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Six bold predictions for the Caps' season


Six bold predictions for the Caps' season

The quest for the Stanley Cup begins anew for Washington on Thursday as the Caps open their season on the road against the Ottawa Senators. There are 82 games ahead for Washington that will determine the fate of their season. After a tumultuous summer, just what will the new season hold? We have a few thoughts on that.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan will cover the Capitals through the course of the season for NBC Sports Washington. Here’s a few predictions for what they think may happen.


Alex Ovechkin tops the 33 goals he scored last season: As I’ve said many times, I suspect No. 8’s 50 goal campaigns are behind him. But at 32 he’s still one of the game’s most dangerous players, particularly on the power play. He introduced more speed and endurance training to his offseason routine this summer. He’s going to open the season on a line with a couple of young, speedy players in Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana. If Ovi can increase his goal production at even strength, I could see the Caps’ captain hit the 40-goal plateau that the team so desperately needs him to reach.

Washington’s power play will top last year’s 23.1-percent: Last season, the power play was the third most effective unit in the NHL at 23.1-percent. It’s going to be a bit better than that this year with the addition of Evgeny Kuznetsov to the top group, which figures to see the lion's share of the two minutes. Just look at that collection of talent…Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and John Carlson, who is in a contract year. Just be glad you’re not a penalty killer on one of the other 30 teams.

Nathan Walker will have a breakout season and earn a full-time role: Due to an influx of young players—and players looking to capitalize on a second chance—there are more than a few candidates for Breakout Player of the Year. Tyler Graovav, Devante Smith-Pelly, Alex Chiasson all come to mind. But I think it’s going to be feisty rookie from Australia—Nathan Walker—who’s going to carve out a niche for himself in DC. I don’t know how much he’s going to play early on. But I’m willing to bet he’s a full-timer (and a fan favorite) by the end of the year.



Philipp Grubauer will not finish the season as a Cap: With a .926 save percentage and 2.04 goals against average in 24 appearances last season, Grubauer looks ready to take on a leading role. Having a backup as dependable as Grubauer is a luxury that Washington would love to hold on to, but with Pheonix Copley’s strong play in the preseason and a roster not nearly as deep as in years past especially on the blue line, someone is going to make the Caps an offer they cannot refuse. All it takes is one injury to a starting goalie or one goalie not performing at the level the team expected and then Brian MacLellan’s phone will start to ring.

Jakub Vrana will score 20 goals: After a disappointing end to the 2016-17 season, this was a big camp for Vrana and he delivered. He looked just as skilled and as fast as advertised and looked every bit the NHL player. Any questions about whether he is ready to be a full-time NHLer are gone. He is going to start the season playing on a line with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. Playing alongside a skilled setup man like Kuznetsov will definitely boost Vrana’s production as will the usage. I am going to go out on a limb and say that an Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Vrana line is not going to get too many defensive zone starts. A heavy dose of offensive playing time will get Vrana to the 20-goal mark for the season.

Braden Holtby will not be a Vezina Finalist this season: Don’t get me wrong, Braden Holtby is one of the top goalies in the NHL and should be referred to with the same reverence people have for Montreal’s Carey Price. These two are the best goalies in the world, period. Having said that, Holtby has also benefited from a strong defense in recent years. He does not have that anymore as Washington’s biggest question mark this season is on the blue line. Last year, Brooks Orpik was on the third pair and Taylor Chorney was the team’s No. 7. This year, at least to start the season, the 37-year-old Orpik is in the top-four playing alongside John Carlson and Chorney is on the third pair. Those promotions came out of necessity, not because they had a dazzling camp. The Caps will lean more on Holtby to bail them out when the defense breaks down and he will be up to the task, but his numbers will take a dip because of it and he will not be among the NHL’s finalists for the Vezina for the first time in three years.


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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 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 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


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.