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Key Caps questions: Who will play on the team's third defensive pair?

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Key Caps questions: Who will play on the team's third defensive pair?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: What will be the team's primary third defensive pairing?

Barring any PTOs or breakout performances in training camp, we can reasonably assume Brooks Orpik, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey are going to be the three players battling it out to be on the third pair.

General manager Brian MacLellan went through some salary cap gymnastics to get Orpik back for next season at a much smaller cap hit, Djoos played 22 playoff games in the Caps’ Stanley Cup run and Bowey was signed to a one-way, two-year contract for $1 million per year. Clearly, all three are expected to be on the Caps’ roster next season and play a role, but that role will be limited considering the top-four is pretty much set with Michal Kempny-John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen.

Orpik will be 38 years old at the start of the season. His on and off-ice contributions are much greater than many were willing to acknowledge, but he was never a fast player and at his age, holding him to 60 games or fewer will make him a more effective player.

Djoos and Bowey are 24 and 23 respectively and, while both are ready for bigger roles, both are far from finished products. While they may be part of the future of Washington’s blue line, putting in two young, second-year players as their own pair is a risk.

But even if head coach Todd Reirden is not ready to turn the reins over to his two young defensemen just yet, he still needs to get both players plenty of playing time.

This is why Orpik may get a lot more playing time than many people think. The best thing for both Djoos and Bowey is for them to play. If you have concerns about them playing together, however, and neither is ready to supplant anyone in the top four, then you are going to see them cycle in and out of the lineup fairly frequently to play alongside Orpik.

That’s not to say we will never see a Djoos-Bowey pairing this season. They will probably have their chances and the better they look, the longer that pair will last. If they were ready, it would be a safe assumption that they would get the bulk of games together with Orpik serving more of a reserve role.

But a Djoos-Bowey pairing would be too vulnerable to opposing offenses at least at the start of the season and so we should expect a lot of Orpik.

While Reirden will work his defensive magic to bring Djoos-Bowey along as quickly as possible, I would anticipate Orpik-Djoos will see a majority of games this season as the team’s third defensive pairing.

Other key Caps questions:

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Capitals re-sign Madison Bowey leaving Tom Wilson the lone remaining RFA

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Capitals re-sign Madison Bowey leaving Tom Wilson the lone remaining RFA

Defenseman Madison Bowey re-signed with the Capitals on Thursday, inking a two-year extension that will carry an average of $1 million.

Bowey carried a cap charge of $703,333 last season.

The 23-year-old appeared in 51 games for the Caps in 2017-18, amassing 12 assists, 24 penalty minutes and a plus/minus rating of minus-3.

Bowey also suited up in nine contests for AHL Hershey, though he finished the season as one of the Black Aces during Washington's run to the Stanley Cup.

With Bowey back in the fold, the Caps now have six of seven defenseman from last season’s roster under contract. (Veteran Brooks Orpik remains an unrestricted free agent.)

Bowey had an uneven first year in the NHL—he didn’t play following the late-February addition of Michal Kempny—but the Caps expect that the 6-2, 198-pound right-shot blue liner will become reliable full-time player with more seasoning.

Bowey’s deal leaves Tom Wilson as the Caps' only remaining unsigned restricted free agent. The sides are in discussions on a multi-year extension.

Including Bowey’s extension, the Caps have roughly $7.3 million in salary cap space remaining, according to CapFriendly.

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With regular season winding down, Caps recall a couple of prospects

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With regular season winding down, Caps recall a couple of prospects

Travis Boyd and Madison Bowey were recalled by the Caps on Tuesday to add some depth to the bottom end of the roster as the team wraps up its regular season.

Boyd, who has appeared in seven games for Washington this season, figures to join a group of forwards competing for roles on the third and/or fourth lines as the playoffs approach.

Boyd also gives Coach Barry Trotz another option at fourth line center. On Monday night in St. Louis, Stephenson filed in for Jay Beagle, who is day-to-day with an upper body ailment.

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Trotz said he likes the internal competition that’s brewing as he searches for the right mix.  

“Obviously, our core players know that they are going to be in [the lineup come playoffs],” Trotz told reporters at Scottrade Center. “But we’ve got a lot of new players. We’ve got a lot of guys that want to be part of the playoffs. They are pushing each other. They know if they get an opportunity to jump in the lineup, they just want to stay there.”

He added: “We’re getting some good looks at guys. The guys I keep putting in and taking out, they have responded every night, it seems. Young [Shane] Gersich is making a case for himself every time. We’ll probably run with him the next two games. He’s done a really good job.”

The Caps were off on Tuesday. Boyd and Bowey will join the team for practice on Wednesdaymorning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

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It’s unclear if either prospect will suit up Thursdayvs. the Predators, but one or both could play if the team, which has already clinched the Metro Division title, opts to rest any of its veterans. The Caps out their 82-game slate at home against Nashville and New Jersey.

As for Bowey, he spent 51 games in Washington this season but was returned to the Bears following the additions of Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek near the trade deadline. In eight games with Hershey, Bowey thrived, recording a couple of goals and six assists. A right shot, he also gives the coaching staff another option on the right side.

It’s expected that both Boyd and Bowey will remain with the Caps until their season ends.