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Report: Russian defenseman in talks with Caps


Report: Russian defenseman in talks with Caps

KHL defenseman and Team Russia captain Ilya Nikulin is looking make the move to the NHL and at least two reporters have linked him to the Capitals.

According to an article on the KHL's English website, Nikulin is looking to follow fellow Ak Bars' teammate Yevgeni Medvedev to North America this season. Head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov seems to think the move is all but certain.

"I can understand why players like Medvedev and Nikulin want to try and play in the NHL,” Bilyaletdinov said. “It’s a good league, and it’s an honor to play there. I’m sure Ilya [Nikulin] will make the right choice and will get his contract over there.”

Medvedev signed with the Philadelphia Flyers in May.

Given the fact that Nikulin is a close personal friend of Alex Ovechkin and Ovechkin is even reported to be godfather to Nikulin's son, it's not hard to see why there is speculation he could be headed to Washington. Alexander Rogulev also reported Friday that Nikulin and the Caps were in talks for a contract, so there may be some actual fire to the smoke.

Nikulin was selected by Atlanta in the 2000 NHL draft, but did not sign with the team and has never played in an NHL game. During his past two seasons in the KHL, he tallied 18 goals and 35 assists over 110 games and is known as an effective offensive contributor from the blue line. The loss of Mike Green as well as the unproven pairing of Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov leaves an opening defensively for the Caps that Nikulin could fill.

But there are a few roadblocks that could prevent a deal. The first is cap space. According to the Caps have less than $470,000 of cap space remaining. With Justin Peters likely headed to the AHL the Caps could have about $1.4 million of cap space to play with.

Medvedev signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Flyers in May. How much is Nikulin worth?

RELATED: How good was the Caps offseason?

Nikulin played in fewer games the past two seasons (110 to 164) and is one year older at 33 than Medvedev. Nikulin, however, is better offensively with 12 more goals and 13 more total points. A reasonable argument could be made to say both players are worth a similar amount.

The Caps, however, cannot afford to offer Nikulin a similar contract without making some significant roster moves. Perhaps he would be willing to sign for less in order to play with Ovechkin, but it would have to be substantially less. 

Let's say the Caps did manage to find the money for such a move. Would it even make sense? At 33-years-old, what kind of production could the team reasonably expect?

Cat Silverman of Today's Slapshot compared Nikulin to other players drafted in 2000:

Some of the draft class’ stars are still thriving in the NHL — Marian Gaborik doesn’t show signs of slowing down, nor does Justin Williams or Henrik Lundqvist — but Dany Heatley is in the AHL, Ilya Bryzgalov has retired, and a handful of other names (Antoine Vermette, Scott Hartnell, and Niklas Kronwall) are all being watched for regression. If Nikulin wanted to make an NHL appearance, now seems like a strange time.

You hope he still can be effective, but $3 million is a lot to gamble on a 33-year-old who has never played an NHL game before.

There is an adjustment for all players from the KHL who transition to NHL given the different style of play and rink sizes. At his age, it's hard to see how Nikulin could crack the established top four of the Caps' defense. That means he would likely slide down to the third pairing. That's a lot of money to spend on a third-pair defenseman.

The possibility of adding Nikulin to the roster is certainly an intriguing one for the Caps, but there are a lot of hoops the team would have to jump through to make it even possible. If the rumors linking him to Washington are indeed serious, you should expect to hear more news from the team in the coming days as they adjust to squeeze him into the roster.

MORE CAPITALS: Gonchar could be returning to the Penguins

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


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 the 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 in 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 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 also 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


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.