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Scouting the Stanley Cup Finals: Possible Caps' free agent targets from the Pittsburgh Penguins

Scouting the Stanley Cup Finals: Possible Caps' free agent targets from the Pittsburgh Penguins

The Stanley Cup Finals begin on Monday. Instead of gearing up for Game 1, however, the Washington Capitals are gearing up for the offseason. While fans in Washington will be watching in the hopes of seeing the Pittsburgh Penguins lose, Cap scouts will be watching to see if there is anyone they can add to their ranks next season to bolster the roster.

The Penguins are a team loaded with talent as evidenced by the fact that they are playing in the finals for the second straight year looking to be the first team to repeat as Cup champions since 1997-98. Like the Caps, they also have a handful of expiring contracts.

Is there anyone wearing the black and gold who could help the Caps next season? Josh Archibald, Brian Dumoulin, Conor Sheary, Justin Schultz and Oskar Sundqvist are all restricted free agents meaning most if not all will be off limits to Washington, but there are still plenty of unrestricted free agents they could perhaps target this summer.

Nick Bonino

Position: C
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 29
Last contract: 3 years for $5.7 million, $1.9 million cap hit
Season stats: 18 goals, 19 assists in 80 games

It was Pittsburgh’s HBK line (Carl Hagelin, Bonino, Phil Kessel) that really exposed Washington’s lack of bottom-six scoring depth. As Bonino was the guy centering that line and given the fact that scoring depth is still an issue for the Caps, you would think he would be an enticing piece for Washington to potentially add. If there is one position in which Washington appears set, however, it is center. Unless something unexpected happens with Evgeny Kuznetsov’s restricted free agency or someone is plucked in the expansion draft, the Caps will return Nicklas Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle next season, all four of their centers from 2016-17. If they lose one, Bonino could be a potential target for a depth center, but otherwise he is not a great fit.

RELATED: Orlov in talks with KHL team, but it probably doesn't mean much

Matt Cullen

Position: C
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 40
Last contract: 1 year for $1 million, $1 million cap hit
Season stats: 13 goals, 18 assists in 72 games

Cullen has been an incredibly productive fourth line player for Pittsburgh given his age, but the Caps need to get younger and faster. I have a hard time believing Cullen will not hang up the skates after this season, but even if he doesn’t he is not someone Washington should pursue.

Trevor Daley

Position: D
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 33
Last contract: 6 years for $19.8 million, $3.3 million cap hit
Season stats: 5 goals, 14 assists in 56 games

The Capitals have four defensemen they will need to protect in the expansion draft in John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt, but if they take the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie – which they are expected to do given their offensive depth – they risk losing a significant blue liner and someone the team had penciled in for a top-four role next season. Bringing in a player like Daley in free agency could soften the blow. Daley has proven to be a key piece of the championship puzzle for the Penguins, but let’s not forget how much he struggled in Chicago ultimately prompting the trade to Pittsburgh. He is someone who needs the right fit to be productive. Given the success he has had in Pittsburgh, I have to imagine he will try to remain a Penguin. If he does become available, the question becomes how much will he cost? Washington may be in need of a top four defensemen, but they may not have much money to spend and, at 33 years old, it is fair to wonder just how long Daley can continue playing well enough to justify that big of a role. Age, price and fit are too many question marks for my taste.

Ron Hainsey

Position: D
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 36
Last contract: 3 years for $8.5 million, $2.83 million cap hit
Season stats:4 goals, 13 assists in 72 games

In addition to Washington’s top two defensive pairs, the third pairing is also a question mark for next season. Are Madison Bowey or Christian Djoos ready to step into a full-time role? Will the Caps consider buying out the remainder of Brooks Orpik’s contract? Depending on the answers to these questions, Washington will need to find one, maybe two defensemen for their third pair. If the Caps want to plug a prospect onto the bottom pair, they would do well to pair him with a veteran presence to help show him the ropes and make up for inevitable rookie mistakes. Could Hainsey be that guy? The only way this move would make sense is if the team bought out Orpik and signed Hainsey as a cheaper alternative. The more likely scenario is that they keep Orpik and use him in that third-pair mentor role.

Chris Kunitz

Position: LW
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 38
Last contract: 3 years for $11.55 million, $3.85 million cap hit
Season stats: 9 goals, 20 assists in 71 games

Kunitz was the hero of the Eastern Conference Final as he scored twice in Game 7 including the overtime winner. Do you know the last time Kunitz scored before Thursday’s game? February. Sure, you could argue he has veteran leadership, but so does Justin Williams. Kunitz is older than Williams, far less productive and even had a bigger cap hit this season. If you like what Kunitz could potentially bring to Washington, then re-sign Williams.

Chad Ruhwedel

Position: D
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 27
Last contract: 1 year for $575,000, $575,000 cap hit
Season stats: 2 goals, 8 assists in 34 games

With Taylor Chorney still under contract for next season, the Caps have no need for another No. 7.

Mark Streit

Position: D
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 39
Last contract: 4 years for $21 million, $5.25 million cap hit
Season stats: 6 goals, 21 assists in 68 games

If the Caps are in need of a veteran defenseman to anchor their third pairing, Hainsey would be the better option from Pittsburgh over the 39-year-old Streit.

MORE CAPITALS: 20 questions: Should the Caps re-sign Williams?

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Remembering the highlights of each of the Capitals' American players

Remembering the highlights of each of the Capitals' American players

The Capitals have a superstar Russian, an incredible Swedish center, a Canadian netminder, but the team also boasts several American players as well. On the 4th of July when American celebrate the birth of our nation, lets put down the barbecue, apple pie and fireworks for a few minutes to remember some of the top highlights from each of the team's Americans.

Travis Boyd: 4 goals for Hayden

In Feb. 2018, Boyd turned hardship into an inspirational moment. While with the Hershey Bears, Boyd's daughter, Hayden, developed a serious infection and had to go to the hospital. Boyd went with her on a Sunday and did not leave until Friday morning to prepare for that night's game, a game in which he would score four goals.

John Carlson: The golden goal

Carlson has numerous highlights from his career with the Caps, but on Indepence Day it seems only fitting to look back at his biggest goal for his country. Carlson represented Team USA in the 2010 World Junior Championships which was hosted by Canada that year. USA made it all the way to the final where the played the host nation. Tied at 5 through regulation, Carlson scored the golden goal off a 2-on-1 as he caught the goalie leaning anticipating the pass.

Nic Dowd: Historic penalty shot

In Game 5 of the Caps' series against the Carolina Hurricanes in 2019, Nic Dowd was slashed by defenseman Dougie Hamilton while he was in alone on goalie Petr Mrazek. Dowd was awarded the first penalty shot of his career and he delivered, dekeing right to open up Mrazek's pads and tucking the puck through the 5-hole. In addition to being his first penalty shot goal, the goal was also Dowd's first-career playoff point.

The goal also had some historic significance for the team as it was Washington's first ever playoff penalty shot goal.

RELATED: 2003 NHL REDRAFT

Garnet Hathaway: Shows his toughness against the Rangers

On Oct. 18, the Caps hosted the New York Rangers and it proved to be an pretty epic night for Hathaway. He was knocked out of the game in the second period with a broken nose after a big hit from Jacob Trouba, came back in the third, drew a cross-check, fought Brendan Smith (again, with a broken nose), the Caps scored on the resulting power play and Hathaway returned to score the empty-netter.

That’s a pretty unbelievable game.

Nick Jensen: Assisting on goal No. 700

Jensen has been with the Capitals for about a year and a half, but he will forever be linked to the team's greatest franchise player thanks to one assist.

Against the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 22, Jensen grabbed a loose puck behind the offensive goal line and sent it back behind the net to keep the offensive cycle going. That allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov to find Alex Ovechkin who scored career goal No. 700.


T.J. Oshie: T.J. Sochi

Who could forget about Oshie's incredible performance at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi?

Playing against Team Russia, USA leaned heavily on Oshie in the shootout. He would score four times on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky as USA walked away victorious.

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The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if Vrana had a top power play role all season?

The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if Vrana had a top power play role all season?

We are looking at some of the biggest “what ifs” for the Capitals for the 2019-20 season.

Today’s what if: What if Jakub Vrana had a top power-play role all season?

Jakub Vrana may be having the best season that no one is talking about. When you are teammates with one of the best goal scorers of all-time and a bonafide superstar, other players tend to get overshadowed. Just ask Nicklas Backstrom.

Vrana scored 24 even-strength goals in the 2019-20 season, tied for 11th in the NHL. It’s only four behind David Pastrnak, three behind Leon Draisaitl, one behind Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin, tied with Jack Eichel and more goals than players like Mika Zibanejad (23), Nathan MacKinnon (23), Connor McDavid (23) and Brad Marchand. So why isn’t Vrana viewed as the same caliber offensive player as those others? The answer is the power play.

While Vrana ranks 11th in even-strength goals, he ranks tied for 35th overall with 25 goals. That’s right, he has one single power-play goal this season. The 10 players ahead of him in the even-strength goals list averaged just over 10 power-play goals for the season. An extra 10 goals would have tied Vrana with McDavid for 10th in the NHL.

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Vrana did not start the season on the top player play unit. He was actually only moved there late in the season as Washington’s power play struggled. Relegated to the forgotten and rarely used second unit, Vrana only recently started to see more opportunity on the power play resulting in just one goal which came on Jan. 11.

But what if Vrana had been on the top power-play unit all season? Would he have racked up enough goals to garner national attention?

RELATED: 2003 NHL REDRAFT

Probably not as much as you may think.

First, let’s remember that the power play has been terrible this season. It ranks 17th in the NHL overall, but is actually 24th since Dec. 23. Second, there is not a natural spot where Vrana fits on the top power play. He is a sniper, his best asset is shooting and he is not going to replace the player tasked with taking the one-timer from the far faceoff dot, Alex Ovechkin. Vrana was playing the goal line in place of Evgeny Kuznetsov. Based on how Washington's power play has worked the last few years, this spot is primarily for setting up the slot or bouncing it back to the half-wall. Vrana is a better set-up player than many give him credit, but this role really does not put him in the best position to use his shot. More time on the power play should increase his goal total just as a result of him being on the ice more, but based on how the power play has played and how he is used, it probably would not have boosted his totals into being one of the top 10-15 scorers in the NHL this season.

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