Capitals

Matt Harrison, Rangers finalize $55M, 5-year deal

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Matt Harrison, Rangers finalize $55M, 5-year deal

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Matt Harrison has gone from a pitcher the Texas Rangers left off their postseason roster to one they believe can become one of the league's best left-handers.

The Rangers finalized a $55 million, five-year contract with the All-Star lefty Thursday. The deal includes a 2018 club option that could become guaranteed depending on the number of innings Harrison pitches.

``This is a testament to all the hard work he puts in,'' said Thad Levine, the team's assistant general manager. ``The talent shows up every time he pitches. ... The more we've gotten to know Matt Harrison, the more we believe in Matt Harrison. And we believe the best is yet to come.''

Hours later, the Rangers agreed with right-hander Neftali Feliz on a $2.9 million, one-year contract to avoid salary arbitration.

Harrison was 18-11 with a 3.29 ERA and four complete games in 32 starts last year, and his 3.10 ERA in 18 road starts was the lowest in the American League. Over the past two seasons, since being left off the Rangers' postseason roster in 2010, he is 32-20 while throwing 399 innings.

Texas acquired Harrison, Feliz and shortstop Elvis Andrus from Atlanta in July 2007 in a seven-player deal that sent Mark Teixeira to the Braves.

The 27-year-old Harrison made his major league debut in July 2008, going 9-3 in 15 starts after being called up. After starting the 2009 season in the rotation, he started having issues with his left shoulder that eventually required season-ending surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome to remove a rib to alleviate the situation.

``I was definitely on the other end of the spectrum than I am now. Things weren't really going my way and I had a lot of hit-and-miss starts,'' Harrison said. ``The biggest thing that led up to where I am today is just figuring out that mental toughness and the mental part of the game. The talent was there, it was just figuring out how to use it and use it the right way.''

The real turning point for Harrison was the 2010 postseason. After being used primarily as a reliever throughout the regular season while coming back from surgery, he was left off the roster in the playoffs. He traveled with the team throughout the postseason, but was never active while the Rangers went to their first World Series.

``That moment of being left off the roster was a tough, tough month for me, a tough offseason,'' he said. ``I finally grew up as a person and a man. Mentally things started turning around for me, I started having more confidence in myself, success coming around. I started seeing another level come out of me. Hopefully, I can continue to go from that and get better.''

Harrison has a career record of 48-30 with a 4.08 ERA in 126 games over the past five years, all with Texas.

His deal calls for a $1 million signing bonus and salaries of $5 million this year, $8 million in 2014 and $13 million in each of the following three seasons. The agreement includes a $13.25 million team option for 2018 with a $2 million buyout, and the option would become guaranteed if Harrison has 600 innings pitched or more from 2015-17, including at least 200 in 2017. The option price would increase by $250,000 each time he reaches 200 innings in the first five years, up to $15.75 million. That would increase the value of the deal to $68.75 million over six seasons.

Harrison's agreement, negotiated by agents Sam and Seth Levinson, got finalized two days after he had filed for salary arbitration, and also after he turned down an opportunity to pitch for the United States in the World Baseball Classic.

Feliz, the 24-year-old former closer who was moved to the rotation last spring, is recovering from Tommy John surgery to repair a tear in his right elbow and likely will be sidelined until at least this summer. He was 3-1 with a 3.16 ERA in eight games last season, including seven starts, before going on the disabled list in May.

David Murphy, expected to be the everyday left fielder, also filed for salary arbitration this week. General manager Jon Daniels said the Rangers felt they were close enough to think a deal would be reached, even if not completed, before they are required to exchange proposed salaries Friday.

With Harrison under contract, the Rangers have three of their starting pitchers signed for at least four more seasons with another under control for at least that long.

Japanese ace Yu Darvish last year signed a $56 million, six-year deal with the Rangers and then won 16 games as a major league rookie. There are provisions in his contract that could allow the 26-year-old righty to become a free agent after the 2016 season.

Texas has 26-year-old left-hander Derek Holland under contract through at least 2016, with club options for two more years after that. Holland is planning to pitch in the WBC this spring.

Alexi Ogando, who won 13 games as a starter and was an All-Star in 2011, is returning to the rotation this spring. The 29-year-old is under Rangers control for at least four more seasons, including his arbitration-eligible years.

``Those are four solid pitchers who are in their prime who will be part of the Texas Rangers family for the foreseeable future,'' Levine said. ``We'll take our chances if we're going to build around that core of men that we'll be able to compete for championships in the American League for this time and in the future.''

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Wilson's return sparks Capitals to a 5-2 win at Minnesota

Wilson's return sparks Capitals to a 5-2 win at Minnesota

Tom Wilson stayed on brand in his return from a long suspension.

The Capitals’ big man scored a goal and took a penalty on the same play in his first game of the season, a 5-2 win against the Minnesota Wild Tuesday night. 

Wilson won’t get the 16 games back he missed for an illegal check to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. But he tried to make up for it in his debut. 

Wilson scored Washington’s second goal at 19:32 of the first period when he drove the net hard and deflected a pass from teammate Dmitry Orlov past Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk. But this being Wilson, nothing is totally uncontroversial.  

The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder was moving fast. There was no stopping him. Wilson, with some help from Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, collided with Dubnyk. The puck was already in the net, but the referee decided Wilson needed to go think about what he’d done after Dubnyk got clocked in the head. It was a two-minute goalie interference call. 

That’s an odd play rarely called. Either the goal counts or it doesn’t, but maybe because Wilson had already scored before running into Dubnyk both calls could stand. 

“It was a first for me to score and get a penalty on the same play,” Wilson told reporters in St. Paul. “I was just going hard to the net and Snarls [Orlov] put it right on my tape. It was a great pass at full speed. I was trying to do everything I could to get out of the way. I’ll take the goal and the kill went out there and got it done. It was good to see.”

It was far from Wilson’s only contribution in his first game back. He also fought Marcus Foligno at 11:58 of the second period on the faceoff after Minnesota cut a Washington lead to 3-1. He didn’t back down when asked to go by Foligno. 

“He’s a key player for our team, brings so much energy both on the ice and off the ice,” forward Andre Burakovsky said. “Huge lift for the team to get him back earlier. Didn’t expect that and I think he had a really strong game today. Obviously, he got the goal in his first game back and then some dirty works. Obviously, I think he’s a huge guy for us in PK and it showed today.”

Wilson didn’t get the assist on the goal that put the game away. Alex Ovechkin found Orlov for a one-timer on a pass from the left faceoff circle to the right. But it was Wilson driving hard toward the goal that kept a Wild defenseman with him and allowed Orlov the space to finish Ovechkin’s pass. Those little things have been missed in the 16 games Wilson was suspended. He was relentless. 

One big issue for the Capitals: The penalty kill. Wilson has been a big part of that group in recent years and without him – and, to be fair the departed Jay Beagle and the injured Brooks Orpik – Washington entered the game 29thin the NHL in penalty kill percentage (71.7 percent). Wilson wasn’t eased into anything. He played 5:23 on the penalty kill and the Capitals killed five of six Wild power plays. 

[Wilson] does a lot not just on the ice, but in our room. Adds a ton of energy. Well respected player for how he trains,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden. “Going through a tough time and obviously kind of a surprise for us to get him back today. We were hoping to at any point here and we were able to take advantage of a fortunate bounce for our team before even the game started. But I didn’t expect him to have as strong a game as he did." 

"Obviously able to convert on a great play on a line rush, but just the other things he did. Our penalty kill, the opposition scores a goal and, you talk about shifts after goals, not giving the team any more momentum than they’ve already gotten and he gets in a fight there. There’s a lot to like about Tom Wilson and I thought he had a strong game. It was great to have him back.”

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4 reasons the Caps beat the Wild

4 reasons the Caps beat the Wild

Think the Caps missed Tom Wilson? It sure looked like it.

Washington looked like a completely different team with Wilson back in the lineup Tuesday in a dominant 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild.

Here are four reasons the Caps won:

Tom Wilson

Wilson made his season debut Tuesday after his suspension was reduced by a neutral arbitrator earlier in the day. Wilson’s addition to the lineup had two effects. One, it made the lineup a lot deeper. Without Wilson, Todd Reirden was having trouble putting together the right lineup. Several players cycled on the top line and every line behind the top had to shuffle. Wilson came back onto the top line and immediately the rest of the lineup fell into place.

The top line looked better, the second line looked better and the third line looked better with their regular lineups back intact.

Wilson’s return also brought a lot of energy to the team and that was evident from the very start of the game. The Caps outshot Minnesota 12-6 and took the 2-0 lead in the first period of the game. Compare that to the rather lethargic game we saw on Sunday, clearly, Wilson brought a spark.

Oh, yeah, Wilson has also had a pretty darn good game too. He scored in the first period of the game in a typical Wilson play. He completely blew past Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter and tipped in a pass from Dmitry Orlov as he crashed the net on goalie Devan Dubnyk.

Somehow Wilson was also given a goalie interference penalty… but the goal still counted? Regardless of what was an obvious reputation penalty, it was a good return for Wilson, who also had a fight with Marcus Foligno and helped set up Orlov’s second goal by crashing again and drawing the defense over to him.

Dmitry Orlov

Orlov broke a 19-game goal drought with a goal just 7:23 into the game.

Lars Eller had the puck and cut to the blue line in the offensive zone turning to the middle. Minnesota got caught puck watching as the defense shifted with Eller, leaving Orlov open on the left. Eller found him and Orlov took advantage of the extra space to score his first goal of the season.

Orlov would add an assist on Wilson’s goal and a second goal in the third period off a beautiful pass from Alex Ovechkin.

The typically reliable defensive pairing of Orlov and Matt Niskanen struggled at the start of the season prompting Todd Reirden to switch up the pairs and place Orlov with John Carlson. Clearly, the move had the desired effect in Tuesday’s game.

The schedule

Tuesday’s game was the Wild’s first at home since Oct. 27. Minnesota was coming off a seven-game road swing and they looked a bit weary at the start of the game. As mentioned above, the Wild were outshot 12-6 in the first period and then 15-8 in the second.

Really, this game was a perfect storm. Not only were the Wild tired from a lengthy road trip, but they also were dealing with a Caps team that was pumped up by the return of Wilson.

Part of what made Sunday’s loss to Arizona so disappointing was the fact that the Coyotes were on the second leg of a back-to-back with their starting goalie on IR. The Caps were not able to take advantage, but they certainly took it to a vulnerable, road-weary team on Tuesday.

The penalty kill

Washington’s porous penalty kill was the reason the Caps lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets Friday and a major reason they fell to Arizona. The PK finally stood tall on Tuesday as the Caps were able to kill off four out of five penalties on the night. The lone power play goal the team gave up came in the third period when the Caps were already up 5-1 and the game was no longer in doubt.

You can add the penalty kill to the long list of things that Wilson instantly improved in his return. Wilson logged 16:47 of total ice time on Tuesday and 5:23 of that came on the penalty kill.

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