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Friday Six-Pack: Looking at the bottom six


Friday Six-Pack: Looking at the bottom six

Welcome to another edition of our Friday six-pack, where we answer the top six Capitals questions of the week. To participate, just tweet me a Caps question at @ChuckGormleyCSN. Let’s get started:

Will Beagle have as good a year as last year? - @averagecapsfan

Last season Caps center Jay Beagle put up career highs in goals (10), assists (10) and points (20) while splitting time between the Caps’ third and fourth lines and averaging 12:48 in ice time. This season he’s nailed down the No. 3 center spot and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, anchoring a unit with Jason Chimera on his left and Tom Wilson on his right. Beagle’s primary responsibilities this season have been killing penalties, winning faceoffs and shutting down  opponents’ top lines. Heading into tonight’s night’s game in Edmonton (9 p.m., CSN) he has won 62.8 percent of his faceoffs, has helped the Caps kill off 15 of 18 penalties and is aplus-1 in his first six games. As for his scoring, he now has one goal and two assists after picking up a goal and an assist in Thursday night’s 3-2 win in Vancouver. Those numbers should increase as Beagle becomes more comfortable with his new linemates. If you’re asking if Beagle will produce more offense this season than last, I’d say anything more than last season would be a bonus. But if Beagle’s line can keep top lines off the scoresheet most nights the Caps will win a lot of games this season with the firepower they have on their top two lines.

what's your thoughts on #21 this year? A lot of money for a 4th liner. Will he step up or continue to take up cap space? - @MgregorioMike

Yes, Brooks Laich will make $4.5 million this year and next. And yes, that is a lot of money for a fourth-line player who enters tonight’s game without a point in his first six games. Through his first six games Laich’s average ice time of 11:51 is below the 14:43 he averaged last season and far below the 18:17 he averaged back in 2009-10 when he posted career highs in goals (25), assists (34) and points (59). Given his limited ice time it’s hard to see Laich providing the kind of offense that will move him up on the depth chart. That said, Capitals coach Barry Trotz said that if Laich performs well on the defensive side of the ice – he leads all Caps forwards in shorthanded ice time -- he will be rewarded with opportunities on the offensive end of the ice. Realistically, with the depth the Capitals added over the summer with the additions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, Laich probably ranks 11th on the Caps’ forward depth chart, ahead of only Chandler Stephenson, Michael Latta and Stan Galiev. Because of that he’ll find it difficult to reach double figures in goals.

RELATED: Ovechkin turns 'muffin' into first game-winner 

Q: With the surprising play of both Chorney & Stephenson, who might be on the outside looking in & HER bound? - @CapsYapp

Let’s start with Taylor Chorney. The Caps, especially assistant coach Todd Reirden, liked what they saw in Chorney during the Penguins’ first-round playoff loss to the New York Rangers last season, so I wouldn’t say his steady play early this season has been a surprise. I think the Capitals are trying to see if Chorney’s calmness and strong positioning is the perfect complement to defenseman Dmitry Orlov, who can freelance a little bit with his desire to make a big hit or jump up in the play. Orlov and Nate Schmidt were back together again Thursday night and both finished a plus-1, with Orlov starting the 2-on-1 that led to Evgeny Kuznetsov setting up Alex Ovechkin for the game-winner. If the Caps like what they see in Orlov and Schmidt, they’ll keep Chorney as their seventh defenseman. But if the Orlov-Schmidt pairing shows too many holes, you may see the Caps experimenting with Chorney alongside Schmidt. So, in a nutshell, I don’t see anyone on the Caps’ blue line being sent to Hershey any time soon.

The play of Chandler Stephenson will determine whether the Caps send one of their two extra forwards – Stan Galiev and Michael Latta – back to Hershey. Through his first four games Stephenson was used sparingly (9:00 of ice time) but did not look out of place at the NHL level. Since Trotz prefers to carry 13 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies, look for Galiev to be placed on waivers with the intent of sending him to Hershey, possibly when the Caps return from their Canadian road trip on Saturday. (I’m not sure how other NHL teams feel about Galiev, but there may be enough interest in him to be claimed). If Galiev clears waivers and is re-assigned, it would leave Stephenson and Latta to battle it out for the role of fourth-line center.

Will Kuzy continue to play on the 1st line? @KHwarrior

For now, yes. I like the chemistry Evgeny Kuznetsov has shown with Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie. But like everyone, including Barry Trotz, I’d like to see how Nicklas Backstrom would look on that top line and I wouldn’t mind getting a glimpse of Kuznetsov between wingers Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams. Since about the midway point of last season we have seen incredible strides in Kuznetsov’s game and at 23 I think the best is yet to come. Kuznetsov is an NHL star in the making and this may be the season everyone takes notice. Trotz certainly has, throwing this comparison out after last week’s win over the Blackhawks, in which he took the puck off Kris Versteeg to set up a goal by Ovechkin. “I talked to (Kuznetsov) a few days back about staying in the battle a little bit longer. That’s a good example of staying in the battle when he was hounding that guy. One of the best players in the world that I know Kuzy admires as a role model is Pavel Datsyuk and he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen doing that and Kuzy’s starting to  add that to his game and that’s a real good thing he can add.” Kuznetsov once again showed off his passing skills by setting up Ovechkin’s game-winning one-timer Thursday night in Vancouver.Getting back to your question, I think it would only take a game or two of the top line going dry for Trotz to switch things up and flip-flop Kuznetsov and Backstrom.    

Do you see Trotz making a change within the 3rd line anytime soon for more scoring (only 6 pts so far)? - @CapsYapp

Not necessarily. If the Caps’ top two lines keep producing three goals a game and the third line of Jay Beagle (1 goal, 2 assists), Jason Chimera (3 goals, 1 assist) and Tom Wilson (2 assists) can be even or better on the score sheet most nights, Trotz will keep things just the way they are. As I mentioned above, I see Beagle being a mainstay on that third line, but I could see Brooks Laich or Andre Burakovsky replacing Chimera or Wilson, and I could see Wilson and Justin Williams flipping places to give the Caps a fresh look.  

@tom_wilso had 58 pts in 48 games in the ohl. Do you see this type of production coming soon in the nhl? – @Danilo4Sandoval

Not to the extent he showed in Plymouth, where he was a man among boys. But yes, I see Wilson’s offensive production (2 assists, zero penalty minutes) improving over the next few seasons. At some point in the very near future the Caps will showcase Wilson in the diamond spot on the power play, a place currently reserved for T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams. But with the Caps’ power play humming along so nicely with the current personnel it’s hard to justify a switch. Wilson spent the summer working on his puck-handling and shooting skills and if that third line keeps funneling pucks to the net Wilson’s points should start piling up. He can’t be fooled into thinking he’s a perimeter player, however, and if he can learn to hit the brakes in the goal crease he should be able to pick up at least five garbage goals a season.

MORE CAPITALS: Alex Ovechkin lifts Capitals past Canucks, 3-2

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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?


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.