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Caps' Tom Wilson says he won't change his game after NHL suspension

Caps' Tom Wilson says he won't change his game after NHL suspension

Tom Wilson doesn’t intend to change the way he plays, but the rugged Capitals winger says he'll be more cognizant of not being late on future hits.

Saturday, Wilson was suspended two preseason games by the NHL for a big hit on Blues’ prospect Robert Thomas that the league considered to be more than a second late.

Monday, Wilson spoke to reporters for the first time since the ban was announced.

“Every time you make a body check, you’re making a split-second decision,” Wilson said. “I take pride in the physical nature of my game. I take pride in my body checks. This is my fifth season, and I’ve made a lot of body checks — very clean, hard hits. So I trust myself. Maybe it was a second late or whatever, but I’m going to learn from it and I’m going to continue to play my game, my hard-natured hockey.”

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As a result of the suspension, Wilson will miss Wednesday’s exhibition game against New Jersey and Friday’s contest at Carolina.

More important than the missed time, though, is the fact that he’ll be considered a repeat offender if and when the NHL examines a future play involving him that it deems questionable. The suspension is Wilson’s first, though he’s been fined twice previously.

“I’m not going to change too much about my game,” he said. “I’m going to continue to do my thing, try and play hard within the rules.”

The 23-year-old added: “I take pride in the clean, physical nature of my game. That goes on my record now and whether it comes up down the road or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s my first one and you never like that to happen. I’ll learn from it.”

Coach Barry Trotz said he and his staff were surprised by the suspension but said that he does not feel the need to speak to Wilson about it. Trotz added that Wilson often studies which hits the NHL considers borderline and which hits the league considers clean.

“I think he understands,” Trotz said. “We were all a little surprised he got a couple of games, but we’ll accept it. He’s got to adjust. It’s no different than a centerman adjusting to the new faceoff rules or [Alex Ovechkin] adjusting on the slash rule. They are smart players and they will adjust. Tom is a really smart man and a good pro.”

That said, Trotz does not want the suspension to have a chilling effect on Wilson’s hard-hitting style of play. Over the past two seasons, Wilson has been credited with the fourth most hits in the league (492).

“You don’t want to take all of his game away from him,” he said. “He’s one of the best at getting on people and getting the big hits and turning pucks over and getting people nervous because he’s coming in. He doesn’t want to take that all out of his game. He just wants to understand his parameters and what the league is calling and looking for. But he’s got a smaller window” now.

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Capitals GM Brian MacLellan facing an offseason full of questions and no real answers

Capitals GM Brian MacLellan facing an offseason full of questions and no real answers

It's the job of a general manager to plan for the future. The team will project their contracts and salary cap years ahead of time. Of course, play on the ice is the most important factor and can change a team's plans, but every good general manager enters the offseason with a plan in place knowing who he wants to re-sign, who will walk, who to draft and who to target in free agency. This year, however, is different. How do you prepare for an offseason when you know...practically nothing? That's the task that lays before every NHL general manager right now, including Capitals GM Brian MacLellan.

Heading into the 2019 draft, the salary cap ceiling had not been set and it was rumored that the actual number would be below the initial projections. MacLellan called it "frustrating" to have uncertainty with the cap heading into a key date in the offseason.

Thanks to the coronavirus, there is much more uncertainty regarding this year's offseason. MacLellan has to prepare for both the playoffs and the offseason not knowing if the players will get back on the ice, an uncertain cap number that seems unlikely to rise next season, no date for the combine, no date for the draft, no date for free agency and no idea whether next season will begin on time or could get pushed back by the current season.

"It is difficult," MacLellan said in a conference call on Monday. "I guess we talk over all the possible scenarios and you try to prepare mentally for anything. What happens to the cap? Does the cap go down because revenues are going to decrease? Do they artificially keep it where it’s at? So, the answer to those questions puts us on pause on your [unrestricted free agent] negotiations. How do we proceed given both those scenarios? Those are just open-ended questions and we discuss them, but we don’t come up with any answers."

And there won't be any answers until the world begins to emerge from this global pandemic and the NHL can get some clarity on when players could potentially return to the ice.

Once the world is ready to return to some semblance of normalcy, however, it is not as if everything can return to business as usual.

One of the major events of the offseason is the draft. Both the scouting combine and draft, set for early and late June respectively, have been postponed. In addition, travel restrictions and health concerns greatly limited what the team's scouts were able to do even before everything was paused.

"The amateur guys, they had some big tournaments at the end that got canceled on them," MacLellan said. "It's a big part of their year. I think they always look forward to the tournaments and finalizing their lists and reports and it kind of got grounded to a halt at the end of this, at the end of the season for us. I talk to [assistant general manager Ross Mahoney] a lot about what we can do to keep guys engaged, the use of video. Can we do a little more phone interviews? We look for ways to stay engaged creatively and to see if we can improve on our process of finding players."

There are also logistical issues with changing the offseason calendar. The league year officially begins on July 1 and NHL player contracts expire on June 30 for any player on the final year of his deal. Should the season extend deep into the summer -- MacLellan noted the NHL had asked for building availability dates for the month of August -- those contracts would have to be extended.

“I think the League brought up that in the last call that it would be extended through August if that was the case," MacLellan said. "If that’s the route we were going down, the contracts I guess would have to be approved by the [NHLPA] still too, but they would go to the end of August, if that was the date they chose.”

That is a positive, but it will still be hard to prepare for free agency without knowing what the salary cap will be or when it will take place. That makes it difficult to know what the team can spend on its on free agents, let alone on players they can bring in. The Caps are a veteran-laden team with several players signed to long-term contracts when it was presumed the cap would continue rising. Even one year without the cap raising could quickly put Washington in a bind.

And while MacLellan is still trying to wrap his head around that, this is all being done not knowing if this season is over or not. Will there be a playoff for the Caps to further evaluate their players? Should MacLellan prepare for next season as if the Cup window is still open? It's hard to tell if the Caps can continue competing for the Cup without a postseason to evaluate.

And so for general managers across the league, people whose job it is to prepare for the future, they are all left with more questions than answers.

"I don't think we have answers to any of those questions," MacLellan said.

He added, "If we did (play) through August, could we have a couple of months off and then start back up in November? What do they do with that cap number? I think there are so many questions that we haven't even considered that'll pop up given whatever the result is at the end of this. Again, the league has been very open to anybody asking questions of giving recommendations. So all we can do is try and prepare for different scenarios that we see coming and do the best we can do."

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Kuznetsov tips in OT winner for Caps' 6th straight simulation win

Kuznetsov tips in OT winner for Caps' 6th straight simulation win

A two-goal rally for the Minnesota Wild forced overtime, but Evgeny Kuznetsov proved to be the hero for the Capitals in a 4-3 win in the latest NHL 20 sim. The win is Washington's sixth straight simulated win.

Result: Caps 4, Wild 3 OT

1st period

0-1 Wild goal: Joel Eriksson Ek from Mats Zuccarello and Zach Parise

2nd period

1-1 Caps goal: Jakub Vrana from Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie

2-1 Caps goal (power play): Evgeny Kuznetsov from Tom Wilson and Dmitry Orlov

3-1 Caps goal: Alex Ovechkin from Nick Jensen and Nicklas Backstrom

3rd period

3-2 Wild goal: Joel Eriksson Ek from Zach Parise and Ryan Suter

3-3 Wild goal: Alex Galchenyuk from Kevin Fiala and Mikko Koivu

Overtime

4-3 Caps goal: Evgeny Kuznetsov from Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson


How the Caps won

1. The second period

Minnesota held a 1-0 lead after the first, but Washington rallied to take control with three goals in the second period. Jakub Vrana got things started with a backhand goal off his own rebound less than three minutes into the second frame. Later in the period, Tom Wilson forced a kick-out save from goalie Devan Dubnyk and the rebound went right to Kuznetsov on the back door for the open net. Alex Ovechkin made it 3-1 with a breakaway goal.

2. Rebounds

This was not Dubnyk's best game. All three of Washington's regulation goals came off of rebounds and Dubnyk showed poor rebound control, giving the puck up in high-danger areas. Even on Ovechkin's breakaway goal, Dubnyk denied the initial opportunity but Ovechkin was able to grab his own rebound and backhand it in.

3. A critical faceoff

Kuznetsov won the opening faceoff to start overtime and that was it. That was the game. Kuznetsov would go on to score on that first shift to win the game as the Caps never gave up possession of the puck. They controlled it from the faceoff to the goal ensuring Minnesota never had an opportunity to win it.

Next game

The Caps were scheduled to play the Florida Panthers on the road Saturday. The game will be simulated with NHL 20 on NBC Sports Washington at 7 p.m.

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