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If lockout drags on, will fans return?

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If lockout drags on, will fans return?

A few days ago, Aurena Raines, Carter Chewning, Mike Wardand Chris Newman climbed into a car and made their weekly 60-mile pilgrimagefrom Spottsylvania to the Capitals practice facility in Arlington.Thinking the Capitals would hit the ice for an informal practicearound 11 a.m., when they arrived at Kettler Capitals Iceplex at 10:20 a.m.,they saw Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks tossing pucks into a bucket and skatingoff the ice. Aside from a few workers inside the Capitals retail storeand the Front Page snack stand, Raines, Chewning, Ward and Newman representedonly a handful of people in a quiet building that is usually bustling withfans.My buddies and I come up here all the time, said Raines, a60-year-old retiree from Spottsylvania who has owned season tickets for theCapitals the past four seasons. Were so upset about maybe not seeing this.Its going to be so depressing.The NHL lockout entered Day 7 on Saturday and with no formalnegotiations scheduled, fewer and fewer Capitals have hit the ice at Kettler. Asof Saturday, 57 NHL players had signed contracts to play in Europe,including Caps captain Alex Ovechkin and goaltender Michal Neuvirth.Its a no-win situation for fans, players, owners,everybody, said Mike Ward, a 65-year-old Caps season ticket holder from Stafford. But I think the fans miss it the most. For the owners, its a business. For the players its theirlivelihood, but they have options. For fans, unless you have a dish servicewhere you can pick up the KHL games or the Junior A games up in Canada, yourereduced to DVDs from a bygone era.Ward admits he is a rarity in this region. He grew up in Arlington and rememberslistening to the NHL Game of the Week on his radio in the 1950s. Back then nobody down here followed hockey, he said. The WashingtonColiseum at 3rd and M was the only place you could skate.Ward said he was thrilled when the NHL awarded a franchiseto Washingtonin 1974 and was a season ticket holder at the old Cap Centre in Landover. Hesaw hockey slowly take root in the D.C. region and witnessed the explosion offans that followed the arrival of Ovechkin in 2005.Hockey has caught on in the States, markedly I think, inthe last three or four years, Ward said. In the D.C. area Capitals owner TedLeonsis and the whole organization worked hard to get the fans here. Now, some of the fans I talk to are still bristling overwhat happened with the NHL lockout in 05 and I think its definitely goingto take a hit, particularly with teams that are really struggling like Phoenix. Teams that arehurting to get 8,000 to 10,000 fans, people are going to stay away. You know,out of sight, out of mind.Before the last lockout of 2004-05, the Capitals drew603,528 fans to their 41 regular season home games and ranked 25th inthe NHL with an average attendance of 14,720.Last season they drew 758,746 fans to their regular season homegames and ranked 12th in the NHL with an average attendance of18,506 or 101.3 percent to capacity.The big question is this: If the 2012-13 NHL lockout wipesout another full season, will fans in D.C. return?The diehards like me, we may have a bad taste in ourmouths, but we will come back as soon as its settled, Ward said. But thosewho are fringe or who are just picking up the sport -- out of sight, out ofmind.
Ward also holds the unfortunate opinion that the NHL isgoing to be forced to find out just how strong its fan base is.I think the lockout will be a long, drawn-out process, hesaid, because theyre so far apart.

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Brooks Orpik's knee injury helped decision on retirement

Brooks Orpik's knee injury helped decision on retirement

One big reason Brooks Orpik decided to hang up his skates, as he announced on Tuesday, was the severity of a knee injury, which impaired him for most of the 2018-19 season.

"I knew a long time ago, to be honest with you," Orpik told reporters Tuesday afternoon. "From the time I had surgery on it was pretty evident that I wasn't gonna play another year after this."

After playing 10 games in October to start the season, Orpik was was placed on long-term injured reserve, then underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in November. 

He returned to the lineup Dec. 31 and played a total of 53 games during the regular season last year.

But despite the medical staff's best efforts, Orpik remained in pain for the duration of the season.

"I'd use the elevator at [Capital One Arena] to go up and down cause I couldn't go up and down stairs," Orpik said. "When I couldn't do that it was time to stop playing hockey I figured.

"I could just get it to a point where I could play for two and a half hours and then pay for it afterward and then try to do it all over again."

Orpik's dealt with a multitude of injuries during his career in Washington. During the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights, Orpik lost part of his pinkie finger after a brutal slash courtesy of Erik Haula. He also dealt with an infection in his leg during the Caps 2017 playoff run, which he acquired after blocking a shot.

During his tenure with the Penguins, Orpik suffered a broken finger in 2011 and was carted off the ice in 2013 after being pulled down and punched by then Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton.

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Free Agency Bracket: Brett Connolly vs. Devante Smith-Pelly

Free Agency Bracket: Brett Connolly vs. Devante Smith-Pelly

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin, and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s quarterfinal matchup:

Region: Capitals free agents

Brett Connolly vs. Devante Smith-Pelly
 
2018-19 stats

Brett Connolly (27 years old): 81 games played with the Capitals, 22 goals, 24 assists, 46 points, 13:20 TOI
 
Playoffs: 7 games played with the Capitals, 2 goals, 0 assists, 4 points, 13:50 TOI

Devante Smith-Pelly (27 years old): 54 games played with the Capitals, 4 goals, 4 assists, 8 points, 10:51 TOI

Playoffs: 3 games played with the Caps, no goals, no assists, no points, 9:47 TOI

 
Hockey-Graph contract projections

Brett Connolly: 3 years, $3,536,091 cap hit
 
Devante Smith-Pelly: 2 years, $1,149,369

The case for Brett Connolly

The Capitals have already re-signed one of their third-line free agents with Carl Hagelin’s new deal. Is there room left for Connolly? Connolly has made himself comfortable in Washington. He tied his career highs in goals twice (15) and then broke through with a career-best 22. And he is one of the league’s most productive players given his limited ice time. 
 
There are just too many big names in front of Connolly to get him much power-play time. Those 22 goals wouldn’t be easy to replace and GM Brian MacLellan said scoring depth is a concern this offseason. If he is again willing to sacrifice role for a bump in pay and some security then maybe Connolly returns to a place he re-ignited his career. The talent is certainly there as the No. 6 overall pick in the 2010 draft and Connolly is headed into his age-27 season so a three or four-year deal takes care of his prime years. 
 
But the argument ultimately rests on the salary cap, which at $81.5 million is problematic. It might be out of Washington’s hands anyway. Even if the Capitals want to keep him, other teams could use money AND ice time to entice Connolly. But can they strike gold again with another cheap third-line winger as they did with Connolly? That’s not easy to replicate. They could simply sign Connolly and take care of it, but the salary cap is tight.

The case for Smith-Pelly

There is no question that Smith-Pelly can be inconsistent, but he always seems to bring it in the playoffs. Before his seven-goal performance in the 2018 Cup run, Smith-Pelly was brilliant with the Anaheim Ducks scoring five goals in 12 games back in 2014.

With Carl Hagelin re-signed and players like Jakub Vrana, Christian Djoos and other depth pieces still on the horizon, affordability is pretty much the biggest asset for any free agent available to Washington and it won’t get much more affordable than Smith-Pelly.

Hockey-Graphs can be spot on with some of its projections and outright wrong for others and this case is definitely the latter. Smith-Pelly’s contract for the 2018-19 season was a one-year deal with a cap hit of $1 million. After scoring just eight points and getting demoted to the AHL, there is no way he walks into next season with a two-year deal and a raise. The cap hit is going to be low for Smith-Pelly and that makes him a very attractive choice for the Caps – if both sides can put last year’s awkwardness behind them. 

Who’s your pick? Vote here. 

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