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Can Caps afford to bring Joel Ward back next season?


Can Caps afford to bring Joel Ward back next season?

Welcome to a playoff edition of our Penn Quarter Sports Tavern Friday six-pack, where we try to keep it real while answering your questions on the Capitals and their drive for the Stanley Cup. Let’s get started:

The fact that Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle skated on Friday should quell any kind of vindication the Rangers would have carried into Game 2 on Saturday at the Garden. Video replays can be interpreted a hundred different ways and while Nicklas Backstrom’s upper arm made contact with Boyle’s head, he did not appear to target Boyle’s head, nor did he launch himself into Boyle, two factors the NHL’s director of player safety considers when reviewing head shots. Backstrom was suspended during the Caps’ first-round series against the Bruins three years ago but he has an otherwise clean record. I think the Rangers were more upset that a penalty was not called than they thought there was an intent to injure, so any response from them in Game 2 should be minimal. Will they hit Backstrom, who led the Caps with five hits in Game 1, a little harder and a little more often? Probably. But the Rangers need to be very careful with their emotions. If Tanner Glass goes out there looking for revenge and puts the Capitals on the power play, New York will be down 2-0 in a series before they know what hit them.

Yes, but it will cost the Capitals. When we last asked Caps general manager Brian MacLellan about renegotiating contracts with his potential unrestricted free agents he said their performances and how they fit into the club’s structure, both on the ice and financially, would determine their fate. I’m a big believer that the chemistry in a locker room matters and Ward is a glue guy. He is an immovable object in the crease and he may have found a permanent home on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Backstrom. At 34 is he worth more than his current $3 million? Probably not. But I think that is the salary range we’re talking and I think the Caps see the value in keeping him.

I agree and it starts with personnel. Brooks Orpik clearly has stepped up his level of nastiness in the post-season and paired with John Carlson on the PK they have done an excellent job of forcing both the Rangers and the Islanders to the perimeter while also clearing the porch in front of Braden Holtby and eliminating second chances. Tim Gleason has also been a grit and spit player on the blue line and the Caps have gotten some big defensive zone faceoff wins from Jay Beagle. That will need to continue against the Rangers, who struggled on the power play in the regular season [16.8 percent] and are even worse in the post-season [13.6 percent].   

Good question. The Caps went 4-5-1 in day games during the regular season and that trend continued against the Islanders as they lost Games 3 and 6. I don’t think Alex Ovechkin is a big fan of afternoon games and I know most players don’t like being taken out of their game-day routines, which often include pre-game naps. With all of that in mind I think it was a good decision by Barry Trotz to give his players the day off on Friday and his players agree. “It was a long series against the Islanders and a quick turnaround for us,” Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “I think a lot of us were kind of drained after the game last night, both mentally and physically, and this time of year you’re not getting a lot out of practice, really. It’s just about adjustments. You can watch video and make sure your bodies are healthy. I think it was a good move for us.” With desperation as their guide, the Rangers will be flying in Game 2 and if the Caps can’t get up for an afternoon playoff game in Madison Square Garden, shame on them.

I would love to see it, but I just don’t see it happening, unless the Caps have multiple injuries on their blue line. Tim Gleason handled himself pretty well in Game 1, delivering two hits and blocking one shot while being an even player in 15:00 of ice time. I can’t imagine Barry Trotz changing his personnel on the blue line unless someone gets injured and my gut tells me Nate Schmidt would be the Caps’ first option if there is an injury on the back end. Trotz would be hard-pressed to give Orlov his first NHL game action of the season in the playoffs, but if two defensemen go down I think Orov would be the Caps’ next option behind Schmidt.

That’s a good question and I’m not sure the Caps even know the answer right now. Peters has one year and $950,000 remaining on his two-year deal with the Capitals. I don’t think many NHL teams would be interested in trading for him and I’m not sure buying him out is a great option, either. I think it’s imperative that Philipp Grubauer and Phoenix Copley continue to develop in Hershey and having Grubauer as a backup to Braden Holtby next season might slow his development. If I’m going under the assumption that Holtby will play between 65 and 70 games next season then I’m OK with Peters being his backup, because I think if Holtby was injured for any length of time Grubaer would be recalled as a starter anyway. For all he has been through this season Peters has been a consummate professional and that could go a long way in him returning to the Caps next season. 

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Capitals' T.J. Oshie had so much fun golfing, drinking through shirt again at celebrity golf tournament

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Capitals' T.J. Oshie had so much fun golfing, drinking through shirt again at celebrity golf tournament

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo may have won the American Century Championships celebrity golf tournament this weekend, but T.J. Oshie definitely had the most fun.

Using the Modified Stableford scoring format for the tournament — which included several pro and retired athletes, such as Steph Curry, Aaron Rodgers, Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, Charles Barkley and Joe Pavelski — Oshie finished with 11 points, tying for 48th with NFL Hall of Famer Tim Brown and Golf Channel host Lisa Cornwell. 

But the Capitals' winger's score didn't really matter because Oshie was out on the Lake Tahoe golf course in Nevada just having fun with his family and continuing the epic celebration as a new Stanley Cup champion. Obviously, that meant playing and chugging a beer through his t-shirt as 'We Are The Champions' played.

His brother, Taylor, was his caddy, and at one point, Oshie borrowed his brother's beer helmet while putting. He sunk it, and it was amazing.

Yeah, Oshie had a great weekend. Here's a look at some other moments from his weekend on Lake Tahoe.


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Key Caps questions: How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?


Key Caps questions: How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

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

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss 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: How will the Caps look different under new head coach Todd Reirden?

Tarik: It’s an important topic, but let’s not overthink this one. Since winning the Stanley Cup on June 7, the organization has pretty much telegraphed EXACTLY what it hopes will occur in 2018-19. Consider:

  • Todd Reirden was promoted after spending four years as Barry Trotz’s assistant, including the last two years as an associate coach with an expanded role. Reirden already knows everyone, from the players to the trainers and other support staff. He knows what buttons to push and when to push them. There’s a built-in comfort level and trust that should allow everyone to hit the ground running in September.
  • Four of Reirden’s assistants are holdovers, too. The one newcomer, Reid Cashman, is joining the group from Hershey and is a Reirden disciple. So, no adjustment period there, either.
  • Assuming restricted free agent Tom Wilson re-ups (and that would seem to be a very safe assumption), the Caps are bringing back 11 of the 12 forwards that were on the ice for Game 5 in Las Vegas. They’re also bringing back five of six defensemen. And the starting goaltender. Chemistry is a hard thing to explain and/or quantify. But you know when a team has it. And the Caps had it at the end of last year.

So if you look at what GM Brian MacLellan has been doing in recent weeks—and have been listening to what Reirden has been saying publicly—you can only come to one conclusion. The decision-makers feel they discovered the right mix of personnel and systems play at the end of the playoffs, from the defensive structure to special teams. In fact, they were first in goals per game, second-best on the power play and the fourth stingiest team in the postseason.

“Many of my [philosophies] were involved in how we were going to play, how our team was going to look, the identity that we had,” Reirden said on The Junkies recently, referring to last year’s game plan. “So, from a systems standpoint, I would say not much is going to change, at least initially, just because it seemed to work. …You’ll see much of the same.”

That doesn’t mean Reirden won’t make adjustments. He will because he’ll have to over the course of an 82-game regular season and, hopefully, another long postseason run. But it does underscore the fact that the foundation upon on which last year’s championship team was built is going to look awfully familiar. And that's clearly by design.

JJ:  The message from the Caps ever since Reirden was promoted to head coach has been one of consistency as they try to make a seamless transition to the new head coach. In that sense, we probably won't see many changes at all to start the season.

The Capitals just won the Stanley Cup and general manager Brian MacLellan worked to bring almost the exact same roster back for next season. Coming into the locker room saying there's a new sheriff in town and making drastic changes is not the way to go here

But that doesn't mean Reirden will do things the same way.

Reirden has coached at the college, AHL and NHL level. He has seen firsthand how Dan Bylsma won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and how Trotz did it in Washington. He also saw what didn't work.

Reirden got to this point by developing relationships with the players. He is much more of a players' coach than Trotz and that will be evident in training camp. I also expect there will be a much greater emphasis on development. Trotz famously said to the media that the NHL was not a development league, but a performance league. I expect Reirden to take a different approach.

After failing to win with veteran-laden teams, the Caps finally hoisted the Cup last season after getting significant contributions from young prospects such as Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey. Like it or not, the Caps' core will not last forever. Every year those players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson get another year older. I do not believe a coach who is as good at reaching players and developing them as Reirden is will be quite as reluctant to reach down onto the farm and sprinkle youth throughout his lineup whenever the team needs a spark.

It should not be lost on anyone that one of Reirden's new assistant coaches this year will be Reid Cashman, promoted from being an assistant with the Hershey Bears in the AHL. This is all good news for players like Lucas Johansen, Jonas Siegenthaler and Connor Hobbs, the team's three best defensive prospects who are hoping to have an impact at the NHL level sooner rather than later. The Caps roster is pretty loaded, but at the very least you can expect Reirden to have a hand in helping those players along at training camp.

Ultimately, the product on the ice is going to look almost exactly the same at the start of the season with the biggest changes coming off the ice. We won't see who Reirden is as an NHL coach, however, until we let the full 82-game season play out.