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Who is on Capitals' free-agent shopping list?


Who is on Capitals' free-agent shopping list?

When he addressed the media a few days after the Capitals were eliminated by the New York Rangers in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, general manager Brian MacLellan said one of his priorities for the summer would be finding a top-line right wing to play alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

At the time, he said he would be more likely to find that player in a trade and not through free agency. MacLellan reiterated those thoughts following Saturday’s NHL’s draft, saying he will monitor the cost of free agency when it begins at noon on Wednesday, but is not in a position to overpay like last year, when the Caps spent more than $67 million on defensemen Brooks Orpik and Mat Niskanen.

Assuming the Capitals commit roughly $5 million in cap space to restricted free agent goaltender Braden Holtby and a combined $7 million in cap space to RFA forwards Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov, MacLellan would have an estimated $6 million to spend on a top-line right wing and a seventh defenseman.

For what it’s worth, the Islanders, Rangers, Penguins, Canadiens and Senators also have cited the need for a top-six forward, which could drive up the prices paid on Wednesday.

If MacLellan indeed decides to fill the Caps’ need through free agency, here is a list of right wings that might interest him:

Justin Williams, Los Angeles Kings

Age: 33

2014-15 stats: 18-23-41 in 81 games, 15:49

2014-15 cap hit: $3.65 million

Scouting report: A three-time Stanley Cup champion and the Conn Smythe winner in 2014, Williams is a proven playoff performer who appears to have some tread left on his tires despite 918 career regular season games and 115 playoff games. Williams plays a strong two-way game with a bit of an edge. Much like Joel Ward, the Caps probably would prefer a two-year contract, but Williams will seek four years and could get $4 million per. Williams has said he wants to stay in L.A., “but if not, I’m going to try to restart my career somewhere else, turn the page and try to win as many hockey games as I can. I’m at a point in my career where it’s not all about money, it’s about winning for me.”

Drew Stafford, Winnipeg Jets

Age: 29

2014-15 stats: 18-25-43 in 76 games, 16:29

2014-15 cap hit: $4 million

Scouting report: At 6-foot-2, 214 pounds, Stafford has size, skill and a willingness to drive the net, making him a perfect complement to Ovechkin and Backstrom. Stafford has consistently been in the 20-goal range, topping out at 31 goals in 2010-11. At 29 he’ll be seeking at least four years and likely will command $5 million or more in average salary.

Erik Cole, Detroit Red Wings

Age: 36

2014-15 stats: 21-18-39 in 68 games, 14:32

2014-15 cap hit: $4.5 million

Scouting report: Even at the age of 36 Cole has proven himself as a hard-charging, in-your-face power forward who can finish. At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds he could give the Caps’ top line a heavy element and he can play the diamond on the power play. He can also slide down and play a second or third line role and be effective. He likely won’t get more than two years and he’d come at a palatable cap hit, probably in the $3.5 million range.

Chris Stewart, Minnesota Wild

Age: 27

2014-15 stats: 14-22-36 in 81 games, 15:52

2014-15 cap hit: $4.15 million

Scouting report: He’s got great size [6-2, 231] and a powerful shot, but for the most part, Stewart has fallen short of expectations, spending seven NHL seasons with four different organizations. Stewart has 30-goal potential but has hovered in the 15-goal range the past four seasons and may have trouble increasing his salary because of it. If the Caps can sign Stewart for two or three years with a cap hit of about $4 million, he might be worth the investment. Anything higher, they’d probably pass.

Michael Frolik, Winnipeg Jets

Age: 27

2014-15 stats: 19-23-42 in 82 games, 17:30

2014-15 cap hit: $3.3 million

Scouting report: Frolik plays a high skill game and can find holes to release a quick shot. His 19 goals last season represented his highest output since 2008-09 and 2009-10 when he netted back-to-back 21-goal seasons in his first two years in Florida. Frolik won a Cup with the Blackhawks in 2013, recording three goals and seven assists in 23 games while averaging 13:09 of ice time.


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In a surprise twist, Barry Trotz takes The Hot Lap ahead of Game 7

In a surprise twist, Barry Trotz takes The Hot Lap ahead of Game 7

TAMPA—Head Coach Barry Trotz skated the hot lap prior to Wednesday’s Game 7 at Amalie Arena, taking over the superstitious tradition from captain Alex Ovechkin.

Why the change?

The Caps lost Game 5 here on Saturday. And when the Caps lose on the road—the only place where the morning-skate-starting hot lap takes place—a new skater is selected.

The weird tradition began in the first round at Nationwide Arena in Columbus when Jay Beagle grew tired of waiting for the ice to freeze over following a fresh Zamboni cut. Beagle's teammates implored him to wait a little longer for the ice to cure, but he grew impatient and took it upon himself to kick off the skate by racing around the rink, a la the fastest skater competition at the All Star Skills competition.

Ovechkin took it over prior to Game 6 in Pittsburgh because the Caps had lost Game 4 at PPG Paints Arena.

Ovechkin proudly carried on the tradition as Washington won three in a row—Game 6 in Pittsburgh and Games 1 and 2 of this series vs. Tampa Bay.

Following the Caps’ 3-2 defeat in Game 5 here, though, it was expected that a change would be made.

And on Wednesday morning the baton changed hands, with the least obvious of all the Caps busting his 55-year-old hump around the rink much to the delight of his players and assistants.


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Regardless of what happens in Game 7, these are not the 'same old Caps'

Regardless of what happens in Game 7, these are not the 'same old Caps'

These are not the same old Caps.

Heading into Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Monday, there was a lot of handwringing around Washington and with good reason. The Capitals were facing elimination for the first time this postseason. Of course the fans were on edge; no one wanted this run to end.

But even though the Caps are competing for the conference crown and have gotten past their archrivals to get here, the refrains leading into Game 6 were the same ones we’ve heard from past years.

 “They don’t want it enough.”

“There’s no heart.”

“Totally outcoached.”


And perhaps most damning, “Same old Caps.”

Stop it already.

Seriously, how can anyone have watched this postseason and walked away thinking this is the same Caps team?

Does no one remember the start of the season? Some people didn’t even think they would make the playoffs. Others were advocating the team trade Alex Ovechkin and start over. Yet here they are.

Finally, finally they got past the second round hump. They beat the Pittsburgh Penguins—ending their two-year reign as Stanley Cup Champions—and handed Mike Sullivan his first ever series loss as the Penguins head coach.

And no, Mike Wilbon, just because they made it past the second round doesn’t mean it’s OK to lose in the Conference Finals. But considering how they got there, they showed they have at the very least changed the narrative surrounding the Capitals.

Washington lost the first two games of its series against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round and went on to win four straight to advance. In the second round, they faced the two-time defending champions, a team they had beaten only once in the playoffs in franchise history and a team that had not lost a playoff series since 2015.

And they won.

And yet, people are acting like nothing changed with the Caps. Why? Because they lost three in a row to Tampa Bay?

OK, you've got a point. What kind of a team loses three straight in the playoffs? Hard-nosed teams with tough coaches that play the right way like Columbus or Anaheim wouldn’t let that happen to them. Oh, actually Columbus lost four in a row to the Caps and the Ducks got swept in the first round. Never mind.

Well, certainly not a team with a championship history like the Los Angeles Kings. Oh wait, never mind, the got swept by Vegas. Bad example.

Well, surely an original six team with a championship pedigree like the Boston Bruins would never let that happen. Oh yeah, they lost four straight to the same Tampa Bay team.

OK, OK, but were any of those teams really contenders this year? I mean, none of those teams were as good as Winnipeg and they won’t let themselves lose three in a row in the playoffs.

That’s because they lost four straight to Vegas in the conference final.

You see where this is going, right?

It just boggles the mind that anyone could see the game plan Barry Trotz put together in Game 6 in Pittsburgh, without three top-six forwards including Nicklas Backstrom, and win in overtime and still complain that he is always outcoached in the playoffs. He certainly wasn’t outcoached in that game or that series.

It’s baffling that anyone can see how Washington rallied past Columbus after losing Game 1 and Game 2, recovered from a disastrous Game 1 to Pittsburgh and won the first two games in Tampa Bay against a favored Lightning team and complain that this team “doesn’t want it enough.”

Chokers don’t advance to the third round. Chokers don’t beat the two-time defending champions when no one else could. Chokers don’t force seven games against a Tampa Bay team that finished off both of their prior series in just five games.

Just stop. Find a new storyline to push because this one is lazy and played out. It’s been done.

Don’t get me wrong, losing four in a row after winning Game 1 and Game 2 on the road would have really stung. With the history this team has, the fact that they finally got past Pittsburgh gave this team a feel of destiny. If they go on to lose Game 7 and end their run without a Stanley Cup or even a conference crown to show for it, that would be disappointing. No question about it.

But to say these are the “same old Caps” if they lose to Tampa Bay? That’s ridiculous. They have already put those demons to rest. Three straight losses to the Lightning don’t change that and neither will whatever happens in Game 7.

Regardless of what happens on Wednesday, whether the Caps win or lose, no one should come out and say these are the same old Caps. They have already proven that’s not the case.

Those Caps are gone. Now let’s see how far these Caps can go.