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Ward says he'll miss D.C., but, hey, he's in Cali

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Ward says he'll miss D.C., but, hey, he's in Cali

Joel Ward says he had it good in his four seasons as a member of the Capitals. He had grown accustomed to his “simple drive” into Arlington for practices, his favorite barber, and a place to drop off his dry cleaning.

But even Ward would admit there is something special about living in San Jose.

“Let me tell you, it’s pretty chill,” Ward said Tuesday after participating in the Sharks’ morning skate at Verizon Center, where he’ll face his former teammates tonight (6:30 p.m. pregame, CSN).

“It’s laid back, good weather, of course, and there’s so much fun to do around there. There’s wine country; there’s beaches; there’s snow not too far; there’s food. Whatever you want to do.”

But there are sacrifices that come along with being a Northern Californian.

“Ten a.m. Ravens games are pretty tough,” he said with a laugh.

After four seasons and four different coaches in Washington, Ward, 34, said he hoped to finish his career with the Caps under Barry Trotz. But when the Caps would not meet his request for a deal lasting at least three seasons he knew it would be time to move on.

“The writing was on the wall a little bit,” Ward said. “After the season I initially thought I’d be back right away. But as the summer dwindled down I kind of figured it wasn’t going that way. I wrapped my head around that and understood that I had to move on.”

In the week-long interview period prior to the NHL’s July 1 free agency, Ward spoke with new Sharks coach Peter DeBoer and the two quickly agreed the Sharks would be a perfect fit. Days later Ward signed a three-year deal worth $9.85 million.  

“I felt he was the perfect complement for what was ailing our group,” DeBoer said of the Sharks, a veteran team that missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 years last spring.

“He’s a fantastic penalty killer and 5-on-5 he’s willing to go to dirty areas and do dirty work on the defensive side of the puck. Those were all the boxes I wanted checked for what we needed to improve on and it was all in one package with one guy. He was right at the top of our list.”

In two games with the Sharks, both victories, Ward has played on a second line with left wing Patrick Marleau and center Logan Couture, while also seeing time on the Sharks’ power play and penalty killing units. He has two assists in those games.

Ward said the Sharks remind him of the Capitals of a year ago -- a team that replaced its coach after a disappointing season that ended out of the playoffs.

“There are a lot of similarities,” Ward said. “We missed the playoffs in D.C., made a couple changes and next thing you know we’re one goal away from going on (to the conference finals). This team has a similar makeup, guys are hungry to get after it. The coach has been really good with laying the foundation and I’m pretty impressed with the work ethic.”

Ward said his only regret in his four seasons with the Capitals is getting them deeper in the post-season.

“We had a good run and we came up short a couple times,” he said. “It was definitely tough to know you came pretty close, but it’s a business as well and we understand that.”

As for the “lovefest” Trotz said Ward will face tonight against Jason Chimera and the rest of his former teammates, Ward smiled and said. “We’ll be laughing the whole time. I’m sure I’ll see Chimmer afterwards. There are quite a few guys that I have a lot of fond memories with over the years. But the game’s so fast you can’t crack too many jokes out there.”

[RELATED: Can Capitals win the Eastern Conference?]

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Who will the Caps' backup goalie be next season?

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Who will the Caps' backup goalie be next season?

Very few teams have the luxury of having a backup goalie they can rely on for an extended period of time while the starter goes through a massive slump. The Capitals had that luxury in 2017-2018 thanks to Philipp Grubauer.

Not every team in the NHL has a dependable starter, let alone backup, so when a backup goalie goes 15-10-3 in a season with a 2.35 GAA and .923 save percentage, that is likely to catch the attention of general managers around the league.

The 2018-19 season will likely be a season of transition for the Capitals behind Braden Holtby. General manager Brian MacLellan expressed his willingness Wednesday to possibly trade backup goalie Philipp Grubauer this offseason. With the season he just had, he could potentially yield the Caps a solid return.

But, if Grubauer is indeed moved, that leaves the question of who will play backup for the Capitals this season?

The initial plan appears to be to promote Pheonix Copley from the AHL.

“Yeah, I think he's capable of it,” MacLellan said when asked if he saw Copley as an NHL backup. “Obviously, he's unproven. I think he's done what he could do at the American League level. Got through probably a little bit of a tough patch this year recovering from an injury, but I think he has potential to be that guy, yes.”

Copley, 26, played last season with the Caps’ AHL affiliate Hershey Bears. He had a tough season with a 2.91 GAA and .896 save percentage in 41 games.

As MacLellan alluded, Copley suffered a serious injury at the end of the previous season and it clearly affected his season. The year prior, Copley managed a 2.15 GAA and .931 with Hershey in 16 games. He was considered Washington’s No. 3 goalie this season and was recalled for the playoffs as an emergency backup behind Grubauer.

Copley’s career includes only two NHL games.

There is another internal candidate who some fans may be hoping to see next season. That of course, is 2015 first-round draft pick Ilya Samsonov.

Samsonov, 21, signed an entry-level contract with Washington in May and will make the jump from the KHL to North America next season.

But don’t expect to see Samsonov backing up Holtby to start the NHL season.

Samsonov will be adjusting to the North American game and the smaller North American rink. Because of that, MacLellan believes he will benefit from time in the AHL before making the jump to the NHL.

"I think he needs time in Hershey,” MacLellan said. “We'll start him in Hershey I would anticipate and see how he grows, see how he gets accustomed to the small rink and hopefully get some good coaching, get our guys in that work with him. It'll be up to him. I think he'll adapt fairly quickly given his skill set.”

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Devante Smith-Pelly is hopeful he has found a home with the Capitals

Devante Smith-Pelly is hopeful he has found a home with the Capitals

“I didn't think I'd be here a year ago,” Devante Smith-Pelly told the media Wednesday. “That's for sure.”

In 2017, Devante Smith-Pelly was a member of the New Jersey Devils and thought that’s where he would play the 2017-18 season. Instead, Smith-Pelly was bought out of the final year of his contract, something that he was not prepared for as he only received word of the team’s decision on the same day they made the move.

New Jersey’s loss turned out to be Washington’s gain as the Caps signed Smith-Pelly for one year and he proceeded to score seven goals during the Capitals’ postseason run to the Stanley Cup.

“Obviously, at the start of the year, not knowing exactly where I would be to at the parade on Constitution, it's crazy," Smith-Pelly said. "I haven't really sat down and taken it all in, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. I had an amazing time this year. Obviously, it's the best year of my life.”

Now as a restricted free agent, Smith-Pelly is hoping he has found a home in Washington.

Despite being only 26-years-old, Smith-Pelly has already had somewhat of a journeyman’s career. The Caps are the fifth team in which he has played for.

The issue for much of Smith-Pelly's career has been consistency.

The 2018 playoffs was not his first breakout performance. He scored five goals in just 12 playoff games for the Anaheim Ducks in 2014, but he failed to live up to that level of production again until this year’s postseason with Washington.

“I don't think I needed to prove anything,” Smith-Pelly said. “I knew what I could do, it's just me getting a chance to do it and that's it. I got a chance here and I guess it worked out.”

Expecting him to score seven goals every 24 games in the regular season is likely unrealistic, but the Caps don’t need him to do that. Smith-Pelly developed a role with the Caps being a bottom-six player, a role that he thrived in throughout the season.

“He's become a big part of the team,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “He brings good energy, he's a good teammate, he's well-liked. You could tell the teammates really migrate towards him, they like him and then the crowd also likes him. They're chanting 'DSP' all the time so it's been fun to watch how he's got everybody to embrace him and his personality.”

Given when Smith-Pelly was able to do in the postseason, it is no surprise that the Caps would be interested in keeping him around. But at what cost?

Smith-Pelly was a bargain for Washington last season with a cap hit of only $650,000. He will be due a raise, but with John Carlson expected to get a monster contract, how much will general manager Brian MacLellan be willing to spend on a bottom-six winger like Smith-Pelly?

Despite the phenomenal postseason, Smith-Pelly had only seven goals and 16 points in the entire regular season. When it comes to a new contract, MacLellan will likely want to pay for that player while Smith-Pelly will no doubt look to be paid like the player who scored seven times in 24 playoff games.

As of Wednesday when he spoke with reporters, Smith-Pelly said he had not yet had any talks with the team about a new contract, but also noted that, as a restricted free agent, “there’s no real rush.”

The Caps own Smith-Pelly’s rights which helps their bargaining position. Smith-Pelly, however, is arbitration eligible and his postseason stats will undoubtedly bump his value when viewed by a neutral arbitrator.

But there's a good chance it may not get anywhere close to that point.

“On the ice and off the ice I feel like this is the best situation I've been in,” Smith-Pelly said. “Obviously, never know what's going to happen but I found a place and I want to be back.”

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