Christian Djoos

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Projecting the Caps opening night roster after the first day of training camp

Projecting the Caps opening night roster after the first day of training camp

Training camp for the 2019-20 season has officially opened for the Capitals who first took to the ice on Friday.

There has been a lot of talk through the offseason and a lot of people working the “Armchair GM” tool on CapFriendly trying to figure out what the roster will look like. After hearing Todd Reirden and Brian MacLellan speak, plus seeing the team take the ice on Friday, we have at least a rough idea of what the team may be thinking in terms of lines. The news of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s suspension, plus the fact that his cap hit will not count during his suspension, also dramatically changes the roster plans for the start of the season.

There is still an entire preseason to play and a lot of questions that need to be answered, but here is an early projection for the opening night roster for the Caps based on the first few days of training camp.

Offense

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson Jakub Vrana - Lars Eller - T.J. Oshie Carl Hagelin - Travis Boyd - Richard Panik Breandan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway Chandler Stephenson

Suspended: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Kuznetsov’s suspension frees up a significant chunk of cap space for opening night. That creates a lot of possibilities for some players who otherwise would not have made the team to stick around through the first week of the season. If there is a prospect who impresses throughout the preseason, however, this can change. A solid performance for Connor McMichael, for example, and perhaps it is not farfetched to think he could play a few games before getting sent back to juniors. As a junior player, he could play up to nine NHL games in a season without burning a year of his entry-level contract.

For now, I am going pretty vanilla with my projection and including Boyd and Stephenson

Training camp lines should always be taken with a grain of salt, but this is how the top nine has looked on the wings. At center, Kuznetsov has been skating on the second line with Vrana and Oshie with Eller on the third with Hagelin and Panik. No doubt Eller will move up to the second line in Kuznetsov’s absence.

As for the fourth line, there were two different lines skating with the likely candidates. Leipsic and Boyd were with Brett Leason -- which I would not read into, I don’t think there is any chance Leason is a serious candidate to make the team this year -- while Dowd and Hathaway were with Stephenson.

Both Stephenson and Boyd enter camp with something to prove. Frankly, if the team had faith in them to play a fourth line and penalty kill role, they would not have gone out and signed Leipsic and Hathaway.

"It's a competition,” Reirden said Thursday of Stephenson and Boyd. “They know it's a competition. They're well-informed. It's a very clear message. No one in situations where there's competition are wondering what's going on.”

The Kuznetsov suspension puts Boyd on the third line for now and gives Stephenson a second chance to prove he belongs to stay. I see Boyd primarily being an extra this season and Stephenson most likely headed to Hershey once Kuznetsov returns.

Defense

Michal Kempny - John Carlson Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen Jonas Siegenthaler - Radko Gudas Christian Djoos

It seems doubtful that Kempny will play in the preseason, but the goal is for him to be ready for the start of the season. He has yet to skate with the team in practice, but he seems far enough along that he looks to be on pace for Oct. 2.

The Caps will eventually need to make a tough decision somewhere to shed salary and I believe that will mean moving Christian Djoos. If a team suffers an injury in training camp and wants to make a deal, I could see that happening. For now, like with many of the forwards, Kuznetsov’s suspension means the Caps have an extra week to make that decision. For now, I will keep him in the lineup, but I would not be surprised if he is playing for a different team by the start of the season.

The team is excited about prospects Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary. Alexeyev, however, is dealing with an upper-body injury and there is no timetable for when he may return to the ice. Fehervary, meanwhile, has received nothing by rave reviews. Like with the forwards, the Kuznetsov suspension could open the door for a player like Fehervary to get a game or two.

Goalies

Braden Holtby Pheonix Copley

I’m not ready to predict this yet, but with Kuznetsov’s salary off the books for the first week of the season do the Caps consider keeping Samsonov and starting him against the New York Islanders in the second game of the season?

The Caps face a back-to-back with the Islanders and the Carolina Hurricanes. I assume Holtby gets Carolina since it is the home opener, but what about the Islanders? Washington has to get their young goalies starts this season and Kuznetsov’s suspension gives them the ability to do so without putting Copley on waivers.

But is it too early? It’s worth watching to see how Samsonov and Vanecek play in the preseason to see if either may be ready for a quick start at the start of the season.

“We’re not going to force it,” MacLellan said. “Based on performance, we’ll evaluate it. … I’ll go with Scott Murray and we’ll see how they do in camp. We like all four of our goalies. We have four good goalies, we feel. We have a lot of depth. Vanecek played well – he was an all-star at the AHL level last year, and I’d like to see him get games. I’d like to see Samsonov get games. Copley has continued to improve, so it’s going to be a competitive situation.”

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If the Capitals make a trade to get under the cap, who will go?

If the Capitals make a trade to get under the cap, who will go?

The Capitals are more than $1.3 million over the salary cap and will have to find a way to shed salary before the start of the season. There are a few options for how they can do this including a trade and that sounds like it is exactly what general manager Brian MacLellan is considering.

"I think we'll probably have to move someone," MacLellan told NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti. "Injuries and all the stuff that happens in training camp and exhibition season probably dictates it a little bit, but we're going to be patient. We're not in a rush. We'll wait and let it play itself out."

Given what MacLellan said, a move is not likely before camp, but only before the season starts if there are no injuries and it is clear a move is absolutely necessary.

If and when it reaches that point, who could end up on the trading block?

It is important to remember first and foremost why the team is making a trade and what the goal is for this season. The Caps are trying to win a Stanley Cup and that makes trading players a risky proposition. Washington needs to dump salary, but needs to do so without hurting its chances to win. That limits the pieces they would be willing to trade.

To answer who MacLellan may be willing to trade, we first have to determine who he won’t. Anyone in the top-six on offense and top-four on defense will almost certainly be off-limits. Yes, including Dmitry Orlov. I bring him up because I know if I didn’t I would hear from plenty of commenters saying trading him is the obvious solution. It’s not.

Trading away a top-four defenseman, which Orlov absolutely is, and expecting no drop off from the defense is not realistic. “But wait,” I can already hear you asking, “Didn’t the Caps already trade Matt Niskanen?” Trading away Niskanen was only possible because the team had a replacement for him in Nick Jensen. Plus, analytically speaking, Radko Gudas may prove to be the better player at this point in their respective careers.

Washington has no clear replacement for Orlov. Sure, Jonas Siegenthaler looked good in limited playoff time last season. That is not enough time to determine he is ready for a top-four role. Christian Djoos played in 22 games in the team’s Cup run and yet half the Caps fans out there are ready to run him out of town. It’s too soon to promote Siegenthaler and you cannot step into a potential Cup run season with both players on the second defensive pair being question marks.

Braden Holtby is also not a viable trade option. A team with Cup aspirations cannot trade its starting goalie in favor of a prospect with zero NHL experience.

Considering how important the team feels center depth is, it should also be safe to take Lars Eller and Nic Dowd out of consideration. Richard Panik, Carl Hagelin and Garnet Hathaway were important enough that MacLellan gave them all four-year contracts in the offseason. When you take away those possibilities, it leaves the team with only a handful of candidates.

Chandler Stephenson

There has been a lot of speculation over Stephenson's status after MacLellan signed several fourth-line players hoping to improve the team in areas that are supposed to be Stephenson’s strengths. Plus, Stephenson’s new contract comes in just below the maximum that can be buried in the AHL.

The only problem with a Stephenson trade is there would not likely be much value in it for opposing GMs. If the Caps do not make a trade this offseason, Stephenson would very likely start the season in Hershey. If there is any interest in him, most general managers will do the math and know that they probably could just wait until Washington has to place him on waivers and claim him then for free.

Stephenson would make sense from the Caps’ standpoint, but it is unlikely anyone would trade for him knowing the Caps’ cap situation.

How realistic is a trade? Definite possibility, but not likely

Travis Boyd

Boyd could have value as a potential third-line player and it would make sense for the Caps as he does not seem to immediately fit into their plans. With a likely third line of Hagelin, Eller, Panik and the fourth line of Brendan Leipsic, Dowd, Hathaway, Boyd may end up being a healthy scratch for much of the season.

The drawback to this is that Boyd’s cap hit of $800,000 and a trade would not provide as much relief as it would with some of the other candidates.

How realistic is a trade? Definite possibility

Brendan Leipsic

The Caps just signed Leipsic in the offseason for a modest cap hit of only $700,000. There is no trade value, it would not provide much relief and it would be a bad look to trade away a player right after signing him.

How realistic is a trade? Not happening

Radko Gudas

Niskanen was an obvious trade candidate because the team had Jensen as a replacement in the top four. Washington could have dumped Niskanen for draft picks or prospects, but instead specifically targeted Gudas. MacLellan even got Philadelphia to retain some of his salary. The team is not going to target Gudas for a third-line role just to trade him away before he ever puts on a Caps jersey.

How realistic is a trade? Unlikely

Christian Djoos

Djoos played a role in the Caps’ championship run on the third defensive pair. A significant injury contributed to a down year last season and now it is unclear exactly what they have. Do they have 2017-18 Djoos or 2018-19 Djoos?

Djoos’ down year lowers his value, but the potential there adds to the potential interest he may draw. His cap hit is $1.25 million which some teams may find steep, but he is only signed for one year. Plus, with players like Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary developing, there is a logjam of left-shot defensemen in the organization.

How realistic is a trade? Definite possibility

Jonas Siegenthaler

Siegenthaler is an up-and-coming defenseman who has size and mobility. He played well in the playoffs and there is a definite feeling that he is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential. He is also cheap with a cap hit of less than $715,000. That’s not an asset you trade away.

How realistic is a trade? Not happening

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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: In defense of Washington fans

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: In defense of Washington fans

It’s time for a new Capitals Mailbag! You can read Wednesday’s Part 1 here.

Check out Part 2 below.

Have a Caps question you want to be answered in the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Nathan S. writes: Lots of recent debate among DC sports media and fans about how Nats fans just aren't as passionate as in many other cities and that DC fans in general aren't great sports fans. The Caps fans seem an obvious exception to that although the atmosphere was often tense in playoffs before team beat the Penguins in the 2018 playoffs. In your view, how does Capital One Arena compare to other cities in the regular season on average? In playoffs, the place can get both raucous and tense although Canes fans were definitely louder in 2019 playoffs.

The attack on D.C. sports fans is a topic I could write about endlessly for hours. I do not know why Washington as a city seems to get singled out, but it is completely ridiculous. First, the Nationals rank 16th in MLB attendance above teams like Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. I do not know why a team should be bashed for having average attendance, especially for a team that only returned to D.C. in 2005 and does not have the same history as a team like the Yankees or Dodgers.

The reason why baseball is experimenting with clocks and robot umpires is that interest in the entire sport of baseball is down, not because of a random Nationals game. That is totally overblown.

The city of Washington is a transient city. There are a lot of people here from a lot of other places who come here to live and it is also an easy place to get to, traffic aside. The result is that more traveling fans end up going to games meaning a lot of Cowboy fans, Phillies fans and Penguins fans. That is a reflection of the city’s population and geography, not its fan bases.

You ever try to get to Pittsburgh? It’s not easy. It’s no wonder why they have such a great home crowd.

I do not know why in the national scene, Cleveland cornered the market on lowly sports teams for so long. From 2005 to 2018, the Cleveland Cavaliers made it to the NBA Finals five times and won once. When the Capitals won the Stanley Cup in 2018, they did not just snap a championship drought from 1998. The fact is that no Washington team from the four major sports even made it to a conference or league final since 1998. Everyone looks at Cleveland fans and says good for you then they trash Washington for being a garbage sports city.

At some point, teams have to justify their fan’s faith in them. Blind faith is not the sign of a good fanbase, it is a sign of stupidity.

Sorry for the tangent there, but I find this whole topic ridiculous. No one could say Philadelphia’s fans are not passionate, but I would rather have Washington sports fans and not have to worry about someone intentionally throwing up on a child because they cheered for the wrong team when I go to games.

For Caps fans specifically, the only legitimate criticism comes from how the crowd reacts in the playoffs. After years of playoff disappointments, a sense of trepidation began to hit in the postseason. Whenever something went wrong, fans would quickly become deflated. The arena would always be packed, loud and raucous at the start, but the moment something went wrong it would take the wind out of the Caps faithful. Excitement turned to panic, which turned to cynicism. When Washington finally got past the Penguins in 2018, people could sense the tide was turning and the crowd responded. Those crowds for the conference final and Stanley Cup Final were great and they were loud. That sense of trepidation was gone, even in moments like Game 6 against Tampa Bay when the Caps had lost three straight and were facing elimination. The crowd was with them then and it was with them last year even when locked in a tighter than expected series with the Carolina Hurricanes. I wonder if the honeymoon period from the Stanley Cup will fade this year in the postseason, but we will have to wait and see.

But in terms of support, besides the postseason panic, the Caps have a great fanbase overall and this is evident on the road as well as at home. I went to a game in Pittsburgh in 2009 and if I had to estimate the number of Caps fans there I would put it somewhere in the hundreds. This changed drastically in the last few years, even before Washington won the Cup. I went to a game in San Jose in 2017 and I would estimate about 15 to 20-percent of the crowd was wearing red.

Washington fans are great, they just get a bad rap for whatever reason.

Roger B. writes: I don’t understand the Caps’ fascination with Christian Djoos. At 5’11 and 170, his lack of size and strength compromise the Caps’ ability to win puck battles and clear the crease. Unlike other younger blueliners in the organization, he doesn’t project to being a top 4. Why not trade him to get under the cap and keep Pheonix Copley as insurance for Braden Holtby in 2019?

I’m not sure “fascination” is the best way to put it. He is coming into this season likely competing with Jonas Siegenthaler for the last spot in the lineup and I doubt he will play 82 games this season. I do not think that qualifies as “fascination.”

The Caps played 24 playoff games in 2018 on their way to the Cup. Djoos played in 22 of those games. The two he did not play were losses to Columbus.

Djoos’ size will never not be a factor and he clearly handled it better in 2017-18 than he did in 2018-19. There is no denying he got pushed around more so last season, but he also had a serious injury and I do not think he was totally 100-percent when he returned.

Djoos has had one good season and one bad season. I think wanting to see which defenseman is closer to the truth is entirely reasonable, it just stings a bit because I think the arbitrator’s award of $1.25 million caught everyone off-guard.

Having said that, it is fair to point out that the Caps have a boatload of left-shot defensemen both on the roster and among their prospects. The reason why you do not trade Djoos now, however, is because you would not get anything back for him. At all.

Djoos is coming off a bad year, he has only two years of NHL experience so you are not sure which player he really is, he is undersized and every general manager in the league knows Washington needs to shed salary. The Caps would be getting no value in a trade whatsoever.

If the roster is better of with Djoos on it in a No. 6/7 role and he has no trade value then there is no point in trading him. If the team can make the salary cap work they are better off with Djoos as a No. 7 than Tyler Lewington.

Greg C. writes: What goes into a team's cap total besides salaries? I ask because, according to Cap Friendly (as of 8/13), the Caps' combined salaries (not including Jonas Siegenthaler's) for 19-20 total $81,000,128, but their cap hit is $82,864,294. What makes up the difference?

Not sure why you would not include Siegenthaler’s. The Caps will certainly want to carry seven defensemen into the season and Siegenthaler will almost certainly be one of those seven.

If you add Siegenthaler’s salary, you get $81,714,294. Then you have to add $1.15 million for a carryover bonus overage penalty from last season.

Performance bonuses do not count against the salary cap until they are earned. When bonuses are earned, the team still needs to fit within the salary cap. If it does not, then the bonus overage slides to the next season and count as dead space.

Bonuses put Washington over the cap last season and the remaining $1.15 million carries over to 2019-20. Add that into the team salaries and that is why the Caps are at $82,864,294.

I honestly have no idea how to answer this question, I just included it because of the response from Bottoms Up.

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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