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MacLellan on what Williams will bring, Ward's status, and the loss of Green

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MacLellan on what Williams will bring, Ward's status, and the loss of Green

Shortly after Justin Williams addressed the media about signing with the Capitals, the club’s general manager, Brian MacLellan spoke to reporters about the Caps’ plans heading into free agency and the next steps he plans on taking with his roster.

Here’s a look at what he said:

On what led to the signing of Justin Williams: 

We targeted a top-six right winger as we went into free agency. We made calls on all the guys we had interest in and monitored the market as we went along and at some point Justin became more affordable to us and we started to lean his way and it worked out in the end.

On what he thinks Williams will bring to the Capitals:

I think he has all the intangible qualities that we desire. Obviously, he has a great resume with the three Cups and the Conn Smythe and his performance in playoffs, I think all those things, plus what you hear about his character make him probably the perfect fit for our top six. I think he’ll have a big effect on Kuznetsov and Burakovky and I also think he’ll have a good effect on Ovi and Backstrom. It’s good to have a guy that’s won Cups and has been through the wars that he has. He’s won three Cups so I think hell have a big influence on our forward group.

On going into unrestricted free agency without knowing the cap hits of unsigned restricted free agents Braden Holtby, Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov:

We continued talking about what we could afford and what the RFAs are going to come in at. Ideally, you would like to have your RFAs all signed going into unrestricted free agency and I thought we put aggressive offers on the table for our guys and unfortunately it hasn’t worked out where we got them signed and we knew exactly the dollar amount we’re dealing with. But we kind of estimated and budgeted for where we think hey come in and we made our decisions based on that.

On Justin Williams’ proven track record in Game 7s, where he is 7-0 in his career:

The story line is there, obviously. He just brings the things we need that we don’t have. We’re looking to get over the hump and he’s been there before and I think he can have an effect on our team to get us there. It still remains to be seen how it works out but it looks good for now. We haven’t played any games, but it sure lines up right.

On the future of UFA Joel Ward with the Capitals:

I would not rule it out. It’s probably more unlikely. We made a pretty solid effort to try to bring Joel back. We’ve been in communications with his representation pretty much the last few days and probably before that. Things can happen trade-wise or bodies moving out. I would say it’s unlikely now but I wouldn’t completely rule it out.

On a relatively quiet free-agent market and how it impacts the trade market:

I think there was a lot of discussion going into the draft and probably after the draft and into free agency about players that have been and are still available. I think the UFA market was a little thin this year. Teams addressed some of their needs yesterday and there’s probably some jockeying still going on as far as what’s left in free agency and who’s available via trade.

On if he forsees being active in acquiring other pieces or turning his attention to signing Holtby, Johansson and Kuznetsov:

Our main focus has been our RFAs all along and it continues to be a priority for us. Holtby, Kuznetsov and Johansson are priorities. We want to get them signed. It would be unlikely that we sign another UFA but if we get one or two [RFAs] signed that’s favorable to us we might pursue.

On “dead money” being moved by trading contracts of Nathan Horton, Chris Pronger and Marc Savard: 

You hear both sides of it. You have two groups basically. [One group says] the rules are the rules and you’re working within the rules and that’s allowed. And you get the other group [that says] that’s circumventing the cap and you shouldn’t be allowed to do it. I’m not sure where I fit in between those two but I guess the way it’s set up now the rules are the rules and you can do it. Unless they can close the loopholes that are there it’s going to continue to happen.

On whom Williams would be a good fit playing with:

I’m not sure. We talked about it with Barry yesterday and actually this morning, too, where the best fit is. In my mind, I’d like to play him with Burakovsky and Kuznetsov because I think he’d have a big effect on them. But [Ovechkin and Backstrom] could be a great fit. I think Barry will just try it out and see which works chemistry-wise and what’s best for our team. I think he’d have no problem playing in either spot. 

On how Williams became ‘more affordable’: 

I just think the free-agent market just kind of became a different market this year with no [significant] increase in the salary cap. I think the number of quality player was probably limited and teams were addressing specific needs. I just think the market kind of leveled off this year to a more affordable level for teams because there wasn’t that many dollars available for players.

On if there was a conscious decision among NHL general managers to not spend big money on free agents:

I don’t know if we consciously made that decision but going into it we decided to be conservative. We wanted to watch the market and we didn’t have a lot of dollars to spend on a free agent, so we wanted to monitor the market and if it got to the level where we could afford a guy we were going to jump in.

On Wednesday’s free-agent signing of defenseman Taylor Chorney:

Basically, we’re taking a chance on Taylor. We watched him in the playoffs and at the end of the year in Pittsburgh and we thought he played really well. We liked his mobility. He just played a steady two-way game and I thought if we’re going to take a risk on a guy I thought he’d be a good guy to try and I think it might work out for us if he comes in and does what he did at the end of the year last year.

On whether Chorney would slot as a seventh defenseman:

I don’t know. Hopefully, we created a competitive situation where five, six, seven, the coach is going to play whoever plays the best. I’m not necessarily saying he’s our seventh [defenseman]. He could be our sixth, he could be our fifth.

On the loss of Mike Green:

Mike Green’s a good player. He’s been here a long time. Obviously, there’s going to be a void on our blue line and in our room. I think we have the personalities and enough character to fill that void. I think Mike had a good year last year. We respect what he did and what he’s done for the whole organization throughout his 10 years here. I think it is going to be different without him. He’s got friendships. He’s been with a lot of these guys for a long time. I think over time things will shift and we’ll have to move forward and it will be a different group.

On the Capitals’ current salary cushion of $14.4 million:

I feel good about the cushion. I think we have enough to sign our guys. I don’t know what’s going to happen transaction-wise as far as who’s available and who we like better or not like better. There will be transactions that are available and if it makes sense financially we’ll pursue them.

On having contact with Eric Fehr and his agent:

We did yesterday. We talked to them once. We’re going to continue to talk to him. Like I said before, we don’t know what’s going to happen over the next period here. But we’ll continue to montor where he’s at and what he’s looking at contract-wise.

On contract talks with Braden Holtby, who can become an unrestricted free agent in two years:

I’m comfortable. We like Braden. He did a great job last year. We like the person, we like the fit with our team. We’ve been open for a term deal. We’ll go beyond the RFA years if it makes sense to the hockey team and it allows us to win. That’s what we’ve communicated to his agent throughout this whole process.

MORE CAPITALS: Williams makes his son happy by signing with Caps

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Prospect Joe Snively was cheering outside Capital One Arena when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup

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Prospect Joe Snively was cheering outside Capital One Arena when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup

There were many incredible aspects to the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup run, but one of the best was how fans took over the streets in the Stanley Cup Final. Little did we know that a future Cap was among the faithful outside of Capital One Arena.

Forward prospect and Herndon, Va. native Joe Snively was signed as a college free agent in March 2019. He is an alum of the Little Capitals local youth hockey program and, not surprisingly given his background, he grew up as a Caps fan.

For all Washington fans, June 7, 2018, is a day that will never be forgotten as it was the day the team won its first Stanley Cup. We all have our own story of where we were that day and how we watched. Snively is no different.

“I was downtown DC outside the arena watching on the big screen,” he told Mike Vogel in an interview at the team’s development camp.

“It was a great feeling,” Snively continued. “At that time I didn’t know I’d have the opportunity to sign with the Capitals and it was an amazing feeling. I’ve been a Caps fan ever since I started watching hockey and it was great to see them after all those years in the playoffs to win the Cup. It was amazing.”

The Alex Ovechkin era is important to Washington hockey not just because he brought the city a Cup, but because of the increased interest at the youth level. Interest early on should increase the sport and the team’s popularity. That, in turn, should lead to more youth participation which should lead to a more competitive youth program and homegrown talent entering professional hockey. The increased interest from that should further boost hockey in the region thus repeating the cycle.

Snively is just the first example.

It kind of makes you wonder how many other future Caps were in that crowd watching the team win the Cup.

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20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can the power play get back to an elite level?

20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can the power play get back to an elite level?

The long, endless summer is only halfway done. The Capitals last played a game on April 24 and will not play another one until Oct. 2. 

But with free agency and the NHL Draft behind them now, the 2019-2020 roster is almost set and it won’t be long until players begin trickling back onto the ice in Arlington for informal workouts.  

With that in mind, and given the roasting temperatures outside, for the next three weeks NBC Sports Washington will look at 20 burning questions facing the Capitals as they look to rebound from an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, keep alive their Metropolitan Division title streak and get back to their championship form of 2018.   

The list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain futures. Today we look at a power play that dipped out of the top 10 last season. Can a unit that has been so consistent for so long get back to that top level? 

This comes back to tactics more than personnel. The same players are back who have been part of this unit for years. Alex Ovechkin is the ultimate weapon in the left face-off circle, John Carlson mans the point, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov do their thing on the half wall and below the net and T.J. Oshie is the trigger man in the slot. 

Those five players all had 227 minutes of power-play time last year or more. Ovechkin had 17 goals which is about standard for the best ever. Kuznetsov came next with eight goals and 13 assists. Backstrom had four goals, but 17 assists. Carlson had two goals and 27 assists. 

Oshie missed 13 games so his numbers are a little down, but in the games he did play he still hit six goals and eight assists. Tom Wilson was Oshie’s primary replacement in that bumper position and he had three goals. 

Not too bad for Blaine Forsythe’s group. He’s the assistant coach who has run the power play the past five years. You can’t argue with the track record. Unfortunately, the expectations for Washington’s power play are massive given that talent level and it’s fair to say it fell short at 12thoverall in the NHL at 20.8 percent.

Again, 49-for-236 isn’t bad. It’s just the talent level says it should be better. The Capitals were seventh in 2017-18 (22.5 percent), fourth in 2016-17 (23.1 percent), fifth in 2015-16 (21.9 percent), first in 2014-15 (25.3 percent), tied for first in 2013-14 (23.4 percent) and first again in 2012-13 (26.8 percent). The last time Washington finished outside the top 10 on the power play was in 2011-12 when it cratered to 18th (16.7 percent). 

There are a few issues that could be tweaked. The Capitals managed just 236 power-play chances. That tied for 16thin the league. To even break into the top 10 in that category they’d need 16 more penalties drawn. 

Only three times after Oct. 22 did they score two power-play goals in the same game and never more than that. How does that even happen? They had two or more power-play goals four times in the first eight games alone, including four on opening night. After that? It was one and done, 

Kuznetsov is one of the best in the game at getting the puck into the offensive zone. Fans loathe it, but the drop pass – or “the slingshot” – has become an effective way, when used properly, to get the puck into the offensive zone on the power play. It just didn’t seem to work all that well for Washington last year. 

One wonders if Forsythe will make some tweaks there. Kuznetsov was often the player on the receiving end of the drop passes, which can keep the penalty kill off balance, but can also waste precious seconds when it doesn’t work. Then you have to regroup and try again. 

It’s not going away, though – even for those who want to slingshot the drop pass to the moon. It’s used all over the league. Some teams like to use two players as options when coming up ice using the slingshot. That’s easier to defend in some ways, but it also gives your team a certain level of unpredictability. 

Maybe teams have just become better at defending the Capitals on the PK simply because they have had the same personnel and coaching for years now. Opposing coaching staffs have hours of video on this group to break down and analyze. 

But there’s no reason to change too much. That Ovechkin one-timer is the ultimate weapon and you don’t want to stifle the creativity of players like Backstrom or Kuznetsov.

Maybe quicker unit changes would help keep players fresh. Ovechkin is almost always going to be out there for the full two minutes and it would be silly to take that shot off the ice. But developing a more reliable second group might help, too. 

Last year’s “second” unit by ice time was Lars Eller, Jakub Vrana, Wilson, Brett Connolly and Dmitry Orlov/Matt Niskanen. Connolly is gone via free agency. Niskanen is gone via trade. One wonders why Andre Burakovsky was hardly used (18:25), but he’s gone, too, in a trade. 

Will be interesting to see if Forsythe can come up with a more reliable second group centered around Ovechkin, Eller and Vrana, who deserves more power-play time even if he’s buried on this roster, and Wilson as the big body in the middle. Richard Panik was fifth on the Arizona Coyotes in power-play minutes last season (146:16) so maybe he has a role there. 

The very best Washington power plays in recent years had secondary players like Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams around before the salary cap cleaved that depth. The Capitals were still a very good power play in 2018-19, but they could use more of that. These are minor changes that could get them back toward the very top of the league and helps take pressure off its 5-on-5 play. 

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