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20 offseason Caps questions: Should the Caps re-sign Justin Williams?

20 offseason Caps questions: Should the Caps re-sign Justin Williams?

Another playoff disappointment—as well as a host of expiring player contracts—has left the Capitals with a ton of questions to answer this offseason. Over the next month, Jill Sorenson, JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir will take a close look at the 20 biggest issues facing the team as the business of hockey kicks into high gear.     

What do you do if you can’t find playoff success? You sign a player who has won three Stanley Cups, one Conn Smythe Trophy and is 7-0 in Game 7s. Washington signed Mr. Game 7 himself, Justin Williams in the summer of 2015 for his veteran leadership, but he also brought a lot of production to the team as well with 52 and 48 points respectively in his two seasons with the Caps. Unfortunately even he could not lead Washington past the second round as he lost in Game 7 for the first time in his career this season. Now his contract is up and the Caps have a tough decision ahead of them.

Today’s question: Should the Caps re-sign Justin Williams?

Sorenson: Ugh, I hate this question.  Justin Williams has been such an important part of the Capitals’ growth and success the past two years, I hate to admit the fact that Washington may have to let him go.  However, he will be 36 this fall, and while in his next contract, he may not earn his $3.5 million salary he did the past two years, there is probably a team who could afford to pay him somewhere in that neighborhood.  He has put up 52 and 48 points respectively in his last two years here, which are higher than his previous three years in LA, despite playing fewer minutes per game, on average.  If for some reason Williams still believed his best chance to win a fourth Stanley Cup was here with the Washington Capitals, and he is not ready to hang up his skates, maybe he would be willing to take a large pay cut to stay.  That is a decision Williams has earned the right to make.

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Regan: If you are a team that cannot get over the hump in the postseason, Justin Williams is exactly the type of player you need. Yes, Washington was still unable to get past the second round for the past two seasons with Williams in tow, but his is still a voice you want in the locker room come the postseason. The problem with bringing him back, however, is money. The Caps just don’t have much of it and probably not enough to sign a player who will turn 36 in October. If I am Brian MacLellan, after I settle all my RFAs my first call is to T.J. Oshie. If he re-signs, then there is zero money left for Williams. If he doesn’t, then MacLellan’s second call should be to Williams to see just how low he would be willing to go. A veteran leader like him will undoubtedly be able to get more on the open market than in Washington, but he turned down a bigger offer from Montreal to sign with the Caps originally. Would he be willing to do it again? If not, you have to let him walk.

El-Bashir: A phrase I heard often during my four years covering the NFL was, “You can’t keep everybody.” And my gut tells me that phrase could end up applying to Williams, who has accumulated an even 100 points (46 goals, 54 assists) in two years as a member of the Caps. To me, this is GM Brian MacLellan's second toughest decision after sorting out T.J. Oshie’s future in Washington. Let’s consider the pros: Williams is still a productive player and he’s savvy enough to make adjustments that compensate for what Father Time has taken from him. Experience matters, too. Look no further than Chris Kunitz, the Penguins’ Game 7 hero. The 37-year-old alternate captain’s numbers have declined, but he earned every bit of his $3.85 million salary on Thursday night by being the Penguins’ best player in their biggest game of the season. Williams has risen to the occasion in the past and his DNA suggests he’ll do it again. The cons: Williams will be 36 in October and the Caps need to get younger and faster. MacLellan also must consider the need to create full-time openings for prospects like Jakub Vrana, a winger who’s itching to take the next step and costs significantly less. In the end, I suspect the cap-strapped Caps will make a play to keep No. 14, who earned $3.25 million each of the past two years. And then Williams, who has said he’d like to stay but may well attract longer, more lucrative offers elsewhere, will have a business decision to make. My take: both sides will ultimately decide it’s best to move on.

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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final

It all comes down to this.

The Eastern Conference Championship is on the line Wednesday as the Capitals take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in Tampa. Here are five keys for how the Caps can win and advance to face the Vegas Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

Score first

Game 7 is in Tampa Bay, the Lightning are deeper offensively and defensively and have a goalie capable of shutting down an offense.

Oh, and the Lightning are 8-1 when scoring first this postseason.

The Capitals are at their best when they are dictating the play. They want to play physical, trap the blue line and counter against the Lightning. None of those are particularly great strategies for chasing a game.

That makes the first goal critical.

The Lightning fans have seen their team lose twice at home already this series and fail to close out the Caps in Game 6. They have watched their team reach the conference finals two straight years in 2015 and 2016, fail to win the Stanley Cup in either year and fail to even make the playoffs in 2017.

Not only does playing with a lead better suit their game plan, but if Washington scores first that crowd is going to get very uncomfortable very quickly.

Gauge the referees

The Caps were very physical in Game 6 and they found success with that game plan. You would expect them to have a similar approach to Game 7, but they need to be careful.

In Game 6, it was clear the referees had put away the whistles. There were a few questionable plays on both sides that the referees let go. In a Game 7, you would hope the referees take the same approach, but they may not.

Tampa Bay’s power play is very good and the Caps cannot afford to give them many opportunities, but Washington will still want to play a physical style. It’s a fine line to walk so the Caps will need to quickly figure out how strictly the referees are calling the game and adjust accordingly.

Win the goalie matchup

In this series, Andrei Vasilevskiy has had two bad games and four good ones. He lost both of his bad games and won three of his good ones. He did not win the fourth, however, because he was outplayed by Braden Holtby.

Vasilevskiy was great in Game 6, but Holtby matched him save for save as both teams battled to get on the board. When the Caps finally did, Holtby shut the door to make sure the Lightning could not climb back. Vasilevskiy allowed just two goals on 32 shots, but Holtby turned away all 24 of the shots he faced for the shutout.

This is Game 7. There is no Game 8 just because you run into a hot goalie. If Vasilevskiy is on his game again on Wednesday, Holtby will have to be just as good if not better to make sure the Caps win.

Beat the fourth line

Playing at home in Game 6 allowed the Caps to get away somewhat from the Alex Ovechkin vs. fourth line matchup the Lightning have found success with. At 5-on-5, Chris Kunitz played 6:55 against Ovechkin, Ryan Callahan played 6:22 and Cedric Paquette played 6:12, considerably less than the 13:04, 13:46 and 13:42 each respectively logged in Game 5.

With Game 7 in Tampa, Barry Trotz will not be able to get away from that matchup. That means Ovechkin will just have to beat it.

That does necessarily mean he has to score a hat-trick. Ovechkin was one of the team’s top performers in Game 6 despite not logging a point as he helped establish a physical tone that ignited the team. But he has to make sure at the very least that his line is not outscored by the fourth like it was in Game 5 when Paquette and Callahan each scored.

Have a short memory

If you have a bad game in Game 1, you know you can bounce back in the series. A Game 7, however, is winner take all. If there’s a bad bounce, a bad call by the referees, a bad play, a missed save, whatever it may be, the Caps have to be able to put it out of their minds quickly.

There is no room for the “here we go again” mentality on Wednesday. The fate of this season will be determined within 60 minutes. If Holtby is not on his game, the Caps will have to battle through it. If Ovechkin has a bad night, the Caps will have to battle through it. If the referees decide they are going to call everything down to the letter of the law, the Caps will have to battle through it.

If something goes against them, they cannot allow it to bog them down mentally as we have seen at times in Game 7s of the past.

Likewise, if things go well they need to put that out of their heads as well. Desperation will grow among the Lightning as the game goes on. This is not the time to sit on a lead or circle the wagons.

Washington can’t let mistakes or success go to their head until the clock hits 00:00.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

The Eastern Conference Final is going the distance!

After losing three straight to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Capitals won Game 6 to force a Game 7 in Tampa Bay. Can the Caps beat the Lightning one more time and advance to the Stanley Cup Final?

JJ Regan, Tarik El-Bashir and special guest cameraman Mike D break it all down.

 

PLEASE NOTE: Due to schedule and time constraints, this podcast was recorded by phone and the audio quality is not up to our usual standards.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.