Jakub Vrana

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: What happens if Vrana gets an offer sheet?

Capitals Mailbag Part 1: What happens if Vrana gets an offer sheet?

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

Have a Caps question you want 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.

The only update on Vrana general manager Brian MacLellan offered in a conference call at the start of free agency was, “We’re in ongoing discussions with ihs representatives.” The longer this goes on, the more nervous people are getting, but I am not convinced there is any reason to worry at this point. Teams often wait longer to sign their RFAs as the team controls their rights. There’s no real pressure to get those deals done early. I thought earlier in the offseason that Vrana would be priority No. 1 because he would take a decent cap hit and the team would want to know how much money it had left to spend. Instead, MacLellan is doing the opposite and finished all other business while leaving himself enough room to sign the remaining RFAs. It is a shrewd way of doing things as he can go to Vrana’s agent and say, look, we only have this much cap room left to give him.

The only real danger is the player holding out or signing an offer sheet, both of which rarely happen. More on that later.

Christian Djoos and Chandler Stephenson also remain unsigned and both filed for arbitration on Friday. They can still work out a deal with the team at any time and rarely do we see players make it all the way through the arbitration process before getting a deal done. Djoos’ arbitration hearing is scheduled for July 22 and Stephenson on Aug. 1.

Paul O. writes: Love the mailbag. Thanks for keeping us engaged during the offseason. While it is unlikely Jakub Vrana goes anywhere due to a possible offer sheet, if it were to happen what would be Brian MacLellan’s likely next move with the UFA field scarce and the prospects the same?

Thanks to you Paul, and to everyone else who sends in questions. I really do appreciate you guys taking the time to send them in. I also appreciate you giving me something to write about in the offseason.

On to your question….

For those of you who are unfamiliar with offer sheets, those are contracts negotiated between an RFA and another team. The player signs it and the team that owns his rights can choose whether or not to match the offer. If they match the offer, the new contract now belongs to them and that is the end of the process. There is not further negotiating, that player is officially under contract under the terms he negotiated in the offer sheet. If the team does not match, team that gave the offer sheet will get the player, but must give up drat compensation to the orginial team. Compensation is set by the league ahead of time and is determined by a player’s cap hit. The higher the cap hit, the higher the draft pick compensation.

Offer sheets are rare because they rarely work, the compensation for the higher-end players is substantial and it is a good way to for a general manager to burn a bridge with another GM. The offer sheet the Montreal Canadiens gave Sebastian Aho is the first offer sheet given since 2013.

Vrana is a potential target for an offer sheet because he is a very good up-and-coming player, because the draft pick compensation would not be outrageous for him (as opposed to a Mitch Marner type of player) and because the Caps do not have much cap flexibility to match an offer and matching an offer could prove difficult.

While it is possible a team out there could try to give Vrana an offer sheet, it is unlikely to happen. For this to even be possible, Vrana would have to be willing to sign one or this is all moot. The speed with which Carolina came out and said they would match Aho’s offer sheet may also dissuade other general managers from trying this tactic.

MacLellan was asked about a potential Vrana offer sheet after news broke on Aho’s and he said, “We’re aware that it might be a possibility. I think in this market there are probably other players that are in front of him, but I guess you never know. We’re cautious. I think we feel comfortable.”

“We have a couple of things we can do flexibility wise to create a little space if we need to,” he added.

This could be MacLellan trying to sound tough to scare off other teams, but the bottom line is that even if Vrana does get an offer sheet, the Caps are more likely to move salary to keep him than they are to take the picks.

Benjamin C. writes: I would like to hear your opinion about how you think some players will perform next season. How do you think Evgeny Kuznetsov will play? How about T.J. Oshie coming off that injury? Are Tom Wilson and Jakub Vrana going to break out even more? Will Lars Eller step it up?

This is going to be a critical year for Kuznetsov. After a down year and the hotel video incident, there will be pressure on him to perform. There’s no room for the “you have to work 365 days a year to be an MVP and I don’t want to do that” attitude. Call me naive, but I think he will get the message and come ready to play next season. I am not going to go out on a limb and say he will be totally back to 2018 playoffs Kuznetsov, but I do think we seem him much closer to his ceiling than what we saw in 2018-19.

At some point, age plus wear and tear is going to catch up to Oshie. This is why I have argued he should be on the third line to give him less minutes so he can still play on the power play and penalty kill. Unfortunately, I am not sure if they have an obvious candidate to plug into the top six which means Oshie will likely return to his second-line role. This is the year I believe we see the production start to dip. I’ll put him at about 35-40 points this year instead of his typical 45-55.

The addition of Gudas will hopefully free up Wilson from having to worry about the extracurriculars as much and leave him just to focus on his game so I could see another big year for him. Let’s not forget, he scored 22 goals and 18 assists in just 63 games last season. I think 20-25 goals, 20-25 assists is very attainable. The trajectory is pointed squarely up for Vrana as well and he is going to be a 30-goal scorer sooner rather than later.

Eller had 36 points last season, which is the second highest in his career beaten only by his 38 points the year prior. He should be just fine.

Phil M. writes: I’d like to know your thoughts on the new additions. These are not faceoff wizards so that issue remains a vexing one and every team needs bottom-six scoring which we lost with Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly’s departure. Do you think the new players will result in better defense and can you see them contributing offensively? How do you see the third and fourth line combinations?

There was no way Washington was going to find the cap space to keep or replace the offensive production they ended up losing this offseason. It is no secret that many of the free agent moves were made to help the team defensively and their new players should boost the Caps in that end of the ice. The penalty kill should also be much improved with Carl Hagelin back in the fold as well.

It is great that the team looks better defensively, that was an area of serious need, but the offense is a concern. They did not get enough offense from the bottom six last season, especially in the playoffs and now Burakovsky and Connolly are gone. How much offense can the Caps expect from a Hagelin, Eller, Panik line? A lot will depend on the answer to that question.

If Washington becomes top-heavy and completely dependent on their top-six offensively, then they really have not gotten much better overall.

Craig B. writes: What are the chances Brian MacLellan can get a decent faceoff guy? Nicklas Backstrom seems to be the only guy who can win an important draw. Evgeny Kuznetsov has also struggled. Is there anyone in the pipeline who can win draws?

At this point if you are hoping MacLellan is going to go out and sign a faceoff specialist, that’s not going to happen. The team does not have room for all the forwards it currently has, he is not going to go out and sign another.

Washington ranked dead last in faceoffs last season at a paltry 45.7-percent. Even if you want to debate the importance of faceoffs, you don’t want to rank last in the league in anything. Just about everyone was bad at the dot last season except Nic Dowd who was the only center on the team with a win percentage over 50 at 51.9-percent. He was even better in the playoffs at 57.4-percent and Backstrom picked things up as well at 52.7.

Really, however, the biggest issue was Kuznetsov who won only 38.7-percent of his draws. That’s what you expect from a winger who steps in to take the draw after a center is tossed out. That is not an acceptable percentage for a top-six center. He has got to improve. Even if he wins 45-percent next season, that’s still terrible, but it should bump up the team’s percentage tremendously and lead to more offensive-zone chances (not surprisingly, Kuznetsov does not get many D-zone draws).

I am not one to get hung up on faceoffs. I think as long as Backstrom, Dowd and Eller are hovering around 50-percent the team will be fine, but Kuznetsov has to do better.

Morris G. writes: Is there a way centers can train so that they win more faceoffs? Does it take greater strength and do they have to give up something else in their training to improve faceoffs? Is it trainable or just a generic trait that you have to fortuitously have to find in one of your centers?

Like every aspect of the game, faceoffs are something a player can improve on if he puts in the work. Sidney Crosby, for example, improved from winning just 45.5-percent of his faceoffs as a rookie to winning over 55-percent three times in his career.

Faceoffs are a much more complicated and nuanced aspect of the game than most may realize. Some players telegraph where they are trying to send the puck when they get to the dot. A savvy player will read what his opponent is doing and react accordingly. There are multiple ways a player can hold his stick and multiple directions they could try to win the puck. Some players even bull rush the dot as soon as the puck is dropped to dry to knock their opponent out of the way and win the draw with the body.

So there is no one way to win or train to get better on faceoffs. Really the biggest thing is you have to put in the time to work on it. What makes it difficult is the fact that there is little to no individual time in a team practice. This means staying on after practice to work on it.

So what? Suck it up and put in the time! I agree with you, but just to play devil’s advocate, the team has a lot of meetings after practice to discuss things like scouting the next team, power play, etc. Kuznetsov is a big part of the offense and a big part of the power play. There may be a lot of times where he feels he does not have time after practice to devote 10-15 minutes to faceoffs.

If I were Reirden, I would make this a priority for Kuznetsov because, as I said, 38.7-percent is atrocious.

Marcio A. writes: I realize Todd Reirden maintained a lot of Barry Trotz’s system. I also know that he made some changes on the penalty kill and perhaps the other less publicized elements of how the Caps play. Just wondering if it is possible that there were enough differences, even around the edges, between how the roster was able to execute Trotz’s plans and Reirden’s plans? The implication is there could be more upside than initially contemplated from the changes to the fringes of the roster if the new guys fit better with where Reirden was trying to go.

Great question and this is an aspect people do not explore enough when evaluating last season. The Caps won the Stanley Cup under Trotz and MacLellan, understandably so, tried to keep that team together as much as he could for a potential repeat. While Reirden was a member of Trotz’s staff, it is unreasonable to think he would run the team in exactly the same way and have the exact same success. There were definitely times last season in which it looked like MacLellan and Reirden disagreed on certain players, Dmitrij Jaskin being the most obvious example.

While the defensive changes to the lineup seem on the outside looking in like they were made out of necessity with the team running out of salary cap space, it may also be MacLellan trying to tailor the roster more for Reirden’s style.

Brian R. writes: Do you think part of the reason maybe they offered Richard Panik a fourth year is if they leave him unprotected, Seattle might pick him up? Also, with Alex Alexeyev possibly coming up would they gamble and leave either Dmitry Orlov or Michal Kempny unprotected to help save money?

You often have to overpay free agents to snag them, but what do you do if you have no money to spend? You overpay with term. Panik said on a conference call that no other team offered him four years and that was a big factor in him signing with Washington.

MacLellan admitted that he gave Panik, Hagelin and Garnet Hathaway more years than he would have wanted to get them to sign with the Caps.

“In order for us to get that AAV down so we can add depth, I think we pushed up the term a year on probably all three of those contracts,” he said.

The lack of room under the salary cap had more to do with Panik’s contract than Seattle did.

Projecting out to 2021, Alexeyev may not have even played in the NHL at that point, but there is no way he is not protected. For those of you thinking to yourselves he will be exempt, that is actually based on a player’s professional years in North America. Even if he plays the next two years in Hershey, those are two years under an NHL contract which means, yes, he will need to be protected. Christian Djoos, for example, was available in the last expansion draft despite never having played in the NHL to that point.

Alexeyev’s upside is high enough that he will likely need to be protected from Seattle which will mean exposing someone else. A lot can happen in the next two seasons and if Orlov plays like he did last season, sure I could see him being exposed. We will have to wait and see..

Thanks for all your questions! Part 2 of the mailbag will be coming on Thursday. If you have a question you want to be answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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Looking back at the Capitals’ 2014 NHL Draft: When is trading up not worth it?

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Looking back at the Capitals’ 2014 NHL Draft: When is trading up not worth it?

The NHL Draft takes place on June 21 and 22. The Capitals hold the 25th overall pick and will be looking for future stars among all the hopeful prospects.

But just how successful has Washington been in finding those stars? How much value have the Caps found through the draft?

NBC Sports Washington will be looking at how Washington has drafted over the last 10 years. Today’s draft: 2014

13th overall pick (first round): Jakub Vrana F

Vrana was the last forward the Caps have taken in the first round of the draft, and in him, they got a good one. Vrana came to North America at the end of his SHL season in 2015, playing in three games with the Hershey Bears. He reached the NHL in the 2016-17 season for 21 games, and then he was back with the Caps to stay in the 2017-18 season.

In his final season with the Bears, Vrana was benched in the playoffs, and it seemed he had mentally moved on to the NHL. Some criticism over his work ethic sprung up again this summer during his time playing for his native Czech Republic at the World Championships. From what we have seen in Washington, however, nothing could be further from the truth.

Vrana is one of the hardest workers on the team and is always one of the last players off the ice every day at practice. This is not something the players have told us, this is something I have personally witnessed at Medstar Capitals Iceplex. He has the speed and skill to be a top-6 player, and his numbers back that up.

In 176 NHL games, Vrana has 40 goals and 40 assists and has cemented his spot in the top two lines in Washington.

39th overall pick (second round): Vitek Vanecek G

Washington moved up in the draft to snag Vanecek in the second round, giving up their second- and third-round picks to the Buffalo Sabres to move up five spots.

Vanecek is often overshadowed by fellow goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov, and though the ceiling does not ultimately appear to be as high, he is doing his best to show he still has NHL potential. Vanecek’s North American career began in the 2015-16 season which he spent mainly in South Carolina in the ECHL. He has spent the last three seasons in Hershey and was named an AHL all-star in 2018-19.

Playing in tandem with Samsonov, Vanecek had the better season but also looks to be much closer to being developed. I would project his ceiling to be as an NHL backup.

44th overall pick (second round): Traded to the Buffalo Sabres

This pick was traded to Buffalo as part of the Vanecek deal. They took forward Eric Cornel who, at 23, is still trying to break into the NHL after 216 games in the AHL.

74th overall pick (third round): Traded to the Buffalo Sabres

This pick was traded to Buffalo as part of the Vanecek deal. The Sabres took defenseman Brycen Martin whose NHL prospects look grim at this point as he continues playing in the ECHL with only 19 games in the AHL. He did not play in the AHL at all in 2018-19.

89th pick (third round): Nathan Walker F

The Caps made Walker the first Australian taken in the draft in NHL history. Walker had already played a year in Hershey, so the team had some familiarity with him, which is why it was willing to trade up to get him. Washington traded two fourth-round picks to the New York Rangers to acquire this pick.

Since then, he has spent the last five seasons playing primarily with the Bears with seven games up in Washington.

Walker is a good AHL player and a possible fit as an NHL fourth liner.

104th overall pick (fourth round): Traded to New York Rangers

This pick was traded to New York as part of the Walker deal. The Rangers used it to select defenseman Ryan Mantha. His career is in jeopardy after a blood clot damaged his central retinal artery and affected his vision in his left eye.

115th overall pick (fourth round): Acquired from the Anaheim Ducks, traded back to the Anaheim Ducks

In 2013, Washington traded Mathieu Perreault to Anaheim for John Mitchell and a fourth-round pick. The Caps traded this pick back to Anaheim in 2014 for Dustin Penner. The pick was then traded to the Dallas Stars, who took goalie Brent Moran.

Moran played four seasons in the OHL and now currently plays for Nipissing University. He seems like a longshot to reach the NHL at this point.

118th overall pick (fourth round): Acquired from the New York Islanders, traded to the New York Rangers

This pick was traded to the Rangers as part of the Walker deal. The Caps originally acquired this pick from the New York Islanders for goalie Jaroslav Halak. The Rangers took goalie Igor Shestyorkin. He has not yet played in North America, but his numbers in the KHL are outrageous. Last season playing for SKA St. Petersburg, he had a 1.11 GAA and .953 save percentage in 28 games. He is expected to play in the AHL with Hartford next season.

134th overall pick (fifth round): Shane Gersich F

After three years at the University of North Dakota, Gersich signed a professional contract near the end of the 2017-18 season and jumped right in the NHL, playing in five games for the Caps in the regular season and playoffs combined. He spent his second professional season in Hershey where he scored eight goals and 16 assists in 66 games.

Gersich is a fast winger who can be a bottom-six NHL forward, but still needs a bit more time to develop to get there.

159th overall pick (sixth round): Steven Spinner F

The Caps acquired this pick and goalie Edward Pasquale in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets for a sixth- and two seventh-round picks.

Spinner played four years in college but did not hold out for free agency and signed a professional contract. He played two total games with the Hershey Bears at the end of the 2018-19 season.

164th overall pick (sixth round): Traded to the Winnipeg Jets

Traded to the Jets in the deal mentioned above. The Jets used it on forward Pavel Kraskovsky who is still playing in the KHL.

192nd overall pick (seventh round): Acquired from the Nashville Predators, traded to the Winnipeg jets

Traded to the Jets in the deal mentioned above. The Jets used it on forward Matt Ustaski. He played four years in the University of Wisconsin and has played in one AHL game and 21 total ECHL games since going pro.

194th overall pick (seventh round): Kevin Elgestal F

Elgestal has spent his hockey career playing in Sweden. He played a few preseason games with the Caps but really seemed to struggle. The Caps no longer hold his NHL rights.

Takeaways

The Caps traded up to get Vanecek in the second round and Walker in the third. If you have been following along with these draft profiles, you have probably noticed by now that it is really hard to find value later in the draft. If you can find a player you like in the first three rounds and it will only take lower draft picks to get there, you do it because you probably are not losing very much.

Having said that, goalies are a bit different and typically slip down in the draft. When you trade up to take a goalie in the second round, that means you believe you have found a bonafide NHL starter. That’s probably not what they have in Vanecek, That third-round pick Washington traded away came five spots before Brayden Point was taken by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Point flew under everyone’s radar in the draft, obviously, as he fell to the third round. Though there is no guarantee Washington would have used that pick on Point, it is maddening to think that the Caps legitimately had a chance to take Point but instead traded up to take Vanecek.

The good news for this draft is that Vrana looks like he will be a great top-6 producer, they found fifth-round value in Gersich who can be an NHL third-liner and they ultimately did not lose that much in their trades up the draft even if neither turned into a home run.

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Caps players celebrate one-year anniversary of Stanley Cup Championship

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Caps players celebrate one-year anniversary of Stanley Cup Championship

One year ago today, the Washington Capitals pulled off the biggest feat in franchise history, clinching their first-ever Stanley Cup Championship.

It was the first championship for the Capitals in 44 years, and the first title for any Washington D.C. sports team in 26 years. The last professional D.C. team to win a championship was the Washington Redskins in the 1992 Super Bowl.

On June 7, 2018, the Caps rallied with two goals in the third period to beat the first-year Las Vegas Golden Knights, 4-3, in Game 5. 

Capitals players returned home and famously celebrated with fans around the city until there was no beer left in the District.

Today, members of the 2018 Stanley Cup-winning team looked back on one of the biggest moments in D.C. sports history:

After a scoreless first period, Jakub Vrana got the Caps on the board first. 

Devonta Smith-Pelly scored his seventh goal of the postseason and the biggest of his career to tie it up, 3-3, halfway throught the third period.

Lars Eller, who scored the Cup-winning goal at 12:23 of the third, shared a video of the big moment on Instagram.

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1 Year ago.

A post shared by Lars Eller (@larsellerofficial) on

Tom Wilson was on the ice the moment time expired.

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That moment when... #HappyJune7th

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Alex Ovechkin became the first Russian-born team captain to win the Cup. He posted a photo that still warms the hearts of Caps fans everywhere:

 

You can watch a replay of Game 5 on NBC Sports Washington tonight at 7:30 p.m.

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