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Why Vitek Vanecek could be the temporary solution to the Caps' salary cap problems

Why Vitek Vanecek could be the temporary solution to the Caps' salary cap problems

The NHL season is slowly drawing nearer and that means the Capitals are going to have to find a solution to their salary cap problem.

Over the summer, general manager Brian MacLellan made tough calls to trade away Matt Niskanen and Andre Burakovsky and also to let Brett Connolly leave in free agency all because the team was hard up against the salary cap. Despite those moves and the retirement of Brooks Orpik, Washington still finds itself a little more than $1.3 million over.

Shedding salary is not a problem. Trying to find a way to shed salary and not weaken the team, however, is more difficult. That is the task before MacLellan as the Caps hope to compete for their second Stanley Cup in three seasons.

MacLellan has done a masterful job of saving money while still upgrading the roster this offseason, but he still has $1.3 million left to cut. He made tough moves on offense and defense. Now, it may be time to cut costs between the pipes. No, I am not talking about Braden Holtby. I am talking about replacing Pheonix Copley with Vitek Vanecek.

Copley won 16 games in 27 games last season. Replacing him with an unproven rookie is a big risk. I thought we were trying to shed salary while not weakening the roster?

Well, let’s consider the alternatives to getting under the cap.

A trade is possible, but unlikely given that every general manager in the league knows the team is over the cap. Opposing general managers are not going to do the Caps any favors so already you have lost some leverage.

Washington currently has 14 forwards on the roster and seven defensemen. That gives the team two extra forwards and one extra defenseman. One other issue is trying to keep one extra at each position. This is necessary in case of injury. The problem that gives you when figuring out the cap is that if you try to trade a player like Christian Djoos, for example, you are not simply taking his full salary off the board. You are taking away his salary and adding whoever replaces him.

The first and most likely step the team can take towards getting under the cap is waiving Chandler Stephenson. The team has one forward they can take out without having to replace him and Stephenson’s cap hit comes just under the maximum amount that can be fully buried in the AHL.

That move would still leave Washington about $314,000 over the cap. Replace Copley with Vanecek, however, and that will be just enough to get Washington under.

Vanecek is a much more developed player than Ilya Samsonov at this point. He was an AHL all-star last season and has shown enough that it may be time for him to get a few looks at the NHL level. I see his ceiling as an NHL backup and he’s not that far off. Even if him playing in Washington means he is not getting as much playing time as perhaps you would like for a young player, I do not think it will hurt his development all that much. He is getting closer and closer to being a finished product. He excelled in Hershey last season, it could be time to try him out behind Holtby.

Also, and perhaps most importantly, he’s cheap.

With a cap hit of $716,667, Vanecek is the cheapest of the team’s goalie options and the only one Washington can put on the roster without having to make other moves to get under the cap.

If the goal is to get under the cap without hurting the team’s overall strength, Vanecek does that. You can still have a cycle on the third defensive pair of Djoos, Jonas Siegenthaler and Radko Gudas. Otherwise tinkering with the defense would mean trading/waiving a player like Djoos and recalling Tyler Lewington as a No. 7. That would not be ideal because then you are essentially locked into your top six on defense without the flexibility having a guy like Djoos as the No. 7 can give you. Djoos can cycle in and out with Siegenthaler, but Lewington would have to have a much more limited role. Anything more than 20 games would be too large a role for him.

Yes, Vanecek is an unknown and Copley won 16 games last season. But even if the team had more cap flexibility, there would still come a point this season where the team would have to put Copley on waivers to get Samsonov to the NHL.

With Holtby on the last year of his contract, the Caps will need to call Samsonov up at some point and get him some NHL playing time. Risking Copley on waivers is a gamble, but it is one Washington would have to take at some point.

Vanecek also has the added bonus of being waiver exempt. When MacLellan determines it is time to bring up Samsonov, there won’t be any further fears of losing a goalie on waivers. Vanecek and Samsonov will be essentially interchangeable once the team banks enough money to afford Samsonov’s cap hit.

Is there a chance the Caps could lose Copley if they put him on waivers? Absolutely. Copley earned 16 wins last season in 27 games and he is signed through the 2021-22 season. That is significant because in the 2020 expansion draft every team will have to expose at least one goalie with term. Copley fills that requirement.

But so does Vanecek.

Washington would risk losing a quality backup in Copley, but they would not have to scramble to find another goalie they can expose to fulfill the expansion requirements.

Handing a player with no NHL experience the backup job is a risk, but considering the alternatives, it may be the safest risk the Caps can take to get under the salary cap. Vanecek may well prove he is up to the task of being an NHL backup and if he’s not, the Caps would only need him for a handful of games anyway.

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Backstrom backs away from previous comment that Ovechkin is always yelling for the puck

Backstrom backs away from previous comment that Ovechkin is always yelling for the puck

With no live sports to watch, people have to find ways to pass the time. A fun way to do it is with NBC Sports Washington's NHL 20 simulations of the Capitals' scheduled games. Some of the players have even gotten involved joining the broadcast or reacting to the game results. So now, we have Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin providing commentary plus actual players reacting to a video game simulation. What a time to be alive.

Nicklas Backstrom was the star of the first game that was broadcast on NBC Sports Washington -- a 5-3 win over the St. Louis Blues on March 24 -- with a hat trick performance. The real Backstrom gave a FaceTime interview afterward and said, "I don't do hat tricks that often, so it was nice to seal it off with a hat trick. You see what happens when you can't hear Ovi scream all the time for the puck."

On Wednesday, Backstrom joined the media for a Zoom video conference and was asked about that very answer. He quickly clarified that it was meant as a joke.

"You know what?" he said. "I felt so awkward doing that interview to be honest. I'm like, I've got to try to make this funny as possible. I don't know how to answer questions about simulation games. That was obviously a joke."

When you think about a real person having to do an interview about their digital player's performance, you can see how things could get awkward pretty quickly. Then again, if Ovechkin were always calling for the puck it would not be that surprising. He is, after all, one of the greatest goal scorers of all time. He could be forgiven for wanting the puck on his stick as often as possible.

Backstrom, however, said of Ovechkin that he doesn't need to call for the puck. Part of what makes him great is his ability to find the best place to be to score at all times.

"I think looking at it, [Ovechkin's] never yelling for the puck," Bacsktrom said. "He's just that good of a goal-scorer and I'm happy to give him the puck every time too. I was just trying to make that funny interview."

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Hath's Heroes is keeping Garnet Hathaway busy during the quarantine

Hath's Heroes is keeping Garnet Hathaway busy during the quarantine

Like the rest of us, Capitals' winger Garnet Hathaway is just trying to stay sane and helping out where he can.

His charity, Hath's Heroes, which provides meals to first responders, is especially important in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Hath's Heroes started working with Capitals' Chef Robert "Robbie" Wood to provide even more meals to first responders, which Wood is matching, plus an additional meal to a high-risk individual in need.

“Chef Robbie has been serving the Caps for a long time and makes unbelievable food, I can attest to it, and they also have a great initiative with Kid Power and DC Central Kitchen," Hathaway said on the Capitals Talk Podcast.

While many are fortunate to be able to work from home or be with family during the pandemic, first responders are out on the front lines.

“It’s the social responsibility of staying safe, keeping your distance and trying to stay healthy and protecting those around you," Hathaway said. "So I feel that’s where we can all feel great about helping somebody, by taking responsibility for your actions and helping out if you can."

CLICK BELOW TO LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW ON THE CAPITALS TALK PODCAST:

Doing one's part is important to flatten the curve and Hathaway says donations of any amount are appreciated.

“For donations, if you can, if you have the opportunity to and you’re capable of, any amount really does make a difference.”

When he's not working with Hath's Heroes, Hathaway has been spending time with his fianceé and dog and trying to learn the Harmonica he got for Christmas. "Silent Night" was the first song he learned to play.

“Months away from the Christmas season, but I think I’ll be ready by then," Hathaway said.

Aside from downtime, Hathaway has taken solace in finding structure in his day.

“I think the biggest thing is trying to find a structure that works, that I can stay physically healthy and mentally healthy." 

“For everyone that’s feeling cooped up in their house, they gotta stay active and they gotta get some fresh air and they gotta stay healthy," Hathaway said.

While everyone has been binge-watching Netflix's hit documentary "Tiger King," Hathaway says he hasn't had the opportunity to watch yet.

“I might be the only person in America not watching Tiger King, but that’s not to say that I won’t get there at some point."

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