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Capitals contemplate trading future for present

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Capitals contemplate trading future for present

In a conference call with reporters previewing tonight’s NHL draft at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., [6:30 p.m., NBCSN] Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan addressed a variety of subjects, including the Caps’ strategy regarding trades, free agency and the desire to add the pieces that could bring a long-awaited Stanley Cup to Washington.

We’ve condensed the conversation into topic-specific categories. In Part Two, MacLellan addresses the Caps’ strategy heading into tonight’s draft and the possibility of trading the Caps’ first-round selection, 22nd overall:

On the possibility of trading the Capitals’ first-round pick:

I’d be open. Right now I’d say it’s more than likely we’re making the pick. To give up that pick you’d have to have a pretty good impact player coming back – a player we feel would have an impact on our team and get us to the next level.

On the possibility of trading goaltender Justin Peters, who is on a one-way contract and appears to be ticketed for the AHL Hershey Bears with the recent signing of Philipp Grubauer to an NHL contract:

I think we’re going to let it play out. I think everybody is comfortable with what Grubi did when he was called up. Peters had a difficult situation that he played through. We’ll see how we start at camp, how everybody’s doing, and we’ll make our decision based on that.

On filling the void at top-line right wing through a trade or free agency:

We’re exploring both options. The UFA market, there’s a few possibilities. Like always, there are names that are possibilities that work in that spot We’re making calls every day and monitoring the market and trying to see if we could fill that spot and do it in a good way, without giving up too much.

… Depending on the quality of player, we’re trying to establish what we can do [in a trade] value-wise and what makes sense for us money-wise and pick-wise and value-wise, and see if we can find a match with someone that’s willing to trade a guy we like.”

On if he feels, with the way the Capitals are currently constructed, time is of the essence to make a deal for the present:

I do. We’ve got a window and we need to make decisions that are more present oriented than looking to the future. But you can’t sacrifice the future because we’ve got a lot of good young players also.

On the amount of trade activity he expects leading up to and during tonight’s draft:

Teams are constantly talking. There are a few names out there. Whether they happen or don’t happen I’m not sure. There are guys calling around trying to establish a market for players and what [teams are] willing to pay. It’s a process that goes on every draft.

On whether he would trade a late-round pick for the rights to a pending unrestricted free agent:

I wouldn’t.

On whether he would trade the rights to one of the Caps’ pending free agents [Mike Green, Joel Ward, Eric Fehr] for another team’s draft pick:

I don’t think we’re at that point to do that. It might happen as we get closer to the draft but at this time I would not consider that.

On the quality of player the Caps may find if they hold onto their first-round pick at No. 22:

We’ve gone over it the last few days. Our amateur staff have a couple guys they’ve identified at approximately our level that we might have a shot at. There are two or three players that are really good players who have some good upside. We have to let the draft play out, but I think there’s some good players that will be available at our spot at 22.

On the need for taking a defenseman in the first round, something the Caps have not done since drafting John Carlson 27th overall in 2008:

The philosophy is going to be to draft the best player available, that has the most upside. We’ll continue with that, whether it’s a defenseman, a center or a winger. We’re not going to draft by position only. We’re going to be looking for a guy that we think can play at a high level. … If it has to take him three or four years and he’s going to be the better player in three or four years, it’s a projection game. The one that has the highest potential in our minds would be the one we pick.

MORE CAPITALS: PART ONE OF MACLELLAN DISCUSSION

 

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What’s Christmas like in North Pole, Alaska? Cold, says Pheonix Copley of his hometown

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USA Today Sports

What’s Christmas like in North Pole, Alaska? Cold, says Pheonix Copley of his hometown

Ever wonder what Christmas at the North Pole is like? Just ask someone who’s been there like Capitals goalie Pheonix Copley.

Copley calls the North Pole home. North Pole, Alaska that is.

North Pole is a small town outside of Fairbanks (population of 2,232). Copley wears two candy canes on the bottom of his goalie mask in tribute to his hometown.

As you would expect, Christmas is a big deal back home, not just in December but year round. Santa Claus Lane cuts through the center of town and visitors can see the Santa Claus House located on St. Nicholas Drive.

“They definitely try and make it a theme in the town,” Copley said. “Light poles and stuff are candy canes, Christmas lights year round at places, businesses.”

Christmas itself, however, is more low-key for the people there than you would expect, according to Copley. As fun as the town name may be, there is one big drawback to December in North Pole: the weather.

“It's so cold up there, it's like not much really to do outside [at Christmas],” Copley said. “They do do ice sculptures and stuff so they go a little bit with it, but it's so cold and dark that not a whole lot going on up there.”

According to The Weather Channel, the forecast for Christmas day calls for a high of -8 degrees. That is a veritable heat-wave considering it is not supposed to get above -13 degrees in the five days leading up to Christmas. You can also expect there to be less than four hours of daylight.

That may sound miserable to some, but Copley always enjoyed making the trip home for the holidays.

“Especially growing up when I first started leaving, I was going home at Christmas and it was nice to see the whole family again and get to celebrate the holidays and stuff,” he said. “For myself, Christmas has always been a fun time. Just being from North Pole, I always get a lot of jokes and stuff about it.”

Now on the other side of the country and with only a few days between games, Copley will not make the long trip back home during the team’s Christmas break. Instead, he will remain in D.C. and, as he admitted, will enjoy a warmer Christmas.

But he still wouldn’t mind a little snow.

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The Capitals see so much more in Tom Wilson than just the physical play

The Capitals see so much more in Tom Wilson than just the physical play

The Capitals raised eyebrows over the summer by signing forward Tom Wilson to a six-year, $31 million contract. That’s a hefty contract for a goon whose only contribution to the team are some big hits.

But general manager Brian MacLellan sees a lot more to Wilson’s game than just the physical play. In him, MacLellan sees a top-line line player who is a leader on and off the ice. That was evident during the team’s run to the Stanley Cup and that’s why the team made such a sizable commitment to him in the offseason.

Wilson has a certain reputation around the league because of his physical style of play and his past run-ins with the Department of Player Safety. But that only tells you part of the story. When you look at Wilson’s entire skillset and body of work, it soon becomes clear why the Capitals have so much faith in him.

Washington recognized Wilson’s potential early on, making him a first-round draft pick in the 2012 NHL draft.

“Our amateur scouts had a high opinion of him -- the skating, the physicality, the character – and I think they thought there was some upside there offensively that we could tap into,” MacLellan said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Washington. “He did score some at the junior level, but they thought he could get to a different level as he turned pro.”

But because of how he was utilized when he first entered the league, no one knew Wilson had that extra level to his game.

In need of a physical presence to plug into the lineup, head coach Adam Oates gave Wilson his NHL debut in the 2013 postseason. Rather than return him to his junior team the following season, the Caps elected to keep him in the NHL. Oates, however, only utilized him in a fourth-line enforcer role and that’s how Wilson’s reputation began to grow.

Wilson worked hard at developing other aspects of his game, but it was hard to show those with fourth line minutes. No one saw the work he was putting into his game, all they saw was highlights of fights or big hits.

“He came in originally as a fourth line energy player, might have started in the league a year or two early or not depending on your opinion,” MacLellan said.

Wilson’s real breakout season came in the latter half of the 2017-18 campaign when Barry Trotz elected to make him a top line player.

Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov are two of the most talented offensive players in the NHL, but they are not nearly as good in their own zone. Rather than just load the top line with offensive skill and thus limit the situations in which it could be used, Trotz looked for someone who provide some defensive balance while also be able to keep up with the offensive skill of his line mates.

Wilson seemed like an odd choice initially, but only because most did not know how strong a skater he was. Most did not know his offensive upside. Most did not know the type of leader he was.

But the team did. It didn’t take long for the top line to take off with Wilson playing on the right wing.

“From the last 60 games and into the playoffs, I think his game hit a different level,” MacLellan said. “He played well on the first line with Kuznetsov and Ovechkin. [He] brings a lot to our team, brings a lot of energy to our team and I think at the point there in the playoffs that if we don’t have Tom Wilson, I don’t think we’re winning the Stanley Cup. He was that effective down in a couple of those series.”

If a general manager views a player as being that important to his team’s success, a big contract won’t be far behind.

It was a small sample size, but Wilson was only living up to the potential the Caps always knew he had and so a long-term deal seemed like a no-brainer.

“We felt confident and wanted him to be around here for as long as we could get him,” MacLellan said. “Both parties could have wanted a shorter term just to test the comfort level, test where he’s going to be skill wise and the impact he’s going to have on our team, but I think we were comfortable going term on him because we believe in the player, we believe in the person.”

“When the GM and the organization reach out and are willing to do a long-term thing, it’s pretty exciting and makes you feel good,” Wilson said. “That being said, it’s responsibility to continue to improve and help the team win because at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.”

For more on Wilson the player and the person, be sure to check out our mini documentary “Tom Wilson: Marked Man” that will drop Wednesday exclusively on the MyTeams app!

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