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Why is it important to keep a championship roster intact? Just ask the Penguins

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USA TODAY Sports

Why is it important to keep a championship roster intact? Just ask the Penguins

Much has been made of what the Capitals did this offseason in keeping their championship roster together, but to what end? Does that really put them at an advantage for next season?

You rarely see championship teams able to bring back the number and high-caliber players general manager Brian MacLellan re-signed this offseason because it is hard to do. When a player on the final year of his contract proves to be a key piece in a championship run, their price tag for the next season goes up. With those players plus the high-price superstar players a team needs in order to win, general managers quickly run out of cap space with which to work forcing a team into trades or letting some free agents walk.

Aside from Jay Beagle and Philipp Grubauer, however, Washington will return almost the exact same lineup for next season.

On the one hand, you know this roster is capable of winning because they just did it. On the other hand, it took a lot of money to re-sign players like John Carlson (eight years, $64 million) and Tom Wilson (six years, $31 million).

So what does this mean for the Caps’ hopes of repeating?

Let’s look at the most recent example, the rival Pittsburgh Penguins who won the Cup in both 2016 and 2017.

Following their 2016 championship, Pittsburgh lost defenseman Ben Lovejoy and goalie Jeff Zatkoff and made no additions to their NHL roster.

Lovejoy was the only real major departure. He played in all 24 games of the playoffs on the Cup run averaging 17:46 of ice time per night, fourth highest among the team’s defensemen. Zatkoff may have started two games in the playoffs, but that was because of injuries to both Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray. His leaving did not affect the No. 1 or 2 spot on the team’s depth chart so you could harldy look at that as a major loss.

The result? Despite fears that a lengthy playoff run and the World Cup of Hockey over the summer would tire out the team’s stars, the Penguins went on to win their second Stanley Cup in a row, the first team to repeat as champs since 1997-98.

While Pittsburgh was able to keep the roster together after the first title, things were very different after the second. During the 2017 offseason, the Penguins lost Nick Bonino, Marc-Andre Fleury, Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey and Chris Kunitz from the roster. They added Matt Hunwick, Antti Niemi and Ryan Reaves.

This time, the Penguins saw their run end in the second round at the hands of the Caps, a team they had tormented for years.

There are multiple factors that go into winning a Stanley Cup and I am in no way trying to simplify it and say the only reason Pittsburgh was able to repeat was because they kept their roster together. But keeping their championship roster together absolutely was at least a factor.

That’s also not to say that a team can’t repeat without making changes, but those changes have to be the right changes.

Hunwick played only 42 games for Pittsburgh this past season, Niemi was notably terrible and eventually waived and Daley was traded to Vegas. Those three did not come close to making up for the major pieces the Penguins lost.

Washington does not have to worry about that.

With the only notable departures being Grubauer and Beagle, the only questions the Caps face are backup goaltending and who will take the critical face-offs? Those issues both potentially could loom large, but every team in the NHL enters the season with question marks. If replacing a backup goalie and a fourth-line center are the biggest issues facing a roster we already know is capable of winning a Stanley Cup, then you are in pretty good shape.

Keeping their roster together helped Pittsburgh repeat. The Caps look to be taking a similar tactic to their title defense.

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Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

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 matchup:

Region: Fourth line forwards

Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

 

2018-19 stats

 

Noel Acciari (27 years old):72 games played with the Boston Bruins, 6 goals, 8 assists, 14 points, 12:59 TOI

 

Playoffs: 19 games played with the Boston Bruins, 2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points, 13:10 TOI

 

Marcus Kruger (29 years old): 74 games played with the Chicago Blackhawks, 4 goals, 8 assists, 12 points, 10:25 TOI

 

Playoffs: None

 

Hockey-Graph contract projections

 

Noel Acciari: 2 years, $1,180,934 cap hit

 

Marcus Kruger: 1 year, $861,030 cap hit

 

The case for Noel Acciari

Plays a lot bigger than his 5-foot-10, 205-pound frame. A perfect fit at right wing on the fourth line for Washington. The native New Englander, who played at Providence, is a home-grown Bruin and might not want to leave home, but Boston also might not have the cap space to give an obvious fourth-line player a decent raise. The Capitals might not, either, but for now, they really only have to add in RFA Jakub Vrana’s new contract and figure out what they’re going to do with RFA Andre Burakovsky. 

 

Acciari is renowned for his character and toughness. He was a college captain for Providence and helped the Friars win an NCAA title in 2015. There’s never been a shot he’s unwilling to block. Acciari sustained a broken sternum in the second round against Columbus and a blocked shot with his right foot in Game 7 of the Cup Final left him in a walking boot.  

 

Acciari’s offensive upside is limited, but he did have 10 goals in 2017-18. He was a key player for the Bruins in the past two Stanley Cup playoffs and chipped in two goals in this year’s playoff run that came within a game of a championship. Acciari would help on Washington’s penalty kill, too. In 111:52 he was only on the ice for 11 power-play goals against. Only two Boston forwards were on the ice more short-handed.  

 

The case for Marcus Kruger

 

A different skill set here for the smaller Kruger (6-foot, 186 pounds). Don’t expect even double-digit goals from him, either. But Kruger will likely cost less than $1 million and can be a valuable penalty killer, where Washington needs help. That’s huge for a team that is now dealing with an $81.5 million salary cap, which is $1.5 million less than expected. Add in the overage bonus for defenseman Brooks Orpik from last season and you’re in trouble at just over $80 million.   

 

Kruger played seven seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks and one disappointing one with the Carolina Hurricanes. Kruger has plenty of Stanley Cup experience, too, playing for Chicago’s 2013 and 2015 Cup winners. He has 87 postseason games and a triple-overtime game-winner in the Western Conference Final to his name in 2015 in Game 2 of that series against Anaheim. 

 

A defensive specialist, only two Blackhawks forwards played more short-handed minutes than Kruger (132:46) last season. There is risk here. Kruger was traded to Carolina in 2017-18, but was placed on waivers after 48 games and spent the rest of the season in the AHL before being traded to Arizona and then back to Chicago. But part of that stemmed from how much he was making on a $3.08 million cap hit. At a bargain-basement price, Kruger is more palatable. 

 

Who’s your pick? Vote here.

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Ted Leonsis reflects on Capitals' induction to D.C. Sports Hall of Fame

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NBC Sports Washington

Ted Leonsis reflects on Capitals' induction to D.C. Sports Hall of Fame

Click "play" in the embedded podcast to listen to the Capitals Talk Podcast interview with Ted Leonsis and click here to subscribe to the podcast.

Just as the party seems to be ending, the 2018 Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals are finding new ways to celebrate.

Sunday at Nationals Park, the Caps were honored with the "team of distinction" award in the D.C. sports hall of fame, the first-ever award of its kind.

“I think it just shows how this team connected with the fans and as many people have noted, this is one of the most divided cities in the world," Caps majority owner and president of Monumental Sports, Ted Leonsis said to Rob Carlin on the Capitals Talk podcast. "People can’t agree on anything, but they agreed on how much they loved, and how much fun they had and how proud they were that we won the Stanley Cup."

Founded in 1980, the D.C. sports hall of fame honors athletes, sports journalists and executives each year for excellence in D.C. sports. 2019 was the first time an entire team was formally recognized, fitting for the first-ever Stanley Cup championship in D.C.

"It [the honor] is a good capstone on that run," Leonsis said.

Listen to the full episode linked below.

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