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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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Key Caps questions: How will Samsonov look in his first season in North America?

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Scout Pruski

Key Caps questions: How will Samsonov look in his first season in North America?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: How will Ilya Samsonov play in his first season in North America?

What else is there to say about Samsonov's time in the KHL? In the limited action he saw playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, he looked every bit the starting goalie the Caps hoped he would one day be when they drafted him in the first round of the 2015 draft. Now, finally, he is ready to start his North America career.

What makes the transition from Europe to North America difficult?

First, Samsonov is adjusting to a new country and a new language. Second, the workload in North America is much larger, even in practice.

"He probably saw more shots today than he saw in a month of practice in Russia and this was nothing," director of player development Steve Richmond said during development camp. "For me, that's the biggest thing for him is to learn how to practice in North America."

And then there's the rink size. The game is faster for goalies in North America because of the smaller rink. Scoring chances develop much more quickly and Samsonov will also be dealing with different angles. It also means dealing with a lot more traffic in front of the net. He is going to have to learn more how to track the puck through a screen and to react much more quickly.

I tried to watch Samsonov closely in development camp. His size definitely stood out. He takes up a lot of the net, but is still very athletic and very quick in and out of the butterfly. As big as he is, however, he seems to play very low to compensate for his size which leaves him vulnerable up high at times. He would make a handful of very good saves, then let in a soft one glove side or in the corners because he was playing too low.

Those areas of his game can be improved on with practice so long as you have the skill and Samsonov certainly has that.

Samsonov has been elite at every level he has played and there is no reason to think that won't continue in the AHL. Having said that, there is just too much he needs to adjust to expect him to be ready for the NHL at this point. He needs as much playing time as possible at the AHL level before he is ready. As long as that's where he spends the season, I expect him to put up similar numbers to the 2.31 GAA, .926 save percentage he managed last season in the KHL.

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Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

There are no signs of Alex Ovechkin slowing down heading into his first season after winning a Stanley Cup. Bovada just released their latest odds for the Hart Memorial Trophy (the NHL’s Most Valuable Player Award) and Ovechkin was tied with the third-best odds to win in all of the NHL at 10/1.

He was joined by two other Washington Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov both at 50/1 odds. 

Here are all the odds for the top 11 players:

Connor McDavid          10/3
Sidney Crosby              13/2
Auston Matthews        10/1
Alex Ovechkin               10/1
Jon Tavares                   10/1
Taylor Hall                     15/1
Nikita Kucherov            15/1
Nathan MacKinnon      15/1
Mark Scheifele              15/1
Anze Kopitar                  18/1
Evgeni Malkin                18/1

The only two players ahead of ‘The Great 8’ are the 21-year-old McDavid and dreaded rival Crosby.

Even with the immense amount of alcohol that has been consumed in the past two months, Ovechkin is still commanding respect in Vegas. It is hard not to when he turns around these intense offseason workouts. At 32, Ovechkin led the NHL in scoring with 49 goals a year ago, the seventh such time he has done so. 

Already the 2018 Conn Smythe winner has three MVP trophies to his name (one more than Crosby) and there is no telling what to expect now that the 11-time All-Star has a Stanley Cup title. 

In his 11 years in the league, Backstrom has never received any votes for the Hart Memorial Trophy. Kuznetsov only has done so once and that was in the 2015-16 season. 

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