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Oates handling challenges of AHL


Oates handling challenges of AHL

By now, Adam Oates would have been 12 games into his new career as an NHL head coach.

By now, he and assistant coaches Calle Johansson and Tim Hunter would have had enough material to begin tweaking what worked and what didn’t in their first month together as a coaching staff.

Instead, Oates has spent the past five weeks as Mark French’s co-coach with the Hershey Bears, trying to implement his system while Johansson and Hunter rotate games behind the bench with Bears assistant coach Troy Mann.

It is not exactly what Oates envisioned when the Capitals hired him to replace Dale Hunter on June 26.

“It’s very frustrating, but it’s a work stoppage; it happens in all walks of life,” Oates told reporters gathered to discuss, among other things, his Hockey Hall of Fame induction in Toronto on Nov. 12.

“You have to take a mature attitude about it. Do I want to coach the guys? Absolutely. It happened to me when I was a player [in 1994-95] and it happens everywhere. You’ve just got to wait it out.”

With labor talks resuming this week, there is renewed optimism that the NHL players and owners will be able to salvage an abbreviated regular season. If that happens, Oates was asked if he might be at a disadvantage as a first-year coach trying to implement a new system.

“Yeah, probably,” he said. “I was very excited [when I was hired]. I am excited. I can’t wait to touch base with them. When it happens it will happen.”

As a coach, Oates needs to straddle both sides of the fence during this labor standoff. Now considered NHL management he is not permitted to communicate with his players. But as a former player who experienced similar feelings during the 1994-95 lockout that resulted in a 48-game regular season, he said he respects both sides.

Through his first nine games in Hershey Oates has helped guide the Bears to a 4-4-1 record. After three years as an assistant coach in the NHL, he said the two biggest adjustments has been adapting to the AHL schedule – the Bears often play games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, followed by four days off – and the responsibility of calling out forward line changes.

“You hear your own voice more often than you did as an assistant coach,” he said.

He also has had to consider those three games in three nights when distributing ice time, saying he might back off on a veteran player’s ice time on a Friday so that he’s got enough left in the tank for Sunday.

Oates said he’s been impressed with Capitals prospects Braden Holtby and Dmitry Orlov, each of whom are expected to join the Capitals in the event of a labor settlement. Another positive from Oates’ time in Hershey has been the opportunity for Johansson and Hunter to understand what he wants from his players.

“It’s good for us to speak the same language because if [the lockout] does end we won’t have a lot of time,” he said. “Hopefully we’re all saying the same things to the guys and we can make the transition as fast as possible.”

If there is one thing Oates will not look back fondly on from his AHL experience it will be the long bus rides. The Bears have already made trips to Syracuse, Binghamton, Connecticut, Springfield and Bridgeport.

 “It’s a tough part of the job,” he said. “You gotta take your hat off to them. They love hockey and they still want the life and love the life.”

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Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

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 matchup:

Region: Fourth line forwards

Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger


2018-19 stats


Noel Acciari (27 years old):72 games played with the Boston Bruins, 6 goals, 8 assists, 14 points, 12:59 TOI


Playoffs: 19 games played with the Boston Bruins, 2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points, 13:10 TOI


Marcus Kruger (29 years old): 74 games played with the Chicago Blackhawks, 4 goals, 8 assists, 12 points, 10:25 TOI


Playoffs: None


Hockey-Graph contract projections


Noel Acciari: 2 years, $1,180,934 cap hit


Marcus Kruger: 1 year, $861,030 cap hit


The case for Noel Acciari

Plays a lot bigger than his 5-foot-10, 205-pound frame. A perfect fit at right wing on the fourth line for Washington. The native New Englander, who played at Providence, is a home-grown Bruin and might not want to leave home, but Boston also might not have the cap space to give an obvious fourth-line player a decent raise. The Capitals might not, either, but for now, they really only have to add in RFA Jakub Vrana’s new contract and figure out what they’re going to do with RFA Andre Burakovsky. 


Acciari is renowned for his character and toughness. He was a college captain for Providence and helped the Friars win an NCAA title in 2015. There’s never been a shot he’s unwilling to block. Acciari sustained a broken sternum in the second round against Columbus and a blocked shot with his right foot in Game 7 of the Cup Final left him in a walking boot.  


Acciari’s offensive upside is limited, but he did have 10 goals in 2017-18. He was a key player for the Bruins in the past two Stanley Cup playoffs and chipped in two goals in this year’s playoff run that came within a game of a championship. Acciari would help on Washington’s penalty kill, too. In 111:52 he was only on the ice for 11 power-play goals against. Only two Boston forwards were on the ice more short-handed.  


The case for Marcus Kruger


A different skill set here for the smaller Kruger (6-foot, 186 pounds). Don’t expect even double-digit goals from him, either. But Kruger will likely cost less than $1 million and can be a valuable penalty killer, where Washington needs help. That’s huge for a team that is now dealing with an $81.5 million salary cap, which is $1.5 million less than expected. Add in the overage bonus for defenseman Brooks Orpik from last season and you’re in trouble at just over $80 million.   


Kruger played seven seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks and one disappointing one with the Carolina Hurricanes. Kruger has plenty of Stanley Cup experience, too, playing for Chicago’s 2013 and 2015 Cup winners. He has 87 postseason games and a triple-overtime game-winner in the Western Conference Final to his name in 2015 in Game 2 of that series against Anaheim. 


A defensive specialist, only two Blackhawks forwards played more short-handed minutes than Kruger (132:46) last season. There is risk here. Kruger was traded to Carolina in 2017-18, but was placed on waivers after 48 games and spent the rest of the season in the AHL before being traded to Arizona and then back to Chicago. But part of that stemmed from how much he was making on a $3.08 million cap hit. At a bargain-basement price, Kruger is more palatable. 


Who’s your pick? Vote here.


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Ted Leonsis reflects on Capitals' induction to D.C. Sports Hall of Fame

NBC Sports Washington

Ted Leonsis reflects on Capitals' induction to D.C. Sports Hall of Fame

Click "play" in the embedded podcast to listen to the Capitals Talk Podcast interview with Ted Leonsis and click here to subscribe to the podcast.

Just as the party seems to be ending, the 2018 Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals are finding new ways to celebrate.

Sunday at Nationals Park, the Caps were honored with the "team of distinction" award in the D.C. sports hall of fame, the first-ever award of its kind.

“I think it just shows how this team connected with the fans and as many people have noted, this is one of the most divided cities in the world," Caps majority owner and president of Monumental Sports, Ted Leonsis said to Rob Carlin on the Capitals Talk podcast. "People can’t agree on anything, but they agreed on how much they loved, and how much fun they had and how proud they were that we won the Stanley Cup."

Founded in 1980, the D.C. sports hall of fame honors athletes, sports journalists and executives each year for excellence in D.C. sports. 2019 was the first time an entire team was formally recognized, fitting for the first-ever Stanley Cup championship in D.C.

"It [the honor] is a good capstone on that run," Leonsis said.

Listen to the full episode linked below.