Daniel Winnik

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Daniel Winnik faces another offseason of uncertainty

Daniel Winnik faces another offseason of uncertainty

The Capitals’ Game 7 loss did not just end the season, it may have also ended Daniel Winnik’s time in Washington. Winnik is among the pending free agents coming off the books for the Capitals this offseason.

Winnik became a Capital in 2016 as part of a trade deadline deal and cemented a spot on the fourth line. In his first full season with Washington, he had 25 points and set a career-high in goals with 12.

RELATED: Shattenkirk unsure about future with Caps

While he did mention that he would like to return to the Caps, the possibility of playing for another team is not an unfamiliar situation for Winnik who has played on seven different teams already in his career. After a solid season numbers wise, he is confident he has earned himself a new deal.

“I think I've been pretty steady my whole career numbers wise,” Winnik said. “I think I've kind of maintained the same area and obviously this year set a career high for goals. I don't know if that'll come to account come free agency time if I get there, but I hope it does.”

Despite how many different teams he has played on in the past, however, that doesn’t mean Winnik, who is now 32 years old, is looking forward to the process.

“It sucks. There's a lot of guys in the league that are in the same boat. I'm older now, but I don't think my game's declined at all so hopefully that helps me come free agency if I get there.”

But will it come to free agency for Winnik?

One of Washington’s biggest weaknesses in the playoffs was its scoring depth. Alex Ovechkin was the only player from the third or fourth line to score against Pittsburgh and, come on, he doesn’t count. A dependable fourth-line veteran like Winnik, who also said he would like to return to the Caps next season, is an underrated piece that Washington does not have enough of.

But the team’s salary cap situation will likely leave them with no choice but to let Winnik walk. With Evgeny Kuznetsov, Anre Burakovsky, Dmitry Orlov, Philipp Grubauer and possibly T.J. Oshie all in need of new contracts, they may not have the money for a 32-year-old fourth liner who has yet to score a single goal in the playoffs in his career.

Said Winnik, “They've got bigger questions than myself going into this offseason.”

MORE CAPITALS: Kuznetsov not overly concerned with new contract

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Daniel Winnik comes up huge on a night when the Caps needed a hero

Daniel Winnik comes up huge on a night when the Caps needed a hero

Daniel Winnik scored twice Saturday night, including the game-winner late in the third period, to propel the Caps to a 4-1 win over Coyotes.

As important as the goals were for his team’s Presidents' Trophy hopes, they were just as important for him personally. The two tallies helped him tie his career-high for goals (11).

And he's now got eight games left to establish a new career high.

“It means a lot,” Winnik said. “I hope to surpass that. I hope I do get past that. It’s something I’ve tried to do for years. I don’t think that I can stress enough that I pray it happens.”

Winnik scored 11 goals in 2007-08 as a member of the Coyotes and did it again in 2010-11 for Colorado.

RELATED: Trotz recognizes ‘greatness’ of Ovechkin's accomplishments

This season, he’s scored against three of six former clubs—Arizona, Anaheim and San Jose. And on the upcoming road trip, the Caps will make stops in Denver and Arizona.  

“If I scored against all my other former teams, I’d have more goals,” Winnik cracked. “I play a couple of them here down the stretch so hopefully that’s the case.”

Winnik’s performance Saturday was absolutely clutch on a night when the Caps desperately needed someone to step up.

After Arizona tied the game 1-1 with 7:31 left to play, the Coyotes were almost immediately awarded a power play just as the game’s momentum swung sharply toward the visitors.

Winnik, however, helped snuff out that man advantage.

Then he made the biggest play of the game. On the rush, defenseman Dmitry Orlov flicked a pass to the 32-year-old winger, who raced to the net and fired a shot over Mike Smith’s glove.

And like that, the Caps were back on top, 2-1.

But Winnik wasn’t done. After Justin Williams made it 3-1 moments later, Winnik took advantage of an empty net situation, fighting off Coyotes winger Jamie McGinn before sweeping the puck into the goal with one hand on his stick.

“I thought it was fitting that Winnik, a penalty killer, scored that goal right at the end because they did a really good job,” Coach Barry Trotz said of the unit, which killed off all four shorthanded situations the Caps faced.

Trotz added that he’s not surprised to see Winnik equal his career-high six years after he last achieved the mark.  

“I said here [in Washington] I’m looking for offense,” Trotz said of a conversation he had with Winnik right after he was traded to Washington last season. “I don’t just want you to get the puck and, because you’re a penalty killer, just throw it down the ice. If you have time and space, you can do some stuff. I think he’s grown into that.”

Winnik’s contributions in an important game were not lost on his teammates, either.

“He does so many other things that don’t get noticed,” defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “He makes a lot of poised plays. He gets the puck out of our zone almost every time. He’s great on the penalty kill. You love to see guys like that get rewarded with big time goals. We need everyone at this point of the year.”

MORE CAPITALS: Caps muzzle Coyotes to set franchise record for home wins

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Daniel Winnik calls current playoff format 'the stupidest thing ever'

Daniel Winnik calls current playoff format 'the stupidest thing ever'

If you’re frustrated by the NHL’s current playoff format, Daniel Winnik feels your pain.

The playoff format has become a topic of conversation around the NHL recently as the top three teams in the NHL and four of the top five all hail from the Metropolitan Division. Because of the league’s divisional playoff format, the first place team will play a wild-card team in the first round, while the second and third place team will have to play each other with the winner of each series squaring off in the second round.

That guarantees that two of the top three teams in the NHL will be eliminated by the second round and that just doesn’t make much sense to Winnik.

“It's stupid,” he said. “It's the stupidest thing ever. I don't know why it's not 1 to 8, I don't know why we got away from that.”

RELATED: Orpik misses practice Monday

The obvious flaw of the news system is that, by restricting the top three teams to play within one division, in years like this where there is one super conference, it means an unfavorable first-round matchup for a team that is one of the best in the entire league. As of Monday, Columbus and Pittsburgh are second and third in the entire NHL standings and their reward would be the chance to play one another in the very first round. Also, by adding a wild card that does not stay within the division, there is an obvious benefit for a team like the New York Rangers to finish fourth and switch to the Atlantic side of the bracket.

There is also a potential for the third place team in one division to actually finish lower in the standings than a wild card team, but not have to play the best team in the conference. We saw that in 2016. The Detroit Red Wings had the eighth-best record in the Eastern Conference, but the third best in the Atlantic. Instead of having to play the top-seeded Capitals in the first round, they played the Tampa Bay Lightning who finished second in the Atlantic, but sixth overall in the conference.

What makes things worse, as Winnik points out, is that the current playoff system isn’t even that good and doing what is was originally set up to accomplish.

“Part of the point of it was to reduce travel, but it only reduces travel if you finish in your division, if you finish second and third,” he said.

In theory, having teams play within the division should cut down on travel, but as wild card teams can come from either division, it fails to accomplish that. Last season featured a first-round matchup between the Anaheim Ducks, winners of the Pacific, and a wild card Nashville Predators team. And, since the Predators switched into the Pacific bracket, once they beat the Ducks they had to play the San Jose Sharks in the second round.

If geography isn't your thing, let's just say Nashville is nowhere close to either Anaheim or San Jose.

Most damning, however, is the fact that the divisonal foramt undercuts rivalries by making it more likely that rivals play in the earlier rounds.

First and foremost, the divisional format was created to develop rivalries. By pitting divisional teams against one another, that means teams that play one another frequently in the regular season are more likely to play in the playoffs every year. But, to use the Caps as an example, unless Pittsburgh makes it into the playoffs as a wild card team and play in the Atlantic, they will always play Washington in the first or second round, never in the conference final.

“You can't manufacture a rivalry,” Winnik said. “There's already rivalries between us and Pittsburgh, us and the Rangers. The way I see it now, I'm sure the fans are getting sick of seeing the same two teams play each other in the first round, second round.”

In the previous format, the winner of each division was one of the top three seeds in each conference and then the remaining five teams were seeded according to the standings regardless of division. No. 1 would play No. 8, No. 2 would play No. 7, etc. and each team was re-seeded at the end of each round. So instead of a set bracket, the highest seed was guaranteed to play the lowest seed in each round.

As an illustration, and bearing in mind that the NHL has gone from six divisions to four, here is what the first-round playoff matchups in the east would look like as of Monday:

1. Washington Capitals (Metropolitan winner)
8. Toronto Maple Leafs

2. Montreal Canadiens (Atlantic winner)
7. Boston Bruins

3. Columbus Blue Jackets
6. Ottawa Senators

4. Pittsburgh Penguins
5. New York Rangers

This format, however, is not without its faults.

“The other way wasn't perfect,” Winnik said. “For years this division, the southeast, the winner of that division should have been out of the playoffs, but at least that made a little more sense.”

It should also be noted that if there were no upsets in the first round, the above projection would still give a second-round matchup between Washington and Pittsburgh. But it does seem fairer than a format that moves New York down to seventh simply because of their division and forces the second and third best teams in the NHL to play one another in the first round.

That's a concept that clearly has Winnik a bit…befuddled.

“I don't understand it and I think everyone hopes it gets fixed after this season.”

MORE CAPITALS: Oshie tries to remain 'extremley present' even in a contract year