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Caps GM MacLellan explains reasoning behind Richards signing

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Caps GM MacLellan explains reasoning behind Richards signing

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan addressed the media before Thursday's game at Barclays Center and outlined how the Capitals came to a one-year contract agreement with 30-year-old center Mike Richards. Here is a transcript of MacLellan's pre-game interview:

On the timeline surrounding the signing:

I think we talked about him internally near the end of the summer and kind of monitoring his situation with L.A. and wanted to see what the outcome was of that. We had discussions with his agents just to keep in contact and see what the situation was going to develop into, [if] Mike was going to want to continue playing, and what was going to happen with his court cases and so forth and we just kind of kept in contact the whole time. We took an opportunity when we were in Toronto near the end of November to meet with him—me and Barry. Had a good discussion with him for about an hour, hour-and-a-half, just got a sense of where he was at personally, where he was at with his playing career, what he wanted to accomplish, emotional stuff. Felt a good comfort level from there and then we had further discussions with his agent. He had a number of teams interested in him. We kept pursuing him and monitoring his court cases. We had our lawyer talk to his lawyers. We had immigration lawyers involved. So, it’s been a long process. It ended with us signing him the other day.

On whether Jay Beagle's injury led to the signing of Richards:

No, I think we were pursuing him regardless of what happened with Jay. We’re looking to add depth at center for us. I think the goal at the end of the summer was to have a left shot centerman that could take faceoffs, play against hot lines, do some PK work for us, and he was on our list just to thorough with it.

On the strong comments by Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi in October:

I’ve heard Dean’s comments. I think it was important for us to hear the other side of the story, too—from Mike. There’s always two sides of the story. We listened to his side. Both people have a case, and we were comfortable with what Mike expressed to us about the situation.

On what he and Barry Trotz asked Richards when they met with him near the end of November: 

It was more where he was at. I think he’s had some experiences here that have affected him personally and career-wise. We wanted to get a sense of how he was recovering from that and what he was looking to do, going forward, and could he accomplish it, and did we feel he could accomplish it?

On what legal issues lie ahead for Richards: 

“He has a hearing. I think it’s a little uncertain, but he has a hearing coming back January 28, which I think is more a status hearing. We’re in communication with his lawyer. We think he’s going to plead not guilty. We think we’ll have a favorable outcome for him in this case. It may drag on. I think it’s open from our communications with his representation. It could be over. It could drag on.”

On what makes Richards worth the work it took to get him:

I think the player that he was. He’s got over 120 games playoff experience. He’s been on a lot of championship teams from junior to American League to NHL to Olympics. I think that doesn’t happen by accident. We’ve followed him in all of those. There’s a quality person, teammate there that we were interested in, and we think we can get a lot of that back out of him.

On monitoring Richards' progress off the ice:

I think we’re going to support him any way we can. Playing-wise, physically, emotionally, mentally. We have a good group here. Our room is solid. He has a good friend in Justin Williams in our room. Barry’s a good coach. We have a good coaching staff. The environment is good, and I think he recognizes it. I think it’s going to be to be very comfortable for him in that environment. If he needs help, we’ll get him help.

On if he feels Richards understands how grave his situation is:

Yeah, I do. He’s played a lot of hockey, and I think it has a toll on you, physically, mentally and emotionally. I think with the time off with his recovery, physical stuff. Whatever has gone on in his personal life, I think it’s been important for him, I think it’s been important for him to reestablish how much he enjoys playing and the level that he enjoys playing at.

On Justin Williams' input in signing Richards:  

I think most of the input we asked from Justin is: What kind of guy is he? The one thing we wanted to get a sense of, is if we put him in our locker room, what’s he going to be like? I think Justin basically said that there was no chance he would be a bad influence within our room. He’s a good person, brings a lot to the table. He spoke very highly of him.

On where Richards is physically and whether he will play in AHL Hershey before joining the Caps:

We’re leaving it open. We’re going to have skate with us for however long, we’ll see how he does. We’ll do some conditioning skates. We’ll monitor his progress. We’ll see how he feels. It will be up to Barry and him. We can use the two weeks conditioning period if we want. He can go down to Hershey for two, three, four games. It depends how Mike’s doing and what the coaching staff wants to do with him.

On messing with the Caps' locker room chemistry:

A lot of that was…Justin pretty much said there would be no problems with the person he knew. Mike’s in a good spot when we talked to him. I don’t think that was a major concern for him. I think the only thing we’re waiting to see is what level he’s at physically, where he can play in the lineup.

On how much he knew about Richards:

I’ve been a personnel guy for a long time. I’ve watched him in the World Junior. I watched him in Philly. I watched him in L.A. So, I have a good grasp of who he is on the ice. I mean you hear stuff off the ice, but again, I’ve talked to people around who know him, and everybody wants to see him do well. They all comment on how competitive he has. They all comment on [that] he’s an impact player in the game. He raises his level during big games. That’s what you’re looking to get out of him.

On whether the Capitals are finished adding players:

“I think we need to wait here a little bit and see how Mike, where he fits in our room and make decisions based on that. ... Last year we were looking to add some depth. We tried  to fill a couple of holes. We’ll probably do the same thing this year if we feel that’s a need. I think we have a most improved lineup this year. I don’t think the sense of urgency to add, especially if Mike works out, will be there.”

On Lombardi’s comments that NHL teams need to be better prepared to handle players' off-ice issues:

I think we are. You never know until a circumstance comes up. I think our group is tight. I think there’s a lot of support within the group, and I think if we had a circumstance that needed to be addressed, it would come from players or it would come from assistant coaches or it would come from the coach, and we’d address it. I think the most important thing is for guys to ask for help, ask their teammates for help. I think we have a good environment right now for that.

MORE CAPITALS: Kings GM now 'pulling' for Mike Richards

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Your guide to this year's Capitals Development Camp

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Your guide to this year's Capitals Development Camp

While this year’s Capitals roster brought home the ultimate prize – the Stanley Cup – it’s no secret that the team won’t be able to stay together as it is.

Despite the NHL salary cap rising from $75 million to about $79.5 million, the team will have less than $20 million to re-sign 19 active NHL and AHL affiliate players.

Challenging seems like an understatement when considering that key players like John Carlson, Jay Beagle, and Devante Smith-Pelly are due for some significant raises from their previous contracts. 

Similarly, the organization has to maintain depth, keeping its core roster strong while still offering smaller two-way contracts to their minor-league players in Hershey. 

With this in mind, this summer’s development camp seems especially crucial. For die-hard fans and new arrivals alike, all eyes are on how management will keep the team’s momentum next season.

Here’s what you need to know about attending Capitals Development Camp –shortened as dev camp – including who to watch and what events are most worthwhile.

What should I expect for Capitals development camp?

Development camp is fairly self-explanatory.

For one week every summer, as offseason contract negotiations take place, prospective players, minor-league players, and junior league players gather for a week for assessment, scrimmaging, fitness testing, practice, and publicity events. However, it's important to realize that the roster will not be finalized until the last minute, and depends on who the Capitals select or trade for in the 2018 NHL draft this Friday and Saturday.

Practices are free and open to the public at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, with coaching and managerial staff assessing players. Fan Fest will take place on Saturday, June 30 featuring the final camp scrimmage.

The Alumni Summer Classic game is scheduled for Tuesday, June 26 at 6:30 p.m. at Kettler. The event is also free and open to the public.

Who should I be looking out for?

Former Hershey Bears on entry-level contracts like Jakub Vrana and Madison Bowey provided essential depth to the Capitals through this historic season. Several of their colleagues may be next in line.

Defensemen 
Following last years’ development camp, Connor Hobbs, Lucas Johansen, and Jonas Siegenthaler joined the Hershey Bears, showing promise on the team’s blue line. 

Hobbs, 21, spent two seasons with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League before coming to the Bears this past season. In November 2017, Hobbs suffered a wrist fracture, missing 32 games of the Bears’ 76-game season. Despite the injury, Hobbs put up a total of 16 points in 44 games.

Assuming he stays healthy, he only stands to get better. Like Siegenthaler, we’ll likely see him in the preseason lineup.

Johansen, 20, also came to the Bears from the WHL – Kelowna, to be exact. The 2016 first-round pick put up a respectable 27 points over 74 games this season. Though this may seem like a significant drop from his previous season’s 41 points in the WHL, the decrease is fairly typical when transitioning from junior to professional hockey.

Siegenthaler, 21, has the most impressive resume of any Capitals defensive prospect. Siegenthaler struggled to produce with the Bears this season, but did finish the full season in Hershey after spending 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons with Switzerland’s ZSC Lions and joining the Bears for their spring playoff push. He’s also made appearances on the international stage at the U20 World Junior tournament, adding his name to Switzerland’s national team roster this season.

It will be interesting to see if he could push for a spot with the NHL club.

Forwards
On the offensive side, Brian Pinho, 23, seems to be poised for a change. Coming off a four-year career with the Providence College Friars, Pinho captained the team to the NCAA quarterfinals this season.

It’s uncommon, yet not unsmart, to finish out a college degree before joining the NHL. Pinho will likely join the Bears next season.

Garrett Pilon, 20, was traded from the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers to the Everett Silvertips. The star child of Everett’s historic playoff run, he proved his indispensability as a scorer who works well under pressure, racking up a whopping 80 points in his final junior league season.

With contracts up in the air for several of the Capitals’ bottom-six forwards and favorable testimonies from management, Pilon might be the strongest chance to crack the lineup.

Goaltending
The Caps’ depth and future in goal looks a bit wonky, with general manager Brian MacLellan strongly hinting at shopping backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer to teams who may be able to use him as a starter. Braden Holtby isn’t going anywhere, but you need more than one goalie for an entire NHL season, plus playoffs.

What to do? We’ll have to see how this year’s draft shakes out on June 22 and 23. But for now, keep an eye on Ilya Samsonov. The 21-year-old posted a 0.926 save percentage across 26 games with the KHL’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk this season. Even if he moves up to Hershey next season, it’ll be interesting to watch his development.

What else should I know?

If this dev camp is your first time at Kettler, get excited!

Note that for all practices except scrimmages, forwards will be dressed in red or white practice jerseys and defensemen in blue.

Since most players are new and/or under watch by management and coaching, all players will have names and numbers on the backs of their jerseys to make them easier to identify.

Keep in mind that whoever the Caps chose – or trade for – with their six picks in Friday and Saturday’s draft will also affect the dev camp roster. It often isn’t finalized until the last minute. Dev camp provides the first and best chance to get up close and personal with the Caps' newly drafted players. The uncertainty of who you'll get to see can be a drawback, but regardless, attending can give a great glimpse into where the Caps may be headed next season.

Between the Alumni Game, practices, and final weekend scrimmages, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to get your offseason hockey fix or take a step back from the Capitals’ salary cap woes. The final schedule for the week is likely to be released Sunday.

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Grading the Caps' 2013 draft

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USA TODAY Sports

Grading the Caps' 2013 draft

The NHL is different from the NBA and NFL. Unless you have one of the absolute top picks of the draft, chances are you are not going to see any players from a draft class for several years. That makes it pretty hard to evaluate how a team did with its picks.

As the Caps prepare for the draft to begin Friday, let’s turn the clock back five years and see how they did in the 2013 draft.

First round, 23rd overall: Forward Andre Burakovsky

The draft is all about finding players skilled enough to produce in the NHL. They certainly found that in the young Swede. There’s no question that Burakovsky has top-six talent, but we all keep waiting for that breakout season when he takes his game to the next level. Even after four NHL seasons under his belt, he still can’t quite get there. Consistency has always been an issue for him and the root of that problem comes from both his durability issues and between the ears. He should be a 20-25, maybe even 30-goal scorer if he can put it all together.

Overall though, this was a solid pick for the Caps. Judging by the players drafted after him to fill out the first round, either Burakovsky or defenseman Shea Theodore were the two best players available. Washington picked one of them and got a top-six forward out of it.

Second round, 53rd overall: Defenseman Madison Bowey

Bowey made his long awaited NHL debut this season, but the jury is ultimately still out on just how good he is. The potential is certainly there, but the growing pains of a rookie were still there as well. The Capitals have an NHL-caliber defenseman in Bowey, but time will tell if he is a top-four one.

Second round, 61st overall: Forward Zach Sanford

Drafted players can provide value in two ways: on the ice and as trade value. Sanford was a traded to St. Louis as part of the package that brought Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington. Sanford was a tweener last season in that it looked at times like he was not quite ready for the full-time switch to the NHL, but was brilliant when he played in the AHL. An injury limited him to just 20 games in the AHL this season, but he looks like he could be a solid bottom-six addition in the NHL if he can get healthy again.

Fifth round, 144th overall: Defenseman Blake Heinrich

This one was a miss. Heinrich’s career has not gone past junior. He has 132 career games in the WHL, 85 games in the USHL and spent the 2017-18 season playing for the University of Manitoba.

Sixth round, 174th overall: Forward Brian Pinho

Pinho spent four years developing his game at Providence College and developed into a very strong two-way player at the collegiate level. He signed an entry-level contract with the Caps at the end of his senior year just before the end of the regular season. He skated with the team a few days before he was allowed to return home to finish his degree. He will likely start next season in the AHL, but there is some potential for him to become a bottom-six center in the NHL which would make him a steal in the sixth round.

Seventh round, 204th overall: Defenseman Tyler Lewington

A hard-nosed defenseman who is never afraid to drop the gloves, Lewington has certainly found a home in Hershey. Overall, his skillset is much better suited for that level and I do not see any extensive NHL time in his future, but to find a dependable AHL defenseman in the seventh round is a good find for Washington.

Overall Grade: B+

Picking at No. 23, there were not many superstars to choose from. The Capitals still found one of the best players available in Burakovsky. With no third or fourth round pick, Washington really needed to nail their two second round picks. It’s too early to tell exactly how good Bowey will be and the evaluation for Sanford changes now that he was traded from “how good is he?” to “was this good asset management?” It’s still a bit too early to answer that question as well. There is only one real bust in the draft class, but the fact that the Caps found value in both the sixth and seventh round including one player who still could potentially fill an NHL role gives this class a high grade.

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