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War stories from NHL salary arbitrations

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War stories from NHL salary arbitrations

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall while Braden Holtby and the Capitals gave their briefs to an NHL arbitrator in Toronto earlier today.

What kind of dirt did the Caps have to dig up to convince an arbitrator their 25-year-old goaltender is worth their proposed $5.1 million, which would make him the 17th highest-paid goalie in the NHL?

And what kind of flowery language did Holtby’s agent come up with to justify his $8 million asking price, which would make him the second highest-paid goalie in the NHL next season, behind only Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million)?

No matter what an arbitrator rules in the case of Holtby – and he has 48 hours to render a decision – there’s a good chance the fiery goalie will come out feeling he has something to prove next season, especially with restricted free agency looming for him again next summer.

Same goes for Marcus Johansson, who is scheduled for his arbitration hearing on July 29.

By their very nature, arbitration cases can be contentious, but some of the most famous in NHL history have been downright entertaining.

Like the one in 2002 when the Vancouver Canucks went to war with former Capitals captain Brendan Morrison. At one point during their briefing the Canucks likened Morrison to a mouse who was carried across a river by two elephants, linemates Todd Bertuzzi and Markus Naslund.

Afterward, then-Canucks general manager Brian Burke barked, “After inviting us into the alley, you can't complain if you get kicked in the groin.”

Morrison may have come out of that arbitration with his ego bruised but his pockets were full, tripling his $770,000 salary with a two-year, $4.6 million deal.

In 1997, when he was general manager of the New York Islanders, Mike Milbury reportedly drove goaltender Tommy Salo to tears by telling his agent he was one of the poorest conditioned athletes he’d ever seen. Salo had to leave the room but increased his salary from $300,000 to $750,000.

In 2003, the Phoenix Coyotes called Mike Johnson the “worst forward in the NHL” in their briefing, but somehow found a way to settle on a one-year, $2.3 million contract minutes before the hearing started. Johnson still has a copy of the Coyotes’ briefing.

Only a handful of Capitals have gone to arbitration, with bruising defenseman Brendan Witt one of the most notable cases in 2004.

Witt, who was coming off a 12-point, minus-22 season, was given a one-year award of $2.2 million, a raise from his $1.75 million salary.

“The award was about where we thought it would come in," then-Capitals general manager George McPhee told the Washington Post at the time. "He had a strong case. . . . Brendan and I had a good talk after it was over. There's a mutual respect there.”

Witt sounded like it was something he did not want to endure again.

“Arbitration is not the best thing to go through,"  he said at the time. “But it's behind us."

The same sentiment will probably come from Holtby when an award is announced in the coming days. But don't feel too bad for him. He'll probably more than triple last year's salary of $2 million. 

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3 Caps who impressed against the Blues in preview of the season opener

3 Caps who impressed against the Blues in preview of the season opener

Nicklas Backstrom scored with less than seven seconds remaining to give the Capitals the 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday in a preseason preview of the regular-season opener. Radko Gudas and Richard Panik also scored.

Here are three players who impressed for the Caps.

1. Richard Panik

Panik got plenty of practice on the penalty kill with 4:16 of shorthanded ice time shorthanded. In that time he gave a glimpse of why he was so coveted by the Caps as a free agent.

In the first period, Panik pounced on a loose puck at the top of the faceoff circle in the defensive zone. Seeing he had room to work with, he did not just clear it down the ice and instead elected to skate up with it. He fought off the backcheck from Tyler Bozak through the neutral zone, drew an additional two Blues players to him, then drew a holding call from Bozak because he would not give up the puck.

Panik's 4:16 of penalty kill time was more than top penalty killer Carl Hagelin's 2:26, though the fact that Hagelin took two minors on the night probably had something to do with it.

Late in the game, Panik was also added to the power play as a sixth attacker with the goalie pulled. He would score the game-tying goal with just 1:09 left in regulation.

2. The goalies

Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov both played about a half of the game. It is really hard to evaluate a goalie on just 30 minutes of work, so I will give a shoutout to both as both played very well.

Vanecek got the start. He looked a little awkward at first, but settled in as the game went along for a solid performance. He stopped 13 of the 14 shots he faced with the only goal he allowed a weird deflection off of Brett Leason’s skate.

Samsonov took over about halfway through the second period and within minutes found himself defending the net on a 5-on-3 penalty kill. The penalty killers helped out their young netminder allowing only one shot on goal, but it was a good one. Colton Parayko one-timed a slap shot, but Samsonov was there to stop with no rebound. Soon after the penalty was over, Vladimir Tarasenko was all alone in front of the net, but was denied by Samsonov’s who stretched the blocker to deny the high shot.

Sanford scores on the PP. Samsonov wasn't tight against the post. Showed him too much daylight and Sanford made him pay.

Samsonov finished with 11 saves on 12 shots.

3. Connor McMichael

Boy, somebody got a confidence boost from Monday’s game. 

McMichael was given a second preseason game as a reward for his solid performance on Monday and he definitely showed off the confidence that comes along with being a first-round draft pick.

In the first period, McMichael found himself all alone with the puck on a mini-breakaway on Jordan Binnington. Just a reminder, this is the Binnington who was the starting goalie for the Stanley Cup champions.

So what did McMichael do? He skated to the front and tried the stick between the legs shot. It may not have worked, but you have to respect the confidence this kid had just to try, though no doubt the coaches probably had a few words for him in the locker room about it.

There was one area in which McMichael struggled, however, and that was on the faceoff where he lost all five draws he took on the night.

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Ovechkin awarded the prestigious Wayne Gretzky International Award

Ovechkin awarded the prestigious Wayne Gretzky International Award

Alex Ovechkin has already collected almost every award in hockey imaginable, and he just won another.

USA Hockey announced on Wednesday that Ovechkin will receive the prestigious Wayne Gretzky International Award. He will be honored at the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Dec. 12.

The award recognizes international players who have had a significant impact on advancing hockey in the United States.

After the Capitals drafted him first overall in 2004, Ovi has used his prominence in hockey to make an impact on the Washington area. Ovechkin started Ovi's Crazy 8's in 2006, providing more than 5,000 tickets to help underserved children attend Caps games.

2019 marks the sixth consecutive season that he will be hosting a skating event for the American Special Hockey Association. Ovi has also worked with several foundations to grant the wishes of ill children.

Over the course of Ovechkin's NHL career, youth participation in hockey in the DMV has nearly doubled, rising from 13,923 to 22,500, according to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

“His performance on the ice and efforts off the ice have certainly translated into more kids and families wanting to be involved in our sport,” said Pat Kelleher, executive director of USA Hockey, in a press release. “He’s been a great ambassador for hockey and embodies what the Gretzky Award represents.”

Entering his fifteenth season in Washington, Ovechkin has made a habit out of winning awards.

Ovi's scoring prowess has him ranked thirteenth on the NHL's all-time goal list, and another 50 goal season would push him all the way to seventh.

Finishing his career as the top-ranked goal scorer is not out of the question, as Ovechkin continues to chase the namesake of his most recent award.

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