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Lockout or not, Caps preparing for season

Lockout or not, Caps preparing for season

It is a question on the minds of every player, coach, general manager and owner in the NHL not to mention millions of its fans.

With 11 days remaining on the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL and its players and no talks scheduled between commissioner Gary Bettman and union boss Donald Fehr, the league is on the verge of its first work stoppage since losing the entire 2004-05 season.

So how does the dark cloud hanging over the 2012-13 season impact the mindset of new Capitals coach Adam Oates and his players?

Im coming in every day acting as if its business as usual, said Oates, who was hired on June 26 to replace Dale Hunter.

Oates NHL career ended the same year as the leagues last lockout in 2004. He was in the prime of his career as a player during the NHLs work stoppage in 1994-95 when the season was reduced to 48 games because of a labor dispute.

Its tough, he said. Its only ever happened a couple times. Im sure Ill be talking to Capitals general manager George McPhee every day because there will be a lot of guys in camp and wed need to decide what would happen on a day-to-day basis. But as of right now, Im acting as if its going to get resolved.

McPhee said rookies are scheduled to report on Sept. 16, one day after the current CBA expires. If there is a lockout, rookie camps will be canceled and teams will need to decide whether their young prospects should be returned to their junior teams or play in the AHL.

For the Capitals, forwards Marcus Johansson and Stan Galiev, goaltender Braden Holtby and defenseman Dmitry Orlov would be eligible to play for the AHL Hershey Bears in the event of a lockout.

Oates said he understands the anxiety that comes with the uncertainty of a work stoppage and is hopeful his players will not have to experience what he did back in 1994.

Every day youre calling teammates waiting to hear, he said. Its very similar to what guys are going through now. You go through every feeling a little uneasy, a little, Oh well, itll get resolved, a little curious, then Man, I kind of miss it.

You go through the whole spectrum. Youre wondering whats going to happen. Whos right? Whos wrong? Is everybody going to figure it out? Its easy from the cheap seats, right?

Caps center Nicklas Backstrom arrived in Washington Monday night after an 8-hour flight from Sweden. He was on the ice at Kettler on Tuesday with nine other teammates, all hoping the NHL would resolve its dispute with the players.

I was going to come here ready to play, Backstrom said. If theres going to be a lockout, I want to get ready the same as I always do. If there is going to be a lockout well see.

Alex Ovechkin and Michal Neuvirth have said they will consider playing in Europe if there is a work stoppage. Backstrom said he has not yet considered that option and will not as long as there is hope for an agreement.

I havent even thought about it, he said. Well see what happens. A decision is going to come and well see what I have on my mind then.

On Tuesday Backstrom was joined on the ice by Ovechkin, Mike Green, Mike Ribeiro, Marcus Johansson, Wojtek Wolski, John Carlson, Mattias Sjogren, Neuvirth, Orlov and Galiev.

McPhee said he is not surprised to see so many players skating more than two weeks before they are required to report.

Everybody is sort of operating on business-as-usual and its nice to see them here, McPhee said. Id like to see them all here soon."

Carlson is the only member of the Capitals who remains unsigned and McPhee seems unconcerned that a deal is not yet in place for the 22-year-old restricted free agent.

Well keep talking, McPhee said. We like him a lot as a player and a kid and expect him to be here a long time.

McPhee said that until he is told otherwise he plans on managing the way he would before any other NHL season and that he is not interested in adding any more pieces to the Caps' puzzle.

We like our team, we like the mix, we like the group and wed like to get going here, he said.

I dont want to talk about a lockout or a work stoppage. Were prepared to get going here. If it changes, well adjust. We have to be ready to go.

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John Carlson agrees to big-money deal to stay with the Capitals

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John Carlson agrees to big-money deal to stay with the Capitals

On Friday, the Capitals shipped out Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to clear space on the salary cap for John Carlson's massive contract extension.

On Sunday night, Carlson signed on the dotted line. 

The 28-year-old became the latest core Cap to sign a long-term deal, inking an eight-year extension that will carry an $8 million average salary. 

His cap hit is now the second highest on the team—behind Ovechkin’s $9.538 million charge and just ahead of Kuznetsov’s $7.8 million hit.

With Carlson locked up, the defending Stanley Cup champion now has the majority of its core signed through at least the 2019-20 season. Among the players with at least two years remaining on their deals are forwards Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nickas Backstrom and Lars Eller, defensemen Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov and goaltender Braden Holtby.

The Carlson news did not come as a surprise.

The Caps wanted to keep him. Carlson, who makes his offseason home Washington, wanted to stay with the club that drafted him 27th overall in 2008. And on Friday night in Dallas, GM Brian MacLellan all but guaranteed that a deal was going to happen when he said, “We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

It ended up taking a little more than 24 hours, but in the end MacLellan got his D-man.

“John has been an exceptional and consistent player for our franchise and has blossomed into being one of the top defensemen in the NHL,” said MacLellan in a statement on Sunday. “Defenseman like John are a rare commodity in our League and, at 28 years of age, we feel he is just entering his prime.”

Indeed, Carlson notched a career-high 15 goals and 53 assists last season, and his 68 points led all NHL defensemen. He also became the eighth defensemen in Caps’ history to record 60 points in a season and the first since Mike Green accomplished the feat in 2009-10. Meanwhile, Carlson’s average ice time (24:47) also marked a career high.

“As a right-handed defenseman, John plays in all key situations and has contributed greatly to our team’s success on the special teams,” MacLellan added. “We are pleased for both parties to have come to an agreement and for him to continue his great career as a Washington Capital.”

With Carlson under contract, the Caps now have a little more than $13 million in cap space underneath the $79.5 million ceiling, according to www.capfiendly.com. Michal Kempny, Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson and Jakub Jerabek are all unrestricted free agents, while Tom Wilson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Travis Boyd and Madison Bowey are restricted free agents.

Carlson’s signing kicks off a big week for MacLellan.

In addition to negotiating with the free agents he hopes to retain, he’s expected to have a formal interview with associate coach Todd Reirden, who is the leading candidate to replace Barry Trotz as head coach.

So buckle up, there figure to be a few more important announcements in the coming days.

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Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson

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Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson

Free agency does not start until July 1, but John Carlson's agent is already taking calls from other interested teams.

The interview period began at 12 a.m. on Sunday morning, which means teams are now able to reach out to any potential free agents, but no contracts can be signed until July 1. While Brian MacLellan said Friday that a new deal with Carlson to keep him in Washington was "really close," Carlson's agent, Rick Curran, has made it clear there was no deal in place yet as of Sunday.

So does this mean Carlson now has one foot out the door?

Not necessarily.

At this point in the negotiation, Carlson has a major advantage and that advantage is time. Sunday's interview period is just another way to hold the Caps' feet to the fire. The closer we get to July 1, the more pressure the team is under to get a deal done.

But the Caps still have some leverage too.

“I love it here and all that,” Carlson said during on breakdown day. “I want to stay here, but there's more to it than that.”

By rule, as his current team, the Caps are the only team that can offer Carlson an eight-year deal.

So Carlson may have turned up the heat a few degrees on the Caps, but it's not time for fans to worry just yet.

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