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Williams makes his son happy by signing with Caps

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Williams makes his son happy by signing with Caps

Signed by the Capitals to a two-year, $6.5 million contract late Wednesday night, veteran right wing and three-time Stanley Cup champion Justin Williams talked with reporters on a conference call on Thursday. Here’s what he had to say:

On why he chose to sign with Washington:

Even before we had a deal done, it was a team my agent and my family and I kind of looked at as a potential team because I liked what they did in the playoffs last year, even though it was a Game 7 loss. I liked the way the team played and they were exciting to watch and they played hard and I want to be a part of a team that has that type of attitude.

On what made the Capitals his final choice:

You have to get the balance chart out and weigh the positives and which direction the team is going to the city you’re playing in. There are a lot of things to go into it. This is my first chance at unrestricted free agency and it’s certainly exciting, but darn is it stressful. I wasn’t expecting that much stress or for it to go on that long, but the end result is I’m where I want to be and I talked with coach [Barry Trotz] before I signed and got a lay of the land a little bit and what the team’s all about and it was pretty much a lot of stuff I already knew.

On his conversation with Trotz:

When you move forward and you get to be a little older, you get to know a lot of players in the league and you get to know a lot of coaches. Barry is one guy that I have not heard a bad word about. Sometimes you can get coaches where guys say, ‘Yeah, well, he’s a real hard-ass, or he’s like this, he’s like that.’ Barry is hard when he needs to be but he knows his players. He’s been around the game a lot and knows how they’re feeling and how to coach them. He’s been in this league a long time for a reason and he assured me I’d be a big part of this team, that they really wanted me and I expressed the same back to him.

On his reputation of being a clutch player in Game 7s [where he is 7-0 with an NHL record 14 points] and the Caps’ troubles with winning Game 7s [going 4-10 in their history and 3-6 in the Alex Ovechkin era]:

I get asked that question quite a bit. My Game 7 record is a product of the teams that I’ve played on. I’ve played on some great teams. Guys are able to get that little goal or make that extra play that it takes in a Game 7 because everyone knows how important every single play is. That’s basically a product of the great teams I’ve played on, the great guys I’ve played with, and that’s why I kind of have that mantra hanging over me. But this is a great team as well that I’m coming to and I hope to help us get to that next level.

On his awareness of the Caps’ record in Game 7s:

Um, yeah. As a hockey fan it’s tough to not be familiar with your competition and other teams throughout the league. A lot of years go into everything. It could be a Game 7 loss from 10 years ago that none of these players had anything to do with and it gets put on that record. It is what it is. But like I said earlier and I’ll reiterate again, this team has battled hard and I like what I’ve seen and I’m just going to try to be me and help and earn the respect of my teammates and help us get over a little hump.

On playing alongside either center Nicklas Backsrom or Evgeny Kuznetsov:

It would be an absolute treat to have players of that playmaking ability make passes to you. A lot of people on the outside aren’t able to see the skill that it takes to keep the puck and make little plays to keep puck possession and no-look plays, the sheer talent and ability and those two guys certainly have it. I’ve seen it a lot from Backstrom over the years, I played against him enough when he started out and I was in Carolina. I knew he was going to be a special player and he certainly is. Those are guys that look to pass first and it will be a privilege to play with them.

On thoughts about playing with Alex Ovechkin:

We shoot the same way. But I know he’s on the left wing. Ha! I’ve played with a lot of great players who don’t need a lot of room or a lot of space or a lot of time to get a shot off and score. They’re dynamic in the way they play, but Ovi obviously is not just a goal scorer, he adds that physical element as well. He gave me a call this morning. I wasn’t around to answer it, but he just wanted to welcome me to the team and said he’ll see me soon. It was a nice gesture from Ovi to say hi and I’m excited to work well with him, among other guys.

On his seven seasons in Los Angeles:

Obviously, we enjoyed it. Except for my first season, we made the playoffs every time except for last year. I enjoyed a pretty good stretch there for three years with two championships and a conference final. Obviously, things got derailed this year with a lot of occurrences and things beyond individuals’ control, but hey, that’s part of a team. No team stays together the whole time if you don’t win. Everyone is looking to get better. Washington is looking to get better and I hope to prove that I’m going to make them a better team.

MORE CAPS: How will Williams' arrival impact other Capitals?

On leaving L.A.:

The best success that I’ve had as a hockey player was in Los Angeles. Not taking anything away from the Stanley Cup I won in Carolina, but year in, year out, the team success and individual success was great. In six or seven years you’re going to make a lot of friends and hopefully, friends for life. But hockey is a business and it’s about winning and now it’s time for me to move on. I spoke to L.A. a little bit yesterday but they’ve got this thing called the salary cap that comes into play, especially with a lot of teams spending to the cap. It is what it is. I’m going to move on, but I’m always going to have fond memories.

More on his conversation with Barry Trotz:

I had a great conversation with him. I have two small children as well that I have to look to and just try and make happy. I know my son’s excited. He woke up this morning and said, ‘Daddy, where are we playing?’ I told him Washington and he was all smiles. That passed the test, so I’m happy about that.

On whether other offers came his way:

As much as I’d like to, I don’t think that’s fair to any other team. But there were some offers out there that I pondered and this was just the best fit for me, I thought.

On his son’s reaction to moving to Washington:

He’ll be 7 tomorrow and he gets it that his father plays in the NHL. He even said a month ago, ‘Daddy, if we don’t go back to L.A. I think we should go play with Ovechkin because he’s the best.’ You watch the [NHL] Awards and what kids think and it’s pretty sweet. I just hope he has one of my jerseys instead of Ovi’s.

On pushing 34 years old [Oct. 4] and how much life he has in his legs:

Easy. Easy. [I’m] thirty-three. Listen, I’m going to continue to play as long as I feel like I’m productive and I’m healthy and I have been over the past few years. I’m going to say the thing everyone says, I haven’t felt better, but it’s true. My head was obviously upset when I didn’t make the playoffs this year but I think my body is saying thank you. I’ve had a lot of rest and I’ll be ready to go right out of the gate.

On what he thinks the Caps need to get over the hump and if he can provide it:

I don’t know. Sometimes it’s just an intangible quality. Sometimes it’s certain guys stepping up and having a big game, making a big play. I just feel like this team was so close last year. I know a lot of teams around the league feel that way but if you look at the way they play. As I said, I don’t know if I’m the answer but I’m going to do my darndest to prove to everyone, to my teammates and myself, that I can be a difference maker and I want to be for this team.

On if he spoke to former teammate Tim Gleason or any other players who played for the Capitals before signing:

I did not. I don’t know many guys on the team. I played against them a lot but when you’re over in the Western Conference for seven years like I have a lot of new faces come in. I browsed my way up and down the depth chart and know from playing them last year they were a tough team to play against and that’s a quality you want to hear from other players.

 

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Seven reasons you need to root for the Blues in the Stanley Cup Final

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Seven reasons you need to root for the Blues in the Stanley Cup Final

The St. Louis Blues defeated the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night to advance to the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final. The champions of the Western Conference will take on the Boston Bruins, the champions of the Eastern Conference, having swept the Carolina Hurricanes in four games.

With the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins squaring off in a rematch of the 1970 Stanley Cup Final, we've dug up the seven reasons why Capitals fans, and -- well -- all NHL fans should be rooting for the Blues to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup.

1: The Blues are like the Capitals of the West

A lot of fans think that the San Jose Sharks hold that title, but the Blues present an even stronger case.

The Blues Stanley Cup drought is currently at 51 seasons. And although they made the Stanley Cup Final three consecutive seasons from 1968-1970, they have yet to win a game in the Stanley Cup Final.

That should sound familiar to Caps fans. Before they won it all in 2018, Washington's Cup drought was 42 years, and when they made the Cup Final in 1998 they were swept by the dominant Detroit Red Wings.

The similarities don't stop there. Each team has a Russian sniper, a crop of promising rookies on offense and defense, and acquired depth pieces in free agency to build a consistent contender.

In the Blues case before this season, they couldn't make it past the Conference Finals, similar to how the Caps couldn't make it out of the second round.

Call it coincidence or fate, but the Blues are looking eerily similar to the Caps that won the Stanley Cup last year.

2: No More Boston Championships

The New England Patriots just won the Super Bowl. The Red Sox just won another World Series. The city of Boston has celebrated six major professional championships since 2010 and 12 since 2000, with each parade more frustrating to watch than the last.

Does Boston really need another championship after a drought since February?

3: Brad Marchand is the worst

A lot of people will complain about Tom Wilson's play. But Brad Marchand is the king of the subtle and overtly dirty play, especially in the playoffs where the rules relax.

In last year's playoffs, Marchand was told by the league to stop licking players after he brushed his tongue across Leo Komarov's face.

This postseason, he's punched players in the back of the head after a play's been blown dead.

He also baited Justin Williams into penalty minutes when he high-sticked him across the face. No penalty was given to Marchand on the play.

Marchand's put up 18 points through three rounds in addition to his antics.

4: TJ Oshie's old stomping grounds

The Caps acquired Oshie from the Blues in 2015 in exchange for Troy Brouwer, Pheonix Copley and Washington's third-round pick in 2016, and he's now a mainstay in the Caps top six. 

Oshie played over 400 games for the Blues, recording over 300 points for the organization that drafted him. Not only did he put up stellar numbers, but he was an alternate captain for the Blues and was beloved by fans in the area.

Who better to root for than for Oshbabe's old team?

5: Vladimir Tarasenko is tearing it up

If you've got Alex Ovechkin's endorsement as a game-changer, that's a good place to start.

Ovechkin took note of Tarasenko's skill in a 2014 game the Blues played against the Rangers and told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch "He just make great jump in his career and he’s carrying the team right now.”

In these playoffs, the Russian sniper has eight goals and five assists, including points in every game of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks.


6: Pam and Jim are facing off in an Office matchup

Actor John Krasinski, who played Jim Halpert in The Office,  is a Bruins fan. 

Jenna Fischer, who played Pam Beesly, Jim's love interest, is a Blues fan.

We have a house divided.

We tend to lean to Team Pam because if you take a closer look, Jim was a pretty awful colleague and despite his charm and boyish looks, he was kinda a bad person.

7: Washington helped St. Louis ascend the standings

On Jan. 2 the Blues were last in the league and posted a 15-18-4 record with 34 points.

But their fortunes started to turn on Jan. 3, when they faced the Caps at Enterprise Center in St. Louis. They beat the Caps 5-2, and turned their season around from that game going forward, including an 11 game winning streak.

So really, St. Louis has Washington to thank for transforming their season from one marred by losses to one where they made the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1970.

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Looking ahead to a busy offseason

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Looking ahead to a busy offseason

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

Have a Caps question you want to be answered the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

I have written about this before, but Jakub Vrana’s contract has to be priority No. 1. Vrana is absolutely going to be back, but he is going to take a sizable chunk of what little cap room Washington has remaining. General manager Brian MacLellan needs to know how much cap space he is working with this offseason before he can make any decisions about the other free agents like Brett Connolly and Carl Hagelin.

The second most important move would be a trade to free up cap space. Everyone assumes that Matt Niskanen would be the player on the trade block, as you noted. With the free agents the Caps could potentially lose and a prospect pipeline devoid of any high-end offensive skill, I just do not see how the Caps can add enough quality forward depth this offseason without clearing cap space.

Fans should circle June 20-22 as target dates for a possible trade. June 20 is the NHL general managers meeting and June 21-22 is the draft. When you get all the general managers together in the same place, that can spark trade deals. Don’t forget, the draft was when Brooks Orpik and Philipp Grubauer were traded to the Colorado Avalanche last year.

As for Backstrom and Holtby, while I am sure MacLellan would like to get those deals done if possible, these do not rank as high on the priority list as both players are still under contract for another season.

Maclellan was asked on breakdown day if he wanted those deals done this summer and he said, “I don’t think it matters. We’ll have conversations and if it feels like it’s going in the right direction, then we can get more assertive on it.”

The Caps have plenty of issues to deal with for this season to worry too much about Backstrom and Holtby right now.

Jacob C. writes: How does Washington adjust their offseason knowing that they have a $1.15 million dollar cap penalty? 

Washington was hit with a cap penalty because of some late performance bonuses that pulled the team over the cap ceiling.

The money situation was going to be tight for the team regardless of the cap penalty so it is hard to know if anything the team does will be directly related to that, but if I had to guess I believe the player the most affected by this will be Andre Burakovsky.

As a restricted free agent, the Caps will have to give him a qualifying offer of $3.25 million in order to retain his rights and prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent. That is high for a player who has scored 12 goals in each of the past three seasons.

Maybe you could justify the risk of overpaying him because the team could potentially see both Connolly and Hagelin walk, but with $1.15 million less to spend that may force MacLellan to not qualify Burakovsky and attempt to convince him to sign for less.

Jack Hughes.

OK, so obviously that is not going to happen. I assume your question is more aimed at who I think the Caps would want of the players who may actually fall to them at 25. The team’s philosophy when it comes to the draft is to take the best available player, which it should be, but the Caps have not taken a forward in the first round since 2014 and that lack of offensive talent is really starting to catch up with them. If forwards start dropping off the board, they cannot afford to wait and see who falls to them. My prediction is that that team is going to come into this draft with the goal of drafting a forward. They will have grades on every first round prospect and, if it looks like a number of forwards could fall their way, great. If a bunch of forwards get taken early, however, I would not at all be surprised if MacLellan tries to trade up to make sure he gets a high-end forward prospect.

Next, let’s look at where the Caps like to get their players from. In the last five drafts, Washington has taken nine players from the WHL and 11 players from European leagues. Knowing that, here are the players I would predict to be high on the Caps’ list:

Kirby Dach C, Saskatoon, WHL
Dylan Cozens C, Lethbridge, WHL
Peyton Krebs C, Kootenay, WHL
Ilya Nikolaev C, Russia
Nils Hoglander W, Sweden

The three WHL players I have seen go pretty high in most mock drafts so if you get down to say, pick 15 and one of those guys is still on the board, that’s when it is time to really pay attention and see if MacLellan tries to jump up to snag him.

It depends on what you consider to be “major.” As I mentioned above, if the Caps want to compete for the Cup next season, I do not see how they can avoid making a trade. If trading Niskanen for what would likely be draft picks would be considered “major,” then yes.

Do I see them making a big multi-player trade for significant pieces? No. Do I see them pursuing a big-name free agent like Erik Karlsson or Artemi Panarin? No. Even if MacLellan does trade Niskanen that only frees up another $5.75 million in cap room and the Caps will need just about every penny to fill in their bottom six.

We could see a Niskanen trade, we could see a them trade up in the draft and the team will almost certainly be active on July 1 to find forward depth, but they are not in the running for any of the big name free agents.

Todd Reirden said on breakdown day, “We're going to go through a full review of all that stuff, but I do not anticipate any changes to my coaching staff."

Obviously, he left himself a little bit of wiggle room there, but it does not appear the team is going to make any changes to the staff.

In terms of how they operate, I anticipate Reirden taking a more hands-on approach to the defense. He really made a name for himself in the league for his defensive acumen and the improvement he brought with him as an assistant coach was not as evident last season with him as head coach.

I do not anticipate any major changes to the system the team plays, but I am curious what they do on special teams. I have not seen a team that consistently utilizes the slingshot well on the power play so I am hopeful the breakouts get an update to get rid of the slingshot. I do not know how you could evaluate the team’s play from last season and say, yeah, let’s keep doing that. But, the sling shot was all the rage across the NHL so clearly someone thinks it actually works.

Second, the penalty kill has to adjust for the personnel it has. The Caps tried a more aggressive penalty kill and it did not work for much of the season. Really, it did not seem to click until Hagelin came on board at the trade deadline. If he stays or Washington gets someone on the roster who can run it as effectively as he could, great. Otherwise, you hope the team can accept the fact that a guy like Chandler Stephenson just is not the same player as Hagelin and adjust accordingly. 

First, the defense as that seems like the easier prediction. I see a second pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Nick Jensen. I expected that to be the plan the moment the team re-signed Jensen. The bottom pair will be Jonas Siegenthaler and Christian Djoos. The Caps need to add too much on offense to commit the money to another defenseman. Siegenthaler looked good in the playoffs and Djoos will be entering his third year in the NHL so it is time for both players to step up. I think we could see someone like Tyler Lewington come in as a cheap No. 7 and as someone the team feels no pressure to get into the lineup.

The offense is trickier as this is where the team may add some free agents. Lars Eller and Nic Dowd will be the centers. That much we know. Travis Boyd remains under contract. I predict MacLellan will be able to work something out with Burakovsky and he stays. A return for Stephenson also seems likely. At that point, the Caps should have about $7.5 million of cap space for two more forwards. I think they could make a run at either Connolly or Hagelin, but not both. It just depends on where their priorities lie heading into free agency. If they cannot get any, they have to turn to free agency and hope they can find a top-nine player they can plug into the third line.

Now here’s where things get interesting. You have the money for one high-end bottom six guy (Connolly, Hagelin or their replacement), but a Stephenson, Dowd, Boyd line does not inspire much confidence. Looking at the prospects, the only prospect who seems close to the NHL is Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, but it is hard to tell given he only played 16 games in Hershey last season.

If the Caps think he is ready, they could look to Jonsson-Fjallby as a Hagelin replacement. If not, could they actually consider bringing back Dmitrij Jaskin? After all, Jaskin will be an RFA and the team could probably get him for pretty cheap. If they do that, Reirden would have to actually use him, but the cap situation makes this not outside the realm of possibility.

So here is what I would say for the third and fourth lines:

Free agent – Lars Eller – Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson – Nic Dowd – Dmitrij Jaskin
Travis Boyd

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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