million for next season. The Caps, however, were not done signing. News broke Friday night that Chandler Stephenson had been re-signed to a one-year deal worth $1.05 million. This must say a lot about Stephenson that general manager Brian MacLellan was willing to push the team further beyond the cap ceiling to re-sign him, right?

Actually, it doesn’t.

When the Capitals signed both Garnet Hathaway and Brendan Leipsic in the offseason, the implication seemed clear: Stephenson was in trouble.

Stephenson saw his production go down last season from 18 points to 11 despite getting slightly more ice time. He is a fourth-line player so the fact that MacLellan went out and added two fourth-line free agents seems to indicate Stephenson may be on the outside looking in. Add in the fact that the team added multiple penalty killers, something that is considered Stephenson’s strength, and he suddenly looks very expendable.

And yet, even though the team was already over the cap, Stephenson was re-signed and given a $400,000 raise from his previous deal.

Perhaps reports of Stephenson’s demise had been greatly exaggerated.

It is easy to see Stephenson get re-signed with a raise and conclude that this new contract is a vote of confidence from the team, but if you dive into the numbers you realize that actually the exact opposite is true.

When a player on an NHL contract gets sent to the AHL, it does not automatically mean his entire salary is suddenly taken off the team’s salary cap. Instead, teams get only a limited amount of relief as dictated by the CBA. The formula to determine cap relief is the league minimum salary plus $375,000. For 2019-20 with a league minimum of $700,000, that means the maximum amount of cap relief a team can get for sending a contract to the AHL is $1.075 million.

If a player has a cap hit over $1.075 million, you subtract $1.075 and whatever remains still count against the cap. If a player has a cap hit less than $1.075 million however, then his entire cap hit does come off the books.

Stephenson’s new deal carries a cap hit of $1.05 million, just $25,000 under that threshold.

Yes, Stephenson got a new deal and a raise, but the fact that the Caps gave him just enough to make sure his full salary could be taken off the books if sent to the AHL is a clear indication of where the team thinks he will be next season. This is an NHL contract in name only.

So why would MacLellan give Stephenson a new contract at all then? To get in front of arbitration.

Both Djoos and Stephenson filed for arbitration this summer as restricted free agents. The way the team positioned itself prior to Djoos’ hearing, it seemed clear they thought they would be able to fit him under the cap. The arbitrator’s award, however, far exceeded what I expected him to get and I would not be surprised if it caught MacLellan off-guard as well.

Djoos had a down year, but he did play in 22 games in the Stanley Cup run in a third-pairing capacity. Stephenson played in all 24 games with two goals and five assists. If the Cup run was what led to the arbitrator giving Djoos such a big raise, it likely would have meant a bigger deal for Stephenson than the team wanted as well. The last thing the Caps could afford to happen is for Stephenson to be awarded a deal for more than $1.075 million which the team would not be able to fully bury in the AHL. That would have been a nightmare scenario.

They got a deal done with Stephenson now because they had to before the decision was taken out of their hands and he was given a contract the team really couldn’t afford. If you want to quibble with MacLellan’s decision making, then perhaps you could question why he gave Stephenson qualifying offer to retain his rights as an RFA? It is important to keep in mind, however, that this is done before the start of free agency so the Caps did not know they were going to be able to sign Hathaway and Leipsic at that point. It makes sense why they would keep Stephenson as a back-up just in case MacLellan was not able to get the players he wanted.

Why would Stephenson sign a deal that seemingly has him pegged for the AHL before even going to arbitration? Because it is still a raise and a one-way contract, plus the arbitrator could always give him less. Like Djoos, Stephenson played a role in the Stanley Cup run. Unlike Djoos, however, his bad season could not be explained away by a significant injury.

Really, coming to an agreement before arbitration was the best-case scenario for both sides. Stephenson got his raise, but it is even more clear the Caps intend to send him to the AHL barring any further offseason moves or a phenomenal performance in training camp.

While the Caps may now sit at over $1.3 million past the cap ceiling, they actually did not add any money to the cap at all because they can bury Stephenson’s entire cap hit by sending him to the AHL.

    •    Regression: Can Carlson replicate last season?
    •    Caps over Cap: Stephenson's deal brings more questions 
    •    Burning questions: What's the PK look like?

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What is Ovechkin watching during coronavirus hiatus? Reveals 'Deal or No Deal' is go-to show

What is Ovechkin watching during coronavirus hiatus? Reveals 'Deal or No Deal' is go-to show

With the spread of the coronavirus, people have been encouraged to stay at home and practice social distancing. For many, that means watching a lot of TV shows and listening to a lot of music.

Thanks to the technology of the modern age, the choices of TV shows to watch and music to listen to are practically endless, but have you ever thought about what you would watch if you could choose only one show or one album of music?

Alex Ovechkin and other NHL players were posed that very question on Thursday in a teleconference. While the other players gave standard answers like "The Morning Show" and "Tiger King," Ovechkin's answers were a bit more...unexpected.

"My TV show is 'Deal or No Deal,'" he said. He had to pause before saying what his music album would be because the other players immediately began laughing at his answer. "And album, I'll probably take Eminem. Any album he have."

Surprised? You weren't the only one.

"I did not see that coming, Ovi," Columbus Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno said, laughing. "I did not see that coming."

Considering how proud Ovechkin is of his Russian heritage and the fact that he has a Russian wife, many probably assumed he would have picked a Russian TV show.

Ovechkin went on to explain, "I'm not a big TV guy as well. I'm just watching that show in the locker room with all the boys. But again, here in this situation, we watching a Russian TV show so it's kind of hard to pronounce the name, but I just picked the TV show what we always watch in the locker room."

So the next time you watch "Deal or No Deal" and are screaming at the contestant to just take the deal and not risk opening another case, know that Ovechkin and the rest of the Caps' locker room are right there with you.

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How to watch Capitals vs. Sabres NHL 20 simulation

How to watch Capitals vs. Sabres NHL 20 simulation

Monday night was supposed to be another night of Capitals action with a game against the Buffalo Sabres. Unfortunately due to the NHL’s hold on the season in response to the coronavirus outbreak, the show can not go on as originally planned. 

However, with some minor adjustments to the presentation, there is still a way to keep things going. 

Monday night at 7 p.m. ET the Capitals will be taking the ice to play the Sabres as planned, only this time it will be virtual ice on an NHL 20 simulation. 

In partnership with Monumental Sports Network, NBC Sports Washington will be airing all Wizards and Capitals games in simulated NBA 2K20 and NHL 2K20 games. The format of these games includes watching the simulated versions of Caps games based on the existing schedule with the bonus of commentary from NBCSW’s experts. 

To make things even more fun, in between the simulation and the re-air of the simulation, there is a chance to relive a classic Caps game. So don’t forget to stick around and re-watch Dowd and the Capitals dominate the Penguins from earlier this season. 

Here's everything you need to know to watch. 

When: Monday, March 30 at 7 p.m. ET


  • NBC Sports Washington (channel finder
  • Any of our 24/7 authenticated streaming platforms
  • Monumental Sports Network via its website or via any of its available apps on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, and Xbox.

Broadcast schedule: 

7:00 PM: NHL 20 Simulation: Capitals @ Buffalo Sabres (P)
8:00 PM: NHL Classics: Capitals @ Pittsburgh Penguins (R) 
10:30 PM: NHL 20 Simulation: Capitals @ Buffalo Sabres (R)

Starting lineups: 

Capitals: TBD
Sabres: TBD

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.