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Friday Six-Pack: Who will step up in Beagle's absence?


Friday Six-Pack: Who will step up in Beagle's absence?

Happy New Year and welcome to our first Friday Six-Pack of 2016. Crazy week in Capitals Nation. Let’s get started:

Good question, Zack. I’d love to see a player like Dion Phaneuf in a Caps uniform but not at $7 million a season for the next four years. That just won’t fit into the Caps’ salary structure. That said, I agree the Capitals will be in the market for a defenseman leading up to the Feb. 29 trade deadline. Although Marcus Johansson’s name has been tossed around in trade rumors recently and he would attract strong interest, he’s on a one-year deal and there is no cost certainty for another NHL team. With all of that in mind, I think it’s more likely Brian MacLellan adds to the Caps roster by trading for depth the way he did last year when the Caps picked up defenseman Tim Gleason, who was on an expiring contract. Unfortunately, the UFA pickings are pretty slim this year.

If the Caps stand pat with their current roster – and I’m not 100 percent certain they will -- I’d like to see Brooks Laich given the opportunity at third-line center. He’s big enough and strong enough in the faceoff circle and he’s a smart positional player who can adapt easily to playing the middle of the ice while helping out down low in the defensive zone. This could also be a big opportunity for Andre Burakovsky, especially if Barry Trotz decides to move Marcus Johansson to third-line center and moves Burakovsky up to second-line left wing. Johansson would change the dynamic of the Caps’ checking line (with Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson) and I think Trotz is hesitant to make that third line something it isn’t. And then there’s Michael Latta, who was starting to play really well before his arm injury in that Monday night fight with Nicolas Deslauriers. Latta is in the final year of his contract and has a lot to gain in these final four months of the season. 

Ah, yes. I’ve been asked this question a lot recently, even before Jay Beagle was injured on that freaky play Wednesday night when Buffalo defenseman Jake McCabe swatted at a waist-high puck and hit Beagle’s hand instead. As I wrote on Thursday, there are so many risk/reward factors that play into a Mike Richards signing. First is the legal aspect. If the Caps are interested in signing Richards, do they wait until his legal issues are resolved? His next court date is scheduled for Jan. 28 but there is a possibility that hearing (for alleged possession of Oxycodone) could be pushed back even further. Second is the disruption aspect. The Caps own the best record in the Eastern Conference and Brian MacLellan may be hesitant to mess with the chemistry in his locker room. Signing Richards would bring a ton of media attention and scrutiny inside the Caps’ locker room and would place a harsh spotlight on MacLellan’s willingness to tinker with a Stanley Cup contender. Third is the on-ice aspect. In his prime Richards was one of the league’s most tenacious two-way centers in the NHL. And as recently as two years ago he was a very effective checking-line center who helped the Kings win a Stanley Cup. But since then Richards’ game has deteriorated, not to mention his off-ice reputation. If Richards gets a second chance at the NHL – and many believe he will – he will have a lot to prove to a lot of people and that could make for a determined player capable of elevating a team from Cup contender to Cup favorite. So, in a nutshell, a lot of homework would need to be done before any NHL team decides to give Richards that second chance.        

Yes, I see the Capitals opening up negotiations with Chimera’s agent, Allan Walsh, but the cost could be prohibitive. Chimera, 36, is in the final year of a two-year, $4 million contract and he’s earning every penny. He’s on pace for a career-high 22 goals and 44 points and those numbers certainly would warrant a raise. This is a situation very similar to what the Caps faced with Joel Ward and Eric Fehr last summer and you see what happened there, with both players getting higher pay and longer term than what the Caps were willing to offer. Chimera has said he would like to play into his 40s and stay in Washington. And with his speed and staying power I don’t doubt he could do both. But would the Caps give a 37-year-old (he turns 37 on May 2) a three-year deal? I’m not sure, especially since they’ll be committing more money to RFAs Tom Wilson, Marcus Johansson and Dmitry Orlov. I’m not sure what dollar value the Caps are placing on Chimera, but I’m guessing somewhere in the two-year, $5 million range. Again, that’s just a guess.

I wish I could give you a better answer on this. Capitals coach Barry Trotz has been extremely vague with injuries and as the season goes on I don’t expect that to change. When Orpik was first injured back on Nov. 10, Trotz said that if it was playoff time he’d be playing. Here we are almost two months later and Orpik is not even skating with the team. To my knowledge, Orpik has not undergone surgery to repair his injury and I can tell you he is doing extensive off-ice rehab and is walking much better this week than he was three weeks ago. This is purely speculation, but Orpik and the Caps may be using the NHL All-Star break in late January as a barometer for Orpik’s progress. Since the Caps are winning without him, thanks in large part to the play of Nate Schmidt, they have the luxury of allowing Orpik to take as long as he needs to be an effective player in the playoffs. 

My biggest surprise would have to be Nate Schmidt. Through 32 games he has one goal, five assists and is a plus-8 while averaging 18:45 of ice time. His ability to move the puck up the ice quickly – either with a hard first pass or by carrying it himself – has made him a valuable commodity on the Caps’ top defensive unit. So much so that I think the Caps would consider keeping him there once Orpik comes back, possibly working Orpik back into the lineup alongside Dmitry Orlov. My biggest disappointment to this point would be Andre Burakovsky, who has three goals and six assists in 34 games. To borrow a phrase from Barry Trotz, I thought last year’s playoff performance would have a “trampoline effect” for Burakovsky and he would have a breakout season this year. But with the Caps’ second line of Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Justin Williams playing so well, Burakovsky has been relegated to fourth-line duty and it’s hard to produce consistently when you’re playing 11 or 12 minutes a night. To his credit, Burakovsky has learned to be a reliable player on the fourth line, which may be the intended benefit Trotz had in mind when he put him there. So, while Burakovsky has been a disappointment I’m certainly not writing him off. His snap shot is one of the best on the team and he could have a very productive second half.     

MORE CAPITALS: What went wrong in Carolina?

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Key Caps questions: How will Samsonov look in his first season in North America?

Scout Pruski

Key Caps questions: How will Samsonov look in his first season in North America?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: How will Ilya Samsonov play in his first season in North America?

What else is there to say about Samsonov's time in the KHL? In the limited action he saw playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, he looked every bit the starting goalie the Caps hoped he would one day be when they drafted him in the first round of the 2015 draft. Now, finally, he is ready to start his North America career.

What makes the transition from Europe to North America difficult?

First, Samsonov is adjusting to a new country and a new language. Second, the workload in North America is much larger, even in practice.

"He probably saw more shots today than he saw in a month of practice in Russia and this was nothing," director of player development Steve Richmond said during development camp. "For me, that's the biggest thing for him is to learn how to practice in North America."

And then there's the rink size. The game is faster for goalies in North America because of the smaller rink. Scoring chances develop much more quickly and Samsonov will also be dealing with different angles. It also means dealing with a lot more traffic in front of the net. He is going to have to learn more how to track the puck through a screen and to react much more quickly.

I tried to watch Samsonov closely in development camp. His size definitely stood out. He takes up a lot of the net, but is still very athletic and very quick in and out of the butterfly. As big as he is, however, he seems to play very low to compensate for his size which leaves him vulnerable up high at times. He would make a handful of very good saves, then let in a soft one glove side or in the corners because he was playing too low.

Those areas of his game can be improved on with practice so long as you have the skill and Samsonov certainly has that.

Samsonov has been elite at every level he has played and there is no reason to think that won't continue in the AHL. Having said that, there is just too much he needs to adjust to expect him to be ready for the NHL at this point. He needs as much playing time as possible at the AHL level before he is ready. As long as that's where he spends the season, I expect him to put up similar numbers to the 2.31 GAA, .926 save percentage he managed last season in the KHL.

Other key Caps questions:

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Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

There are no signs of Alex Ovechkin slowing down heading into his first season after winning a Stanley Cup. Bovada just released their latest odds for the Hart Memorial Trophy (the NHL’s Most Valuable Player Award) and Ovechkin was tied with the third-best odds to win in all of the NHL at 10/1.

He was joined by two other Washington Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov both at 50/1 odds. 

Here are all the odds for the top 11 players:

Connor McDavid          10/3
Sidney Crosby              13/2
Auston Matthews        10/1
Alex Ovechkin               10/1
Jon Tavares                   10/1
Taylor Hall                     15/1
Nikita Kucherov            15/1
Nathan MacKinnon      15/1
Mark Scheifele              15/1
Anze Kopitar                  18/1
Evgeni Malkin                18/1

The only two players ahead of ‘The Great 8’ are the 21-year-old McDavid and dreaded rival Crosby.

Even with the immense amount of alcohol that has been consumed in the past two months, Ovechkin is still commanding respect in Vegas. It is hard not to when he turns around these intense offseason workouts. At 32, Ovechkin led the NHL in scoring with 49 goals a year ago, the seventh such time he has done so. 

Already the 2018 Conn Smythe winner has three MVP trophies to his name (one more than Crosby) and there is no telling what to expect now that the 11-time All-Star has a Stanley Cup title. 

In his 11 years in the league, Backstrom has never received any votes for the Hart Memorial Trophy. Kuznetsov only has done so once and that was in the 2015-16 season.