Michal Kempny

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Michal Kempny takes White House tour on crutches, Todd Reirden declares his injury 'long-term'

Michal Kempny takes White House tour on crutches, Todd Reirden declares his injury 'long-term'

The Capitals visited the White House on Monday in the traditional trip afforded to the Stanley Cup champions. Among the players in attendance was injured defenseman Michal Kempny. A picture from the Oval Office showed Kempny in the background with crutches.

This is the first we have publicly seen Kempny since he was injured in Wednesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Kempny was engaged with Lightning forward Cedric Paquette after the whistle. Kempny fell awkwardly on his left leg as Paquette forced him to the ice and had to be helped off the ice and down the tunnel. He did not appear to be putting any weight on his left leg at all on his way to the locker room.

There is still no definitive timetable for how long Kempny may be out, though Reirden said Monday after practice that, “It's going to be a long-term injury.”

The delay in getting a timetable is over treatment options. It is still being decided how best to treat Kempny’s injury and until that decision is made, there is no timetable to give. Reirden indicated surgery was a possibility.

“That's what we're going through right now: Different options and what the right thing to do is,” he said.

Both Reirden’s update and the fact that Kempny remains on crutches several days after the injury is a pretty good indication that this is not going to be a short-term issue. It appears the Caps should prepare for not having Kempny for at least the start of the playoffs, if not longer.

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How a minor trade for an unknown defenseman proved to be the biggest move of the 2018 NHL trade deadline

How a minor trade for an unknown defenseman proved to be the biggest move of the 2018 NHL trade deadline

As the dust settled after the 2018 NHL trade deadline, there were a number of key moves made to change the landscape of the league and the Stanley Cup race. The biggest move made was by the Tampa Bay Lightning who added the top defenseman on the market in Ryan McDonagh. But there was also a number of other big moves with players like Evander Kane, Paul Stastny and Rick Nash all headed to new teams.

A minor trade by the Capitals stood as barely a footnote amid all the flurry of moves. On Feb. 19, Washington sent a third-round draft pick to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a little known defenseman named Michal Kempny.

“I find out before the morning skate so I just packed two suitcases and I had to catch the plane,” Kempny said. “And that's it.”

On Feb. 17, the Caps were obliterated by the Blackhawks 7-1 in Chicago. Washington still maintained first place in the Metropolitan Division, but that game highlighted the Caps’ weak defense.

Washington had two rookies playing on their blue line regularly in Christain Djoos and Madison Bowey. Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen were a fine defensive pair, but there was no clear partner for the team’s best defenseman, John Carlson. The result was that the Caps dressed a defense with one set tandem and a mishmash of four other players including two rookies joined together into ill-fitting pairs.

The Caps desperately needed another top-four defenseman if they hoped to make a deep playoff run. Finding one midseason, however, is easier said than done.

A top-four defenseman is a valuable commodity and most teams are loathe to give those players up. When one is available, they don’t come cheap.

The Caps made the big splash move in the prior season with the addition of defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. The trade did not work out as Shattenkirk never seemed to fit in with the team and ended up playing primarily on the third pair.

Washington did not have a first, second or third round draft pick in the 2017 draft. Giving up a similar haul for a second consecutive season was not an option. In terms of players and prospects, Washington simply did not have the assets needed to land an established defenseman. They had to look at other, cheaper options.

Kempny was a 27-year-old Czech defenseman in his second season with Chicago. His NHL career was not going the way he had hoped. Kempny struggled to earn the trust of Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville playing only 50 games the prior season and was again used sparingly in 2017-18 with only 31 games. He needed a change.

“My situation in Chicago wasn't good,” Kempny said.

Before the trade deadline, general manager Brian MacLellan asked then associate coach Todd Reirden to watch some video on the Czech defenseman.

“Michal I watched play I'd say probably eight games before we acquired him, so it was someone that we were kind of looking at early in the season,” Reirden said during training camp. “As our team was progressing and in some areas not progressing, we needed to look outside for some different options, particularly a guy that was extremely mobile, good skater and could potentially be a good compliment for John Carlson. That was what we saw in him. I thought in particular, comparing the way our system, what we do systematically with our defensemen, his skating ability would really be brought to the forefront with how we do things as a team and I thought that he could excel in that regard with how our team plays. He seemed like a perfect fit.”

On Feb. 19, MacLellan made the trade. It didn’t take long for Kempny to work his way up the depth chart.

“He's obviously a really good skater, one of the best skaters on the team I would say,” Carlson said. “He plays defense quick. He's in people's faces, he's high pressure onto the puck kind of guy.”

“Obviously a great guy that took to everyone else really well as well,” Carlson added. “He just fit in and that was kind of one of the turning points for us as a team getting going, getting ready for the playoffs I would say is right after he got here.”

Kempny played in just 22 games for the Caps before the playoffs. In that time, he quickly found a place in the lineup alongside Carlson. With Kempny and Carlson together, they soon became the top defensive pair on the team. Suddenly a team that could not establish its top four on defense not only had a top four, but a newly established top pair that proved critical to the team’s run to the Stanley Cup.

“Obviously he fit in perfectly,” Carlson said. “There was more to our success than that I think, but certainly that was a key moment for us in terms of filling a need that he was perfectly suitable for.”

It wasn’t McDonagh, Kane, Stastny or Nash who proved to be the biggest acquisitions of the 2018 deadline, but a relatively unknown defenseman who could not stay in the lineup in Chicago. It proved to be the biggest trade of the 2017-18 NHL season.

“Certainly it was the perfect move for us,” Carlson said. “Sometimes you try to just get the best player vs. the best player for your team. He fit perfectly.”

Said Kempny, “I was living my dream last season and I'm living dream right now so I really appreciate that I can be here in this league and this team.”

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Capitals are hopeful most of their injured players will be back Friday vs. Devils

Capitals are hopeful most of their injured players will be back Friday vs. Devils

ARLINGTON, Va. – A Capitals team that has been unaccustomed to dealing with injuries in recent years suddenly is dealing with a good number of them. Washington returned to practice Wednesday with several key players missing.

The status of players T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Devante Smith-Pelly and Michal Kempny are all up in the air for Friday’s game against the Devils, but head coach Todd Reirden provided updates following practice.

T.J. Oshie

Oshie did not participate in Wednesday’s practice. He was present before the team took the ice, as he stood on the bench in a sweatshirt, shorts and shoes, no skates. He shot a few pucks from the bench toward the net, but left after only a few minutes.

Oshie was injured in Winnipeg on Nov. 14 when Josh Morrissey checked him into the boards and body-slammed him to the ice. It appeared as if Oshie’s head struck the ice which is troubling considering Oshie’s history of concussions.

Reirden had no real concrete update on Oshie, saying only that he had not yet returned to skating.

“Until he gets on the ice, I'm really not going to have any updates on him,” Reirden said.

Evgeny Kuznetsov

Kuznetsov was one of the first players on the ice for practice as he came on to work out the goalies. He was in a non-contact light blue jersey. He did practice with the team but seemed to participate in a limited capacity.

This represents progress for Kuznetsov who first returned to the ice on Monday after taking an elbow to the face, also in the Winnipeg game, but did not skate with the team. As he continues to progress there is hope that he may be ready to return in time for Friday's home game against New Jersey.

“Yeah, we're hoping,” Reirden said. “He has not been cleared yet so today was the first step in him going through a little bit more than just a random skate around. Today was going through some more drills and that's the natural progression. It was nice to see him back out there.”

Devante Smith-Pelly

Smith-Pelly left Monday’s game early after taking a shot in what appeared to be the right ankle. He came onto the ice at about 10 a.m., 30 minutes before practice began, for an individual skate. He left after only a few minutes and did not participate in practice.

The team called Wednesday a maintenance day for Smith-Pelly due to a lower-body injury.

Michal Kempny

Kempny was a surprise absence from Wednesday’s practice. The team also said it was a maintenance day for him for an upper-body injury. He did not participate in practice, but he did skate with strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish.

Reirden was hopeful Smith-Pelly and Kempny’s injuries were only short-term and did not close the door on either player returning for Friday’s game.

“I'm hopeful [Thursday] that they'll be on the ice for practice and continue to move forward from there.”

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