October 13, 2015

Capitals’ Marcus Johansson awarded $3.75 million in arbitration, re-signs with team

A Toronto arbitrator has awarded Washington Capitals forward Marcus Johansson $3.75 million as a result of Wednesday’s hearing, and the team announced late Friday that he has re-signed with the club for the 2015-16 season.

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OPINION: Capitals’ Brian MacLellan making championship-caliber moves this offseason

Once the raw emotion of another difficult ending to the season passed, Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan made his priorities clear. A winger to bring regularity to the Capitals’ top forward line was in high demand, so as to slam shut the revolving door that had been so active in the 2014-15 season. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom played with a total of nine forwards over the course of the year, but any worries about seeing similar inconsistency when this season arrives were extinguished on July 2.

MacLellan engineered a blockbuster trade, sending longtime Capital Troy Brouwer, along with goalie prospect Phoenix Copley and a third-round pick, to St. Louis in exchange for T.J. Oshie of 2014 Sochi Olympics fame.

Joel Ward proved a worthy linemate to Ovechkin and Backstrom in the playoffs, with nine points in 14 games — including a pair of goals that bridged the team’s series against the Islanders and Rangers — but it’s hard to argue that Oshie isn’t an upgrade to the team’s most valuable offensive unit. Just look at this highlight video if you need to get an idea of his hockey sense and the way he works on the ice.

Those pessimistic about the potential that Oshie has to make a positive impact might point to his relatively paltry playoff numbers (5g, 4a in 30 career postseason contests), and that would be a fair critique. But on the flip side of that, the Blues have generally underachieved in the playoffs, with a series record of 1-5 since 2009. Moreover, Oshie has never had linemates of Ovechkin’s and Backstrom’s quality. While that’s not intended a slight to guys like David Backes and Alexander Steen, Ovechkin is the best goal scorer of his generation and Backstrom is hockey’s equivalent of an elite five-tool baseball player.

Personally, I think the Williams signing is the strongest addition of the offseason because it adds an edge to the team that might not have existed before. Brouwer’s leadership in the room will be missed, but there is absolutely no void with a guy like Williams coming to town. His seven career Game 7 wins are nearly double the amount the team has (four), and he’s never lost one. I see him, as does MacLellan, in the second-line right winger role on a completely healthy Capitals squad, serving as a highly effective mentor to Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

The latter of those two appears to have finally solved Washington’s second-line center puzzle that took years to complete, and the flashes of brilliance he showed in the playoffs were highlighted by the series-winning goal in Game 7 against the Islanders. In the teleconference the day after he signed, Williams called his Game 7 successes “a product of the teams [he’s] been on,” but his 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy confirms, in my opinion, his ability to succeed as a pressure player on his own. He had the overtime goal in Game 1 of last year’s Stanley Cup Final and the first in their title-winning Game 5. Did I mention that he has an NHL-record 14 points in Game 7s?

He spoke to Caps head coach Barry Trotz the night he signed, and he told the media the next day that it was that conversation that pushed him over the edge. Even before that, the nation’s capital had been high on the list for him, his agent and his family, so much so that he took a pay cut to come to the Capitals. He believes that the ingredients are in place for a championship in Washington; he said so a couple weeks back. I happen to agree with him.

I won’t go so far as to say that 2016 will see Lord Stanley’s Cup lifted by Ovechkin & Co., but the window is wide open for that to happen. Two bona fide top-six forward lines are there, with a balance of snipers, playmakers, heavy hitters and speed. The bottom six forwards — Marcus Johansson (yes, I do think he’ll be re-signed), Brooks Laich, Tom Wilson, Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle and Michael Latta — are all more than capable of stepping up into their roles as needed, whatever they may be.

Brooks Orpik, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov can hold down the fort on the blue line, while generating clean breakouts and even directly creating offense when asked to. Last but certainly not least, Braden Holtby has been locked up as the team’s franchise netminder for the foreseeable future. His steady presence helped guide the Caps to within a goal of their first Eastern Conference Final since 1998, and with a good bounce here or correct officiating call there, they would have reached that point and matched up well with Tampa Bay (to be fair, surviving the final two minutes of Game 5 or simply showing up in Game 6 against the Rangers would have gotten the job done).

For longtime Caps fans, it might feel like just yesterday the organization was fading fast under the direction of former GM George McPhee and coach Adam Oates. MacLellan and Trotz have quickly revived them back into Stanley Cup contention, and this observer has no qualms about pegging the current iteration of the roster as the best of the Alex Ovechkin Era. Time will tell how much this summer’s transactions help the team come playoff time, but don’t be surprised if the barn on the corner of 7th and F is rocking in late May – and even into June.

Washington Capitals sign Braden Holtby to long-term extension

Braden Holtby will call D.C. home for a long time.

Braden Holtby, pictured at a practice last October, will call D.C. home for a long time. (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

The Washington Capitals have re-signed goalie Braden Holtby to a five-year contract extension worth $30.5 million, the team announced Friday afternoon.

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Reports: Capitals’ Braden Holtby asking for $8 million in arbitration filing

Washington Capitals restricted free agent goaltender Braden Holtby has asked for $8 million in his arbitration filing, according to Tim Wharnsby of Reuters.

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Washington Capitals sign Justin Williams to two-year deal

The Washington Capitals have agreed to terms with 33-year-old free agent right winger Justin Williams, according to TSN’s Aaron Ward.

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Washington Capitals free agency and post draft notes


The NHL free agent signing period starts July 1, and the Washington Capitals find themselves in a potentially franchise-altering position. They have several unrestricted free agents that will leave sizable holes in the roster, several more restricted free agents that potentially move as well, and after last week’s draft, still need to find a right winger to play on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom.

First, the Caps free agents: Mike Green and Eric Fehr are both gone. The team has expressed that they will not make an offer to keep them in D.C and allow them to make their best deal on the open market. Green’s departure means that the only “Young Guns” left are 8 and 19, and that era is officially over, without so much as a Conference Finals to boast on.

Fehr’s utility as a center and winger, depth scoring, and defensive responsibility will be a tough combo to replace, though his injury history makes it easier to swallow to let him go.

As for the other significant UFA, the Caps have expressed interest in retaining Joel Ward, and they may very well make him an offer if they can work out the money. Ward has said he’d like to stay in D.C., but this is probably his “last best” contract and won’t settle for a hometown discount.

The Caps have several RFAs as well, most notably Braden Holtby. The goalie’s breakout year should garner him a multi-year deal worth $5 million annually, and the Caps first priority is to lock him up. Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov are RFAs as well. The team has acknowledged they have approached Kuznetsov’s representatives, but have not started negotiations with Johansson’s.

One development has already occurred. The team re-signed center Jay Beagle to a three-year, $5.25 million deal. It’s hard to imagine the offensively-challenged beagle commanding a $1.75M annual price tag, but the organization praises his hard work, defensive ability and face off prowess.

As for acquiring a running mate on the right side of the top line, the Caps will probably have to look on the trading market as opposed to a free agent. They will once again be tight against the cap despite allowing Green, Ward and Fehr walk, and the market for scoring right wingers isn’t particularly impressive.

At the recently concluded NHL Draft, the Caps surprisingly selected Russian goaltender Ilya Samsonov at the No. 22 overall pick, then traded up in the second round to pick add Swiss defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler at No. 57, before taking Regina Pats defensive teammates Connor Hobbs and Colby Williams in the fifth and sixth rounds.

The four picks are the fewest the Caps have ever made in a single draft.

All in all, the 2015-16 Caps could look significantly different than the team that got booted in the second round this season. GM Brian MacLellan will have his hands full the next few weeks bringing everything into shape.

Mike Green won’t be back and that’s a good thing for him and the Caps

Mike Green (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Mike Green (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

The pending list of free agents for the Washington Capitals includes several big names, but while there is little question that players like Braden Holtby and Evgeny Kuznetsov will be re-signed, the future remains much more cloudy for defenseman Mike Green.

Green was selected 29th overall by the Caps in the 2004 draft and has spent his entire NHL career with the organization. He will turn 30 in October so while his 30-plus goal seasons are likely behind him, he still has plenty of good years left in his career.

Yet, the final year of Green’s contract has now come and gone with no extension in place. While there remains time between now and the start of free agency for the team to work out a deal, the chances of that happening seem unlikely.

But why? [Read more…]

Report: Washington Nationals sign Max Scherzer

According to the Washington Post, the Washington Nationals have completed a deal with free agent starter Max Scherzer. While terms were not revealed, Scherzer rejected a $160 million dollar offer and reports earlier Sunday evening indicated the sides were contemplating a seven-year deal for $180 million.

Barring any other moves (which seems unlikely), the Nats rotation is, in a word, fearsome. Scherzer joins Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister and Tanner Roark in a deep, talented and expensive rotation.

Even before talk of Scherzer came to light Sunday, the Nats were rumored to be entertaining offers on Zimmermann and Ian Desmond, potential free agents at season’s end. It becomes likely, if not prohibitive, that one of the potential free agents (including Doug Fister and Denard Span), or another expensive player — such as Strasburg — could be moved for prospects or to bolster the roster.

Or, GM Mike Rizzo could very well keep everyone in an effort to capture the World Series for 89-year-old owner Ted Lerner, then deal with the repercussions following the season.

Scherzer, 30, was simply the top free agent on this year’s market and one of the top five pitchers of the past two seasons for the Detroit Tigers. He’s been an All-Star the past two seasons, Cy Young in ’13 and fifth in ballots last year. He’s 91-50 with a 3.58 ERA and 1.219 WHIP in his career, which obviously includes some difficult seasons early as he learned to command his precious fastball.

In ’13, Scherzer was 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and last season went 18-5, 3.15. Scherzer has a lifetime K rate of 9.6 and BB rate of 2.8, and the past two seasons he’s been on the right side of both (above Ks, below BBs).

Additionally, moving back to the N.L. at this stage in his career should be a boon to his strikeout numbers.

There will be plenty more written about this mega-deal, but the fallout — if there is any — will be fascinating to watch. Rizzo had some big decisions even before this happened, and they become even more intriguing.

It’s been no secret around Nats Park that Jordan Zimmermann would test the free agent waters when he became eligible. Scherzer could very well be Rizzo’s idea to replace the stoic right-hander.

There were plenty of rumors and suggestions by national media Sunday evening that Strasburg could be dangled as a trade target, as he’s due for free agency in the very near future.

Or, Rizzo (and potentially more likely, Scott Boras — Scherzer’s agent) got to the Lerners and said ‘You’ve got a chance here to win it all’ and convinced the wealthy but cautious family to go “all-in” and give themselves the best chance at a championship over the next couple of seasons.

Either way, a competitive and interesting team got more so on Sunday, when most of the country was watching the NFL Conference title games. What comes next could make for spectacular drama, adding to this fascinating and intriguing development.

Nats, Scherzer “close” according to sources

Late Sunday, the internet blew up. Yes, most of it nationally was centered around the Seattle Seahawks kind of ridiculous comeback against the Green Bay Packers. But locally in DC, it’s when first rumors, then unconfirmed sources, then actual reports surfaced: the Washington Nationals were indeed “in” on free agent starting pitcher Max Scherzer.

Scherzer, 30, is simply the top free agent on this year’s market. He’s been an All-Star the past two seasons, Cy Young in ’13 and fifth in ballots last year. He’s 91-50 with a 3.58 ERA and 1.219 WHIP in his career, which obviously includes some difficult seasons early as he learned to command his precious fastball.

In ’13, Scherzer was 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and last season went 18-5, 3.15. Scherzer has a lifetime K rate of 9.6 and BB rate of 2.8, and the past two seasons he’s been on the right side of both (above Ks, below BBs).

If you’re going all-in on a guy that you think puts you over the top as a contender, there are none better available.

Of course, there are repercussions.

All winter long, Mike Rizzo’s been making moves that appeared to be stabilizing salary. He didn’t chase down a big bat to fill the second base hole, rather he traded one of the most reliable set-up men in the country for an average at-best shortstop (with a maturity history) to do so. He stayed out of the bidding when other big-name free agents came off the board.

In fact, everyone knows the Nats have some hard choices to make with Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Denard Span all free agents after the season is over, and with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper approaching that status more quickly than any of us would care to think about.

Adding Scherzer to the equation would change the calculus dramatically.

It would seem that by adding a pitcher for seven years at $180 million (the rumored offer at this point), the Nats are making the decision an offseason early, and that they’d allow all that money to come off the books.

There have been trade rumors flying around all winter regarding Desmond and Zimmermann, and if this deal goes through, we can expect those to intensify. Rizzo could use either/both to restock the system with close-to-MLB talent to fill the holes created when those players walk.

Or, Rizzo could stand pat with a rotation of Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister, move Tanner Roark into the bullpen, and try to win a World Series before the “group of four” go out as free agents.

By the time you read this Monday morning, we may already have an answer. But this will be fascinating to watch play out.

Washington Wizards Wisely Lock Up Marcin Gortat on Day One of Free Agency

On the morning of July 1, the opening day of the NBA free agency period, The Washington Post reported that the Washington Wizards had already reached out to their two most important free agents, Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza. By the time day one of free agency was over, Gortat had himself a new deal to remain in Washington. [Read more…]

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