Capitals

Quick Links

Capitals come up empty in regular season finale against Panthers

Capitals come up empty in regular season finale against Panthers

Final score: Florida Panthers 2, Washington Capitals 0

How it happened: Despite playing without some of their more important players, the Capitals were the aggressors in the first period on Sunday night. But the Capitals appeared to take a bit off the gas in the second and third period as the playoffs came into focus. The Panthers got things started with a shorthanded goal in the second period after the Capitals were unable to clear the puck out of their own zone.

After Phillipp Grubauer replaced Holtby for the third period, Denis Malgin found the back of the net on a power-play to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead. Panthers' goalie James Reimer finished with a 29-save shutout.

What it means: Nothing. The Capitals are headed to the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs and will face the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round, beginning on Thursday. The Capitals rested T.J. Oshiem Justin Williams, Matt Niskanen and a few others on Sunday in order to be healthy for the playoffs.

RELATED: STANLEY CUP PLAY BRACKET RELEASED

Goals

Panthers goal: Derek MacKenzie got things started in a penalty kill late in the second period. Following a broken play, Colton Sceviour found MacKenzie around the crease, who was able to put it past Braden Holtby at 15:47 of the second period. 1-0 Panthers.

Panthers goal: The Capitals' committed just two penalties all game, but the first one was costly. A Tom Wilson interference penalty gave the Panthers the man=advantage midway through the third period. Denis Malgin, got a nice feed from Reilly Smith, and buried past Grubauer. 2-0 Panthers.

Look ahead: The regular season is over. The Toronto Maple Leafs are up next, with the Capitals hosting Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Thursday, April 12.

3 Stars of the Game:

1. Evgeni Kuznetsov: The Russian forward is arguably the team's most important player as the playoffs get started. The enigmatic star is a physical force who elevates the level of his line when he;s on the ice. He was all over the ice on Sunday night, finishing with three shots, one hit and was 3-for-3 on the faceoff.

2. Garrett Mitchell: The Hershey Bears captain got called up for the Capitals final game of the season, making his NHL debut. Mitchell did solid work on the fourth line, registering a hit and skating with purpose and precision. This game was far from "meaningless" for guys like Mitchell.

3. Braden Holtby: Holtby played just two periods in the season finale. Despite the shorthanded goal, in which the Caps had ample opportunities to clear the puck, Holtby had a good dress rehearsal for the playoffs with 15 saves on 16 shots. 

 

 

Quick Links

Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin, and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s matchup:

Region: Fourth line forwards

Noel Acciari vs. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

2018-19 stats

Noel Acciari (27 years old): 72 games played with the Boston Bruins, 6 goals, 8 assists, 14 points, 12:59 TOI

Playoffs: 19 games played with the Boston Bruins, 2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points, 13:10 TOI

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (34 years old): 76 games played with the Vegas Golden Knights, 6 goals, 9 assists, 15 points, 12:26 TOI

Playoffs: 6 games played with the Vegas Golden Knights, 0 goals, 0 assists, 11:44 TOI

Hockey-Graph contract projections

Noel Acciari: 2 years, $1,180,934 cap hit

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare: 2 years, $1,450,996 cap hit

The case for Noel Acciari

Plays a lot bigger than his 5-foot-10, 205-pound frame. A perfect fit at right wing on the fourth line for Washington. The native New Englander, who played at Providence, is a home-grown Bruin and might not want to leave home, but Boston also might not have the cap space to double the salary of an obvious fourth-line player. 

Acciari is renowned for his character and toughness. He was a college captain for Providence and helped the Friars win an NCAA title in 2015. There’s never been a shot he’s unwilling to block. Acciari sustained a broken sternum in the second round against Columbus and a blocked shot with his right foot in Game 7 of the Cup Final left him in a walking boot. 

Acciari’s offensive upside is limited, but he did have 10 goals in 2017-18. He was a key player for the Bruins in the past two Stanley Cup playoffs and chipped in two goals in this year’s playoff run that came within a game of a championship. Acciari would help on Washington’s penalty kill, too. In 111:52 he was only on the ice for 11 power-play goals against. Only two Boston forwards were on the ice more short-handed.   

The case for Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

A late bloomer who grew into a bottom-six role for the Philadelphia Flyers and, the past two seasons, the Vegas Golden Knights. Bellemare held his own as an above-water possession player on a team that dominated in that area. But even when taking into account his usage and that he ranked lower than most of his teammates in that area, he was still about break even. 

No other forward logged as much time on the penalty kill for Vegas (147:54) and it wasn’t close. The Knights gave up just 18 power-play goals with Bellemare on the ice and scored three short-handed goals. He had two shortys in his time with the Flyers.

Bellemare won’t give you much offensively. He’s never reached double digits in goals or 20 points in a season. He’ll also turn 35 late next season. But he’s played in the Stanley Cup playoffs three of his four NHL seasons (31 games) and the Capitals remember him from the Cup Final in 2018. Bellemare had two assists in that series. He’s difficult to play against, would provide a veteran presence missing on the fourth line and was primarily a center for the Knights so he has positional versatility. 

Who’s your pick? Vote here. 

MORE CAPITALS NEWS

 

Quick Links

Breaking down all the implications of Carl Hagelin's new deal with the Caps

carlhagelin.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Images

Breaking down all the implications of Carl Hagelin's new deal with the Caps

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan had a difficult task this offseason of maintaining a roster that could still compete for the Stanley Cup despite facing a major salary cap crunch. The first big move came on Friday with the trade of Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers for Radko Gudas which freed up a sizable amount of cap space. The second big move came on Sunday with the re-signing of forward Carl Hagelin.

Washington acquired Hagelin at the trade deadline and he fit in well with the team. Now the Caps have locked him up for the next four years with an $11 million deal.

There’s a lot to like about this move.

Hagelin is a good player who played a significant role with two Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins teams. He scored only 18 points last season, but 11 of those points came in 20 games with the Caps showing there was an obvious fit. He instantly became Washington’s best forward penalty killer as he logged 2:21 of shorthanded ice time per game with the Caps, the most among the team’s forwards.

The Swedish forward is also incredibly versatile and can fit into any he is plugged into. That is a valuable asset considering the team may not have enough cap room to fill all its holes this offseason.

What Hagelin is best known for, however, is his speed. Now opposing teams will have to contend with the speed of players like Hagelin, Jakub Vrana and Evgeny Kuznetsov all while worrying about the physical play from players like Tom Wilson and Radko Gudas.

All that, and it came at a pretty great price.

After finishing up a four-year contract with a $4 million per year cap hit, Hagelin’s new deal carries a very modest cap hit of just $2.75 million.

Given his pedigree and his skillet, it seems likely there may have been a market for Hagelin’s talents had he reached free agency. The interview period in which free agents are free to talk to other teams does not begin until June 23 so this new contract prevented Hagelin for exploring other opportunities.

As good as this deal is, however, there are some problems with it as well that carry implications across the roster.

Just because Washington got Hagelin for cheap does not mean they did not overpay. Signing free agents frequently results in a team overpaying as the market tends to bump up the value of desirable players. MacLellan has, throughout his tenure, sought to keep cap hits low by offering long-term deals. Hagelin is no exception.

Hagelin will turn 31 in August. For a player whose main asset is speed, four years is a long term to give him. As smart a player as he is, once his speed begins to falter with age it will significantly hinder his effectiveness as a player.

You may not consider 31 to be old, but it is old enough that the team should be concerned by how he will look in the last few years of his contract.

Washington now has nine forwards, six defensemen and two goalies under contract for next season. According to CapFriendly, the Caps sit at about $10.7 million under the projected cap ceiling of $83 million. Jakub Vrana and Christian Djoos are both restricted free agents and expected to return. If Vrana takes a bridge deal, he will likely take a $4 million cap hit while Djoos should come in at about $1 million. That gives the Caps about $5.7 million to sign another three forwards and that’s assuming the salary cap is $83 million. According to Elliotte Friedman, after the combine, several teams believe the cap will actually be closer to $82 million which would, of course, mean less room for Washington to maneuver.

On the surface, $5.7 million appears to be plenty, but things are much tighter considering Brett Connolly is an unrestricted free agent and Andre Burakovsky is a restricted free agent. Just to qualify Burakovky would require offering him one year at $3.25 million. Suddenly that $5.7 million does not appear to be all that much.

At the very least, the Caps are going to be limited in what they can offer a player like Connolly and that will make it difficult to re-sign him.

“I was able to produce here, for sure,” Connolly said on breakdown day. “But it was in a limited role. So, part of me wants to challenge myself again and take that next step in my development. I'm 26, I feel I'm in the prime of my career, my body feels great. There's going to be opportunity out there, I know that.”

 Connolly turned 27 in May and is coming off a season in which he scored 22 goals, 24 assists and 46 points, all career-highs. Given the talent Washington boasts on its roster and their salary cap, there will be teams out there willing to offer Connolly a bigger role and more money than what the Caps can in free agency and that was before Washington re-signed Hagelin.

The problem here is that offensive depth is an issue for the Caps and one that Connolly directly addresses. In their playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes, Washington scored 20 goals in seven games. The team’s bottom-six forwards accounted for only five of those goals. That is just not enough. Of those five goals, one of them was an empty-netter and one came on a penalty shot. Of those three remainings, two were scored by Connolly.

Now the team may have no choice but to see its biggest bottom-six offensive threat leave in free agency and MacLellan has limited money with which to pursue free agent forwards leaving no clear solution for how to replace Connolly’s production. It is not going to come just from getting a full season from Hagelin.

Hagelin does a lot of different things really well on the ice. Producing offensively isn’t one of them. His career-high in goals is 17 which he last scored in 2014-15. Last season, he had five.

Yes, Hagelin is a very good player who adds speed, helps the team’s penalty kill and comes in at a great cap hit. What he does not address, however, is one of the team’s biggest weaknesses and his signing will make it very hard for the Caps to fix that weakness this summer.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS