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Capitals make upgrades to fourth line on first day of NHL free agency

Capitals make upgrades to fourth line on first day of NHL free agency

One of the summer goals for Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan was to upgrade the fourth line. It took one day of free agency to accomplish that. 

At least Washington hopes so. It signed unrestricted free agents Garnet Hathaway (Calgary Flames) and Brendan Leipsic (Los Angeles Kings) on Monday afternoon. With Nic Dowd entrenched as the fourth-line center, Hathaway would be the right wing given the Capitals gave him a four-year, $6 million contract with a $1.5 million average annual value. They joined third-line right wing Richard Panik, who signed a four-year deal for $11 million and a $2.75 million cap hit. 

“The thing I like about Panik and Hathaway is that they both skate well,” MacLellan said. “Garnet had good north-south speed. Panik is a really good skater for his size. So, I don't think that we're sacrificing on the speed side to add heaviness. I think we got big players that can skate and play well.”

The other depth forwards on the roster competing for playing time are Travis Boyd, who is under contract at $800,000, and Chandler Stephenson, who was tendered a qualifying offer worth $715,000. One of those players could be in trouble.

Washington has to re-sign restricted free agent Jakub Vrana and would have $3.57 million left for a bridge deal once Djoos signs. But add in another forward for a 23-man roster and that math starts to get unlikely at under $3 million left for Vrana. 

But that decision is for another day. For now, adding to the fourth line was a priority. 

“I'm really excited, obviously. I know a lot about the team, obviously playing against them,” Hathaway said. “It's a difficult team to play against. It seemed like a good fit because we play a similar style. Obviously, it's a winning culture there too. It's something that I'm really excited to be a part of. I know that no one in that room wants that to change, so we want to win games and that's exciting and I can't wait to join them.”

Hathaway has had quite the journey to get here. He played four years of college hockey at Brown, but was never drafted. He played a full year in the AHL in 2014-15 before making his NHL debut with Calgary the next season in 14 games. He gradually increased that to 26 NHL games in 2016-17, 59 and then 76 last year when Hathaway scored a career-high 11 goals with eight assists (19 points). 

Hathaway is a good penalty killer. He can fight, with 13 in his career, though that’s obviously less necessary in the modern NHL. A hard two-way game with some scoring upside is the appeal here. The Capitals won’t be much fun to play against with Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson, Radko Gudas and Hathaway around. That’s a heavy team with enough speed to get by.  

“I think they built this team so well, I don't think there's a void that you can really point at,” Hathaway said. “I want to go and I want to complement the guys that are there right now. They have a lot of skill, they have a lot of scoring and they have guys that are tough and play a physical game. So, I want to continue on the growth I have in my career right now and I want to continue to be hard to play against. That's something I hope I can help with them.”

Meanwhile, Leipsic joins his sixth NHL club and he’s still just 25. Maybe it’s too soon to just hand him a spot so there could be competition there at left wing. Leipsic split last year between Vancouver and Los Angeles. The Canucks waived him in December. Once a third-round pick by Nashville in 2012, Leipsic has 13 goals in 126 NHL games, but five goals and 13 assists in just 45 games with the Kings. It’s an interesting flyer on a player in his age-25 season. 


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5 things to know about the newest Capital Radko Gudas

NBC Sports Washington

5 things to know about the newest Capital Radko Gudas

Most fans know little about Radko Gudas other than the fact that he has a reputation for being a dirty player. Here are some facts to help you get to know the newest Capital a little better.

1. Gudas has been suspended four times in his career

First the bad news. Gudas has a lengthy suspension history and is one hit away from getting a significant suspension from the Department of Player Safety. Here’s a look at all four of his suspensions:

Dec. 2, 2015: Check to the head of Mike Zibanejad, suspended two games

Oct. 10, 2016: Late check to the head of Austin Czarnik, suspended six games

Nov. 19, 2017: Slash to the head of Mathieu Perreault, suspended 10 games

Feb. 20, 2019: High-stick to the head of Nikita Kucherov, suspended two games

These plays are why Gudas has the reputation that he does.

Fans will want to compare Gudas with Tom Wilson, but really there is no comparison here. If you watch these plays from Gudas they certainly seem much more intentional than anything Wilson does.

The good news is that Gudas is working on playing a cleaner game.

“I worked on it in the summer and I thought I adjusted the game enough to still be able to play physical, just not be a liability out there for me team,” Gudas told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday. “It's always something hard to adjust, but we still have to do it. It's our job. If you don't hurt the team that you're playing for while doing it, that's where you can find (the line) as a player.”

This is not just lip service as Gudas’ penalty numbers have gone in each of the past three seasons, going from 116 in 2015-16 to 93, to 83 to 63 in 2018-19.

2. Gudas has had two fights against the Caps

Gudas has not been shy about dropping the gloves in his career and has done so twice against Washington.

The first instance came back on Nov. 11, 2014 while he was playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning. A scrum broke out after Eric Fehr barreled into goalie Ben Bishop and Gudas and Wilson became engaged leading to both players dropping the gloves.

The second fight came this past season. In a game between the Caps and Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 8, Gudas laid a big hit on Nic Dowd and Devante Smith-Pelly immediately came to his teammate’s defense. The fight was more of a tussle than anything else as neither player could get their hands free.

3. Gudas was voted as Philadelphia’s best defenseman in 2018-19

Now on to the good news. The Caps have actually gotten a good defenseman.

When it was announced that the Caps had traded Matt Niskanen for Gudas, the initial reaction was that Washington’s defense had gotten worse, but that was a necessary price to pay considering the team needed to clear cap space. That may not be the case.

Gudas had a very good 2018-19 season for the Flyers, so much so that he was given a team award as the most outstanding defenseman as voted on by sportswriters and broadcasters.

Did it help that pretty much everyone on Philadelphia’s blue line had a bad year? Yes, there is no denying that. Gudas is not the caliber player that he should be an NHL team’s best defenseman. But he is a lot better than most people give him credit for.

Make no mistake, this was not a simple salary dump by Washington. Brian MacLellan very shrewdly freed up some cap space by bringing in a defenseman who can play at a level that is just as good if not better than Niskanen can at this point.

4. Gudas has experience playing with Michal Kempny and Jakub Vrana

Gudas is from the Czech Republic and has some experience with some of his new Czech teammates. He and Kempny played on the U18 and 20 Czech teams together. Gudas and Vrana were teammates over the summer in the World Championships which Kempny could not participate in because he was injured.

“I played with a lot of the guys throughout the years that I play in the league, but with Michal, I used to play on the national team (with him),” Gudas said. “We're the same age. We played some important games together in youth. And with Jakub, I know him from the world national team a little bit now and I think we hit it off pretty well. Looking forward to work with them, too.”

5. Gudas is family with former Cap Michal Neuvirth

Neuvirth and girlfriend Karolina Gudasova had a baby girl in September 2017. As you can guess from Karolina’s last name, she is the sister of Radko thus making him the uncle to their girl, Emilka. Now Gudas is officially Neuvirth’s brother-in-law after Neuvirth and Karolina were married which led to hilariously random pictures like this.


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NHL Free Agency 2019: Complete free agent matchup bracket

NBC Sports Washington

NHL Free Agency 2019: Complete free agent matchup bracket

With the NHL free agency period closing in, we at NBC Sports Washington want to know which free agents you, the fans, think the Capitals should make moves on this off-season. 

We chose the 16 free agents we think are the best fits for the Caps. Every week day we'll pit two free agents against eachother, make an argument for why the Caps should sign each player and let you, the fans, vote via our Twitter.

Here are the various matchups, with voting details, a brief preview of the matchup and the final voting results. The free agents are split into four regions: third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Capitals' free agent. 


Round One


Voting Period: Mon. 6/10 6 a.m. ET to Tues. 6/11 5:30 a.m. ET
Matchup Preview: Johansson is obviously a good fit in Washington. The former Cap has put up a strong postseason performance with Boston, and is one of the reasons the Bruins are in the postseason to begin with. But MoJo is money and Donskoi is a competitive, cheaper option. Click here for the full matchup breakdown of Marcus Johansson vs. Joonas Donskoi.
Voting Results: Michael Ferland (149) over Marcus Johansson (38)


Voting Period: Tues. 6/11 6 a.m. ET to Wed. 6/12 5:30 a.m. ET
Matchup Preview: Zuccarello was a major factor for the Stars in the playoffs, while Ferland completely disappeared. An injury limited the winger to seven games for Carolina, and he managed just one point in those seven games. Click here for the full matchup breakdown of Matts Zuccarello vs. Michael Ferland.
Voting Results: Michael Ferland (60) over Matts Zuccarello (19)

BEN LOVEJOY, D (Stars) vs. DERYK ENGELLAND, D (Golden Knights)

Voting Period: Wed. 6/12 6 a.m. ET to Thurs. 6/13 5:30 a.m. ET
Matchup Preview: Lovejoy's playoff experience with both Dallas and Pittsburgh means the defenseman could provide added depth for the Caps, both on and off the penalty kill. Engelland also brings penalty-kill experience, in addition to strong possession. Click here for the full matchup breakdown of Ben Lovejoy and Deryk Engelland
Voting Results: Engelland (24) over Lovejoy (18)

CARL GUNNARSSON, D (Blues) vs. RON HAINSEY, D (Maple Leafs)

Voting Period: Thurs. 6/13 6 a.m. ET to 6/14 5:30 a.m. ET
Matchup Preview: Gunnarsson is cheap and can deliver when it matters. Hainsey likely won't be as cheap, but is a stronger defenseman than Gunnarsson. Click here for the full matchup breakdown of Carl Gunnarsson vs. Ron Hainsey.
Voting Results: Gunnarsson (16) over Hainsey (9)

BRIAN BOYLE, C (Predators) vs. MARCUS KRUGER, C (Blackhawks)

Voting Period: Fri. 6/14 6 a.m. ET to Sat. 6/15 5:30 a.m. ET
Matchup Preview: Boyle's size and consistency speaks for itself, as does his playoff experience. But the smaller Kruger will likely cost less, and has a fair amound of Stanley Cup experience as well. Click here for the full matchup breakdown of Brian Boyle vs. Marcus Kruger.
Voting Results: Kruger (43) over Boyle (16)


Voting Period: Mon. 6/17 6 a.m. ET to Tues. 6/18 5:30 a.m. ET
Matchup Preview: Acciari's character and toughness speaks for itself, as does his penalty-kill experience. Bellemare brings veteran experience and strength on the penalty kill. Click here for the full matchup breakfown of Noel Acciari vs. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
Voting Results: TBD


Voting Period: Tues. 6/18 6 a.m. ET to Wed. 6/19 5:30 a.m. ET
Matchup Preview: Since the Capitals already resigned Hagelin, the question becomes whether Smith-Pelly is worth resigning too. WHile the winger's 2018 playoff performance was key to the Caps' victory, after last season there are some red flags. Click here for a full breakdown on whether the Capitals should resign Smith-Pelly
Voting Results: Devante Smith-Pelly should be resigned (39)

BRETT CONNOLLY, RW (Capitals) vs. BROOKS ORPIK, D (Capitals)

Voting Period: Wed. 6/19 6 a.m. ET to Thurs. 6/20 5:30 a.m. ET
Matchup Preview: While Connolly added to the Caps' scoring depth, he's pricey. But veteran Orpik brings a certain expertise with his less-expensive pricetag. Click here for a full matchup breakdown on Brett Connolly and Brooks Orpik.
Voting Results: TBD

Round Two


Voting Period: Wed. 6/19 6 a.m. ET to Thurs. 6/20 5:30 a.m. ET
Matchup Preview: Ferland is productive and physical, but Donskoi is cheaper. Which should the Caps sign? Click here for the full matchup breakdown on Micheal Ferland vs. Joonas Donskoi.
Voting Results: Donskoi (67) over Ferland (7)

DERYK ENGELLAND, D (Golden Knights) vs. CARL GUNNARSSON, D (Blues)

Voting Period: Wed. 6/19 6 a.m. ET to Thurs. 6/20 5:30 a.m. ET
Matchup Preview: Engelland has good experience with the Golden Knights can fill various roles and take on a third-line role. Gunnarsson is older but has proved clutch for the Blues and is good on the penalty kill. Click here for the full matchup breakdown on Deryk Engelland vs. Carl Gunnarsson
Voting Results: Engelland (15) over Gunnarsson (12)

MARCUS KRUGER, C (Blackhawks) vs. NOEL ACCIARI, C (Bruins)

Voting Period: Mon. 6/24 6 a.m. ET to Tues. 6/25 5:30 a.m. ET
Matchup Preview: Kruger's pricetag is lower than that of Acciari, plus Kruger brings a strength on the penalty kill. But Acciari is also strong on the penalty kill and would be a perfect fit on the Caps' fourth line. Click here for the full matchup breakdown on Marcus Kruger vs. Noel Acciari.
Voting Results: Acciari (36) over Kruger (4)


Voting Period: Tues. 6/25 6 a.m. ET to Wed. 6/26 5:30 p.m. ET
Matchup Preview: Connolly adds to the Caps' scoring depth, but comes with a hefty pricetag. Smith-Pelly has proven to be inconsistent in the past, but is definitely less expensive. Click here for the full matchup breakdown on Brett Connolly vs. Devante Smith-Pelly
Voting Results: Connolly (85) over Smith-Pelly (48)

Round Three--Semifinals 


Voting Period: Wed. 6/26 6 a.m. ET to Thurs. 6/27 5:30 a.m. ET
Matchup Preview: Donskoi can fit into any role required of him, while Gunnarsson is almost exactly what the Caps are looking for depth-wise. Click here for the full matchup breakdown on Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson
Voting Results: TBD