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Travis Boyd has done enough to show the Caps they can't afford to send him back to Hershey

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Travis Boyd has done enough to show the Caps they can't afford to send him back to Hershey

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Travis Boyd knew the situation when he came into training camp. He knew the Capitals were tight against the salary cap even before the team signed several depth forwards who could potentially push him out of the lineup. He knew he would have to scratch and claw to keep his spot. Initially, however, he was not able to show the Caps why he deserved to remain on the NHL roster. When Evgeny Kuznetsov returned from suspension early in the season, Boyd was among the odd-men out and reassigned to Hershey in the AHL.

Fate, perhaps, is now intervening as Boyd has been called up twice due to injuries and he has certainly made the most of those opportunities. Now in his second call-up, Boyd is showing the coaches in real NHL games what he could not in the preseason, that he is an NHL player and that the Caps are better for having him on the roster.

“It's been a tough year so far definitely, but try not to think about it,” Boyd said. “That's the part of this that's out of your hands. My focus has been every game I've had a chance to play this year, just try to go out there and play well and make it a tough decision for them whether to send me back down or not. Just try and play well every game and get another chance and continue to show what I can do.”

In just eight games, Boyd has already contributed six points (1 goal, 5 assists). That’s more points than Carl Hagelin (5), Nic Dowd, (4), Chandler Stephenson (4) and Richard Panik (1), all of whom have played more games. Boyd is also contributing with limited ice time. Dowd and Brendan Leipsic are the only Caps currently averaging less than Boyd's 10:03 of ice time per game.

Promoted to the third line for Monday’s game, it took Boyd just 50 seconds to end Panik’s point drought, setting up his linemate with a pass from behind the net that Panik fired into the far corner.

The main issue for Boyd is that, apart from his offense, he does not provide much else. He is not good enough to play on the power play and not well suited for the penalty kill. He plays more of a finesse style than the heavy, physical style the Caps covet.

“It's more than just points,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “Obviously we want our lineup to have a certain identity to it and be able to play a particular way that we feel gives us a chance to have success and that's a heavier, more physical, aggressive forechecking style. So those are types of things that he can continue to add [to his game].”

But, even if Boyd does not contribute those big hits, he does provide something that right now may be even more valuable: a small cap hit.

With a total cap hit of only $800,000, Boyd has the third-lowest cap hit among the team's forwards and fifth-lowest among all players on the current roster.

Given how dire the Caps’ salary cap situation is, the fact that the team could potentially save money against the cap by replacing someone on the roster with Boyd cannot be ignored.

So tight against the salary cap was Washington that when Panik returned from LTIR, the team reassigned both Boyd and Tyler Lewington to Hershey leaving them with only six defensemen and 12 healthy forwards, the bare minimum. So tight against the cap was the team that when both Dowd and Hagelin were injured, the team recalled Lewington, a defenseman, because he has the lowest cap hit and was the only player the team could afford to call up. So tight against the cap was Washington that the next day the team sent down future starter Ilya Samsonov and replaced him with Vitek Vanecek just to get enough cap hit to recall Boyd in order to skate four full forward lines.

Clearly, the team’s cap situation is not sustainable.

Forget about when the team travels to California at the start of December and will need to bring extra players in case of injury, this already has proven to be a problem for the team. They need more cap room.

Even if the cap situation did not necessitate some sort of move to free up space, Boyd is showing through his play that he deserves to remain with the Caps. The impact he is having on the ice is undeniable.

When asked if Boyd was competing to potentially stay in Washington, Reirden did not hesitate.

“Absolutely,” he said. “He's known that. The message has been clear to him. Especially as we're getting closer here to 30 days with him and a decision having to be made again, he's doing everything he can with his game to be able to prove every night that he deserves an elevated role or to be here. Certainly with the low cap hit and the offense he's been able to generate make it an intriguing situation for sure.”

Once the team gets healthy again, the Caps will have no choice but to send someone back to Hershey, but both Boyd’s production and his cap hit dictate that it should not be him.

“I think I am an NHL player,” Boyd said, “But ultimately with the way that everything has worked out so far this year, every game I get is just another chance to show that.”

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With Panik’s return, the Caps strip roster down to the bone and enter Monday’s game with no spare players

With Panik’s return, the Caps strip roster down to the bone and enter Monday’s game with no spare players

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Get out the bubble wrap, the Capitals need to keep their lineup healthy or they could be in trouble. Richard Panik will make his return to the lineup on Monday after spending 10 games on LTIR with an upper-body injury. His return will mean the Caps lose the cap benefit that comes with LTIR and will have to fit his $2.75 million cap hit under the ceiling. That has forced the team into tough moves to cut the roster down to make it cap compliant.

Travis Boyd was held off the ice for Monday’s morning skate as the team made sure it had a healthy lineup for Monday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes. Todd Reirden confirmed afterward that Boyd will be sent to Hershey. Because he was on the NHL roster for fewer than 30 days and 10 games, he does not have to go through waivers to be sent back to the AHL.

Tyler Lewington did have to pass through waivers and cleared Monday after being placed on Sunday. He was reassigned to Hershey as well.

While these moves were necessary for the team to get cap compliant, it also leaves the Caps in a bind. With Carl Hagelin still day-to-day with an upper-body injury, Washington now has no healthy spares on the roster.

None.

Zip.

Nada.

The Caps roster has just six defensemen and 12 healthy forwards, excluding Hagelin.

Have you ever gone to work feeling fine and had to leave before the end of the day because you suddenly got sick? If that happens to the Caps, or if someone twists an ankle walking to the rink or suffers some other sort of freak illness or injury, then Washington will be playing the Coyotes down a man on Monday.

This is not ideal, but the cap situation is what it is. For now, the Caps probably can get away with it until the end of the month. Once Hagelin returns it gives the team an extra forward. Of greater concern is the defense, but with the only road cames coming in Philadelphia, Boston and New York, easily drivable from Hershey, so long as there are no unforeseen injuries right before a game it should not hurt the team. On Nov. 30, however, the Caps travel to play the Detroit Red Wings then play three games in California. They have to have a seventh defenseman by that point.

The good news is that Lewington has a low cap hit at just $675,000, lower even than the league minimum. Perhaps the team can bank enough space by the end of the month to fit him back under the cap. If not, then general manager Brian MacLellan will have to get creative yet again and move a piece or two to fit in that seventh defenseman.

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Message received: Boyd, Stephenson know they are in a fight to keep their jobs

Message received: Boyd, Stephenson know they are in a fight to keep their jobs

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Capitals forwards Travis Boyd and Chandler Stephenson were given a very clear message in the offseason. It came in the form of the team signing free-agents Garnet Hathaway and Brendan Leipsic.

Both Boyd and Stephenson held depth roles last season, but the addition of two fourth-line players made it clear that the team was not satisfied with their play last season. Now in training camp, they find themselves in a position where they have to compete to earn the roles they played last year.

“It's a competition,” head coach Todd Reirden said at media day. “They know it's a competition. They're well-informed. It's a very clear message. No one in situations where there's competition are wondering what's going on.”

But even before camp started, both players understood what those signings meant for them and why they were necessary.

“I wouldn't sit here and say I wasn't disappointed or a little frustrated I guess watching the signings that we had here,” Boyd told NBC Sports Washington, “But at the same time I think all those signings help the team and I think definitely makes the team and this group of guys obviously a super dangerous group.”

Last season was Boyd’s first full year in the NHL. It got off to a rough start as an injury kept him out for several weeks. When he finally did get into the lineup, he struggled to stay in and found himself cycling in and out for the rest of the season. He finished the season with 53 games.

Boyd said that overall he felt he had a good season and showed he could contribute offensively with five goals and 15 assists in those 53 appearances. He did acknowledge though that the constant cycling in and out wore on him mentally which affected his play.

“There would be times where you would go a week, week and a half in between games,” Boyd said. “You don't really realize how tough that is until you're in that situation. Your ability to create offense in those situations is a lot harder because if it's your first game in a week and a half, for me personally, I probably wouldn't have came out (sic) there in the first period and been trying to make maybe some sort of a skill play at a blue line. You end up taking kind of the easy way out because it was your first game in a week and a half and you don't want to turn a puck over and then all of a sudden as soon as you turn that over a coach is like alright. It doesn't look good.”

That sentiment of the mental grind of trying to stay in the lineup was echoed by Stephenson who saw his production decline from 18 points in 2017-18 to 11 last season.

“I wasn't really just kind of going out and playing, playing freely,” he said. “Just felt like every game it was kind of a mind game for myself just with trying to stay in the lineup. Just wasn't playing and that's the biggest thing that you can't let yourself get to that point. Once you start thinking instead of just playing, it's usually not going to end well.”

If a guy like Alex Ovechkin or T.J. Oshie has a bad game, it does not come with that fear of wondering whether it means you will be out of the lineup. They can move on, but it is more difficult for Boyd and Stephenson who knew one bad game or even one bad play could be the difference between playing or getting scratched and not knowing when your next game will come.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that with so many depth players, that is not going to change this season. Even if they both do make the team, with so many depth players they are going to have to justify their spot in the lineup.

The experience of fighting for playing time last season should help both players with knowing how to deal with that mental grind, according to Boyd.

“Going in and out and playing on the fourth line was something I haven't done,” Boyd said. “I couldn't really tell you how long it's been for me there. Just being comfortable in that situation I think will help. For me, just put a little bit more effort and a little bit more focus on the practices, especially when you get into the grind of the season and once you actually get into the midpart of the season where a lot of days you can come here and really not be feeling that fresh. You might be able to sneak through a practice without really working hard or as hard as you could, but someone who's going in and out of the lineup trying to go 100-percent every day and trying to keep not only your body in that game shape, but also trying to get your mind into making quick decisions still and just trying to be ready for whenever you do get that chance again.”

First, however, both Boyd and Stephenson have to make the team which is not guaranteed.

Washington’s salary cap situation means general manager Brian MacLellan is going to have to find a way to shed salary. That means either Boyd or Stephenson, or perhaps even both players could find themselves on the move. Training camp and the preseason offer them the chance to show the team they still deserve to be in Washington.

The suspension to Evgeny Kuznetsov could also provide Boyd specifically a chance to impress.

With Kuznetsov out, Lars Eller is expected to move to the second line to replace him. That leaves an opening at third-line center.

This training camp was already important with Boyd fighting for his job. Now here is a chance to earn a third-line role to start the season and perhaps exhibit himself for the first three games until Kuznetsov returns.

“I can't even tell you how big it is,” Boyd said. “A chance to be in a role other than the fourth line if I am in that spot for these first three games, I'd love that. I'd love the chance, I'd love the opportunity. It's just a great opportunity for myself to showcase that I'm back from last year. I put on 10, 11 pounds over the summer so I've got some more weight to me this year, I feel like I'm moving well, I'm skating well I just want to go out there and, if I do get the chance in the first three games, go out there and show what I can do and hopefully show the coaching staff that hopefully I can play.”

As for Stephenson, he is taking a more relaxed approach to camp. If the pressure of staying in the lineup affected his play last season, he is determined to make sure the pressure of a competitive training camp does not drag him down.

“That'll just handcuff yourself and put you in a bad spot because you might be expecting something when it's not happening,” he said, “But for the most part, it's just a competitive camp. Come in, have fun, do what I can do and just do everything I can to stay here. I want to be here.”

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