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Caps Primer: Be the best? Beat the best

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Caps Primer: Be the best? Beat the best

NEW YORK -- News, notes and quotes as the Caps and Rangers get ready to tee it up in one of the most anticipated Game 7s in Capitals history tonight at 7:30 at Madison Square Garden [6-:30 p.m. pregame, CSN]:

Best night in hockey: Is there anything better in sports than a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs?

Caps left wing Jason Chimera doesn’t think so.

“If you don’t [cherish this] you don’t have a heartbeat,” he said. “This is what you want to play for. You play street hockey and play Game 7s in your mind. If you can’t have fun with this you’ve got something wrong with you.”

Forget history: The Caps have heard nothing but negative numbers leading up to tonight’s games. About how they are 3-5 in Game 7s in the Alex Ovechkin era. About how Henrik Lundqvist has won five consecutive Game 7s. About how they are 0-4 when blowing a 3-1 series lead to force a Game 7. Quite frankly, they’re tired of it.

“History is history,” Chimera said. “That’s why they call it history. We’ve got to make new history.”

MORE NHL: CAPS/RANGERS SET FOR COLLISION 

Been here, done this: Since the Caps and Rangers met in the first round of the 2009 playoffs, five players have played in all 32 playoff games between the to teams: Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and defenseman Dan Girardi and Capitals forwards Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and caps defenseman Mike Green. Rangers defenseman Mark Staal and Caps forward Brooks Laich have been with their teams since then but missed payoff games games because of injury.

Lineup change? The Caps are expected to start tonight’s game with the same forward lines and defense pairings that ended Game 6. That means Marcus Johansson should begin Game 7 on a top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom, but don’t be surprised if Tom Wilson isn’t given a shot on that top line.

Game 7 hero? Who will be the hero of Game 7?

“That’s just a great question,” Brooks Laich said with a smile. “I have an opinion, but I’m going to keep that to myself.”

“It’s not going to be one person that wins this,” Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said. “It’s going to be everyone doing the exact same thing right.”

Joel Ward, who scored the game-winning goal in Boston in overtime three years ago, said several factors can play into how a hero become a hero.

“I don’t know what to say, just have fun,” Ward said. “You don’t put any pressure on yourself. You’ve just got to go out there and have fun. Just embrace the moment and shoot pucks, chip it in, get in front of the goalie. A lot of guys step up in different ways. It’s not always making the last shot. Sometimes it’s the guy who sets the pick or the guy that creates the turnover. That’s why I think hockey is the ultimate team game.”

Beating the best: To get to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998, the Capitals will need to beat a goalie [Henrik Lundqvist] who has won nine straight elimination games and is the only goaltender in NHL history to win five straight Game 7s. Lundqvist has an 0.80 goals-against average in his last five Game 7s, allowing four goals in five games.

“As a player you want to play in these moments when the game is on the line and your season is on the line and show what you’re made of,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneaul said. “There’s no doubt Hank loves these situations and I think the rest of our group also does.

“We were less than a couple of minutes away from our season being over [the Caps led 1-0 with 1:41 remaining in Game 5] and we found a way to survive. We found a way to win in Washington [in Game 6] and we want it to continue. We’ll give it our best shot tonight.”

Power outage: The Caps are 1-for-12 on the power play against the Rangers and are 0-for-10 in the past five games. The Rangers have essentially taken away Ovechkin in the left circle by playing him man-to-man.
“I can’t really tell you because that wouldn’t be really smart on my part,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said of adjustments he’ll need to make. “You don’t have to make sweeping adjustments but you have to make some.”
Could the Caps try Mike Green on the top unit? Could he replace Troy Brouwer in the diamond with Joel Ward or Jason Chimera?

Ovi time: After making a bold prediction the Caps would come back to win the series following Sunday night’s loss in Game 6, Alex Ovechkin sat out Wednesday’s morning skate and will be the focus of attention tonight.

“Big game, big-time player,” Trotz said of his 29-year-old captain. “I expect him to have a big game. I said earlier this year, it seems like the bigger the stage and the bigger the moment Ovi seems to rise. He’s done that all year and I expect that tonight.”
 

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Now the Islanders' coach, Barry Trotz explains why he left the Capitals

Now the Islanders' coach, Barry Trotz explains why he left the Capitals

DALLAS — Hours after being named head coach of the New York Islanders on Thursday, Barry Trotz made his first public comments since stepping down in Washington earlier in the week.

And, from the sounds of it, his departure was mostly a business decision.

“Yeah, obviously, I love the D.C. area,” he told reporters on a conference call. “But when it came to the business aspect, from my standpoint, I felt that it wasn’t really sincere [given] what we did together. So I decided that it was better to just move on.”

“I thank the fans,” he added. “I’m glad we could get it done. I said we could get it done in four years, and we did.”

Although the value of his contract with the Islanders has not been publicly disclosed, Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Trotz is set to earn “at least $4 million” per year—or more than twice what he was earning in Washington.

A source told NBC Sports Washington earlier this week that Trotz, who directed the Caps to their first Stanley Cup two weeks ago, sought $5 million per season for five seasons. The five-year term, that source said, was a non-starter as far as the Caps were concerned, given the relatively short shelf life of NHL coaches and the fact that Trotz had already been in Washington for four seasons.

When it became clear that the sides weren’t going to close the considerable gap between their positions, Trotz offered to step down and the resignation was accepted, making the 55-year-old a free agent.

When “I got the [counteroffer], I guess I knew it was time to go in a different direction,” he said.

In New York, Trotz replaces Doug Weight, who was fired earlier this month along with GM Garth Snow. Lou Lamoriello, a longtime NHL executive, took over for Snow and immediately started a search for a new head coach.

Once Trotz became available, it didn’t take Lamoriello to zero in on the NHL's fifth all-time winningest coach. The two met, exchanged ideas and quickly realized that they had found a good fit in one another. Trotz said he's already reached out to the Islanders' star captain, John Tavares, who could become the biggest prize on the free agent market on July 1. 

And, like that, Trotz now is the coach of a Metropolitan Division foe. The Caps and Isles will face off four times next season, beginning with a Nov. 26meeting in New York.

It’ll be weird, for sure. But professional sports is a business. And all sides involved in the Trotz saga were served a painful reminder of that this week.

Asked if he felt wanted in Washington, Trotz said: “Well, I’ll leave that up to the Caps to answer that. I think, absolutely. We just won a cup together and so I don't think that was an issue. I think it was more principle.”

In the end, Trotz wanted to be compensated like one of the top coaches in the game. And now he will, settling in behind big market coaches such as Toronto’s Mike Babcock ($6.25 million per year), Chicago’s Joel Quenneville ($6 million) and Montreal’s Claude Julien ($5 million).

“It’s good to be wanted,” he said. “It happened really quickly because you go from one emotion of winning the cup to the next emotion of leaving the team that you just won the Cup with, and you have to make some quick decisions. I know the timing of it—end of the season, the draft coming up, free agency [and] all that—there was some urgency on that. Both parties knew that, so we went to work at it and got it done.”

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The NHL salary cap numbers are in, what does it mean for the Caps?

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The NHL salary cap numbers are in, what does it mean for the Caps?

The NHL released the salary cap range for the 2018-19 season on Thursday. That sound you hear is the general managers frantically typing numbers into adding machines to figure out which of their players they can afford and which they are going to have to let walk.

The cap ceiling will rise from last year's $75 million all the way up to $79.5 million with the cap floor set at $58.8 million.

So what does this mean for the Capitals?

Here's a look at the team's pending free agents:

Unrestricted free agents: Jay Beagle, John Carlson, Alex Chiasson, Tyler Graovac, Jakub Jerabek, Michal Kempny, Anthony Peluso, Zach Sill, Wayne Simpson

Restricted free agents: Riley Barber, Madison Bowey, Travis Boyd, Adam Carlson, Philipp Grubauer, Tim McGauley, Liam O'Brien, Devante Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson

We will not know exactly who will make the roster, so to project how much money the Caps will have to work with, let's assume Nathan Walker makes the team and Shane Gersich goes to the AHL. That will give the Caps a little less than $14.8 million with which to work.

Considering the team will need to use about half of that number if not more to re-sign Carlson, that's not a whole lot to work with.

Is $7 million enough to re-sign Beagle, Kempny, Bowey, Smith-Pelly and Wilson? Probably not and that does not even account for prospects who will try to compete for the NHL roster such as Barber and Boyd.

Here's what the cap ceiling tells us:

  • The team's entire offseason will depend on if the team can re-sign Carlson and for how much.
  • Carlson's cap hit last season was just under $4 million. A $4.5 million increase in the salary cap ceiling doesn't mean much when Carlson is going to get a raise of $3 million or more.
  • Grubauer will almost certainly be traded because he is an asset and because there won't be enough money for the team to commit $1.5 million or more to the backup goalie like they did last season.
  • If Carlson returns, fan favorite Beagle has almost certainly played his last game as a Cap. Everyone wants him back, but he would have to take a severe discount for the Caps to fit him and even then, he would be taking away a roster spot from a young prospect ready to make the jump to the NHL.

Free agency opens July 1.

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