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Why Nicklas Backstrom's current offensive slump won't lead to a reunion with Alex Ovechkin...yet

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USA TODAY Sports

Why Nicklas Backstrom's current offensive slump won't lead to a reunion with Alex Ovechkin...yet

There’s no question who the best goal-scorer on the Caps roster is. Even at 32 years old, Alex Ovechkin remains a top-scoring threat in the league. But, if you were to ask who the best all-around offensive player on the team is, you could make a pretty convincing argument for Nicklas Backstrom.

And that’s what makes his current slump so concerning.

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Backstrom is in the midst of the longest slump of his career, seven games without a point. That slump also is affecting T.J. Oshie who plays on Backstrom’s right wing. Oshie has only two points in eight games and has not scored a goal since Oct. 20.

“I realize that I've got to be better and I've got to create more chances, produce and be one of the leading guy on the team,” Backstrom said Thursday after practice. “Just got to find a way.”

But if you ask Barry Trotz, he does not seem all that concerned. Why not? Is he just putting on a good face for the media?

No. Trotz is not concerned because while Backstrom is not lighting it up offensively, he is excelling in the one aspect that has become his top priority: defense.

“Backy has done a really good job,” Trotz said Thursday. “I know there's a lot been said about not scoring or whatever, to me it's about winning and he's had all the tough matchups while still creating good offense, hasn't got the numbers.”

Trotz went on to say that he didn’t judge Backstrom’s game based on goals and assists.

Backstrom is one of the top shut-down centers in the NHL. With less depth defensively this season for the Caps as well as all the injury to Matt Niskanen, defense has become priority No. 1 for Backstrom and in that, he has been exceptional.

Here are just a few examples of the impact Backstrom has had against top offensive players. Against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Backstrom played the most against Zach Hyman, William Nylander and Auston Matthews. Those three contributed only one combined goal and it was an empty-netter. Against the Edmonton Oilers, Backstrom matched up against Patrick Maroon, Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. Those three combined for only three points, as Draisaitl and McDavid assisted on a Maroon goal in the first period. They were held scoreless the rest of the game. Against the New York Islanders, Josh Bailey, John Tavares and Anders Lee combined for seven points, but only three of those points came at even strength.

With defense being a primary focus for Backstrom, one of the reasons his offensive production is down is because of the way he is being utilized. Currently, Backstrom is on pace for the lowest percentage of offensive zone faceoffs of his career with 44.26-percent.

Trotz was asked about the number of defensive zone draws for Backstrom and he said, “People try to avoid certain matchups so sometimes you start him there just to keep the other group off. That's the cat and mouse game that you have to play.”

But as good as Backstrom is defensively, he is still an important piece of the offense. Whether the Caps can be successful without him producing consistently is a fair question to ask.

In Backstrom’s mind, shutting down a team’s top playmakers isn’t good enough. He has to outscore them to truly be effective.

He said of playing against a team’s top line, “That's priority No. 1, but if it's 0-0 we're still kind of mad as a line. We want to win that match. It would be nice if we could score against them.”

That begs the question of whether we will soon see Backstrom reunited with Ovechkin. The two have always been a dominant pair in the past, but Trotz is reluctant to make that change. Given the different roles of both players this season, it would be hard to put them back on the same line.

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When asked about it, Trotz admitted that he had thought about making the move, but said the team was “Just not ready for it. I think you've got to trust the process.”And when that process involves Backstrom, you can bet Trotz will have plenty of patience.

“I don't have to tell you what I think of Nicklas Backstrom, one of the best two-way centermen in the National Hockey League and he should be a Selke candidate every year and I've said that. Right now, he's had tough matchups. … Trust me, if there's one player I don't have to worry a whole heck of a lot about, it's Nick Backstrom.”

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Brooks Orpik's time in Washington may not be over after all

Brooks Orpik's time in Washington may not be over after all

Friday's trade with the Colorado Avalanche seemed to mark the end of Brooks Orpik's time with the Washington Capitals. But that may not actually be the case.

Trading away Orpik also meant trading away his $5.5 million cap hit. That is not an insignificant amount of money especially for a team trying to re-sign defenseman John Carlson to a big-money contract.

But Orpik will not be playing out the final year of his contract in Colorado. The Avalanche placed Orpik on unconditional waivers Saturday for the purpose of a buyout, according to Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.

CapFriendly has the details of the buyout. The Avalanche will pay Orpik $3 million and take a cap hit of $2.5 million in the 2018-19 season and $1.5 million in the 2019-20 season.

So why would Colorado agree to take Orpik just to buy him out and take on dead cap space? Because by acquiring him, it lowered the cost of the Grubauer trade.

What this means for Brooks Orpik is that he will become a free agent, free to sign with anyone for the upcoming season. Including Washington.

For a 37-year-old defenseman who does not boast great mobility or speed, a $5.5 million cap hit was a bit too steep for the Caps who were very close to the cap ceiling last season and who need that extra money to re-sign their free agents. But the team did value Orpik's leadership and that could be especially important as young defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos continue developing plus prospects Jonas Siegenthaler, Lucas Johansen and Connor Hobbs all try to work themselves into contention for a spot on the NHL roster.

If Orpik does return, it will be a masterstroke for general manager Brian MacLellan. MacLellan freed up a lot of cap space to re-sign Carlson without having to buy out Orpik's contract, but could still possibly keep him on the roster at a much-reduced cost.

After a strong playoff performance, there may be other teams vying for Orpik's services next season. Getting traded to get bought out likely isn't a good feeling, but considering he just won a Stanley Cup in Washington, the defensive guru Todd Reirden is expected to be promoted to head coach and that re-signing with the Caps would mean not moving his family for what could very possibly and will very likely be the last contract of his NHL career, there are a lot of reasons why it would make sense for both the team and the player if Orpik stayed with the Caps.

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2018 NHL Draft: Caps add 7 prospects, 4 from WHL

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2018 NHL Draft: Caps add 7 prospects, 4 from WHL

The Caps made seven selections in the 2018 Draft this weekend. The group featured three defensemen, three forwards and a goalie. Interestingly, a couple of the picks have fathers who enjoyed lengthy NHL careers.

Meet the newest prospects:

1st round, 31st overall: D Alexander Alexeyev, WHL, 6'4", 196 pounds

The Caps' first first-round pick sine 2016, Alexeyev is a smart two-way defenseman with good size.

Read more on him here.

2nd round, 46th overall (from Florida, via New Jersey): D Martin Fehervary, Allsvenskan (Sweden), 6'2", 194 pounds

A physical style defenseman who is very strong in his own end, but does not have much offensive upside. Sort of a throwback style of play which makes him a surprise pick this high.


2nd round, 47th overall (From Colorado): F Kody Clark, OHL, 6'1", 179 pounds

Kody Clark boasts an NHL pedigree as the son of Wendel Clark, a first-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs who recorded 330 goals and 564 career points in 763 NHL games.


3rd round, 93rd overall: F Riley Sutter, WHL, 6'3", 203 pounds

Riley Sutter also boasts a strong NHL pedigree as the son of Run Sutter and nephew of Darryl Sutter.

Riley is a power forward who played alongside Caps prospect Garrett Pilon on the Everett Silvertips in the WHL and recorded 53 points in 68 games last season.


4th round, 124th overall: G Mitchell Gibson, NAHL, 6'1", 187 pounds

A Harvard commit, Gibson posted a 1.59 GAA and .935 save percentage in the NAHL last season.


6th round, 161st overall (from Vancouver): D Alex Kannok-Leipert, WHL, 5'11", 194 pounds

The Caps certainly saw something they liked in Kannok-Leipert as they traded up from 186 to get him. That pick, along with a sixth-round pick in 2019, went to Vancouver.


7th round, 217th overall: F Eric Florchuk, WHL, 6'2", 174 pounds

Florchuk was taken with the last pick of the draft.

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