Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan went on a little radio blitz on Tuesday, appearing on the Grant and Danny Show on 106.7 The Fan and again on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio.
Much of the discussion centered around the Capitals’ intention to improve their speed and quickness on the third line, along with the continued development of 22-year-old right wing Tom Wilson and 24-year-old defenseman Dmitry Orlov.
Since entering the NHL as a 19-year-old in 2013-14 under Capitals head coach Adam Oates, Wilson’s offensive numbers have modestly increased, from three goals and seven assists (151 penalty minutes) as a rookie to four goals and 13 assists (172 PIM) in Year 2 and seven goals and 16 assists (163 PIM) this season. His ice time has also increased, from 7:56 as a rookie, to 10:56 last year and 12:54 this season.
MacLellan says he thinks the Caps’ decision to promote Wilson to the NHL instead of letting him play one more season with the WHL Plymouth Whalers was a mistake.
“I’m optimistic with him,” MacLellan told NHL Network Radio. “I think, in hindsight, we probably started him in the NHL a year early.
“I think sometimes guys are physically mature and they can handle the physical part of it, but you know, big guys would be well-served playing a power play or playing a top-six role in a lower level versus a fourth-line role at the NHL level.
“I think maybe that first year didn’t do him any good. This year, I thought he made a lot of progress. He’s turned himself into a really good penalty killer. We played him in a third-line role most of the year, and he did a real good job killing penalties
“It would be nice to get him a little more offensive, you know maybe get on the second power play. But I think he’s coming. I think it’s just harder for him to get touches with the puck when you’re playing in a bottom-six role, and we anticipate putting him in more of an offensive role going forward.”
MacLellan told 106.7 The Fan that Orlov could find himself in the top four defensive rotation next season, with veteran Brooks Orpik possibly taking a reduced role as a third-pair defender with Nate Schmidt.
That could mean Orlov is paired with Matt Niskanen next season, with John Carlson and Karl Alzner being reunited.
“There’s an offensive upside to Orlov and there’s ability for him to move up in our lineup, and we’ve got to be careful that we don’t limit him in his ability to move there,” MacLellan said.
Orlov recorded a career-high eight goals and 21 assists in 82 regular season games while averaging 16:01 of ice time. That ice time decreased to 13:18 in 11 playoff games, where Orlov posted one assist and was pulled out of Game 2 against the Penguins.
“I would count on him developing and getting to that next level,” MacLellan said. “The idea would be, Brooks Orpik plays a little less minutes and Orlov plays a little bit more, maybe he moves into the top four for part of the time. That would be ideal situation, but we’ll have to see how he comes into camp.”
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With the Capitals’ 2015-16 season now in the rearview mirror, we continue with our player-by-player analysis through their numerical roster.
No. 4 Matt Niskanen
Age: 29 (turns 30 on April 27, 2017)
Penalty minutes: 21
Time on ice: 13:11
Playoff stats: 7 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, minus-1, 4 PIM, 12:34
Contract status: 2 years remaining on 2-year, $1.6 million contract extension ($800,000 cap hit)
When the Capitals signed Taylor Chorney to a one-year, one-way contract last July 1, the general reaction from the Caps’ fan base was: Who?
A career minor leaguer with 400 games of AHL experience but just 68 games at the NHL level, the Caps viewed Chorney as a solid seventh defenseman with enough NHL experience (including five playoff games for the Penguins last year) to fill in as an injury replacement.
That’s exactly how he was used. With Brooks Orpik (41 games) and John Carlson (26) missing 67 games due to injury, Chorney served as a reliable seventh defenseman who played all six of the games Orpik missed in the playoffs (3 because of injury, 3 because of suspension).
“I think I did pretty well,” Chorney said in his post-season exit interview with reporters at Kettler. “Heading into the year you don't really know on a new team exactly where your place is going to be, it's just different.
“But I think as the year went on I did a pretty good job earning more and more trust from the coaching staff and from my teammates and I think by the end of the year I felt like I was playing some pretty good hockey. It's just too bad that it all got cut a little short.”
Chorney began and ended the regular season primarily as a healthy scratch. He played in just five of the Caps’ first 14 games and in eight of their final 22 games. In between, he played in 44 straight games from Nov. 12 through Feb. 13 and the Caps went 30-10-4 in that stretch.
Shortly after, on Feb. 19, Chorney signed a two-year contract extension that will pay him $775,000 next season and $825,000 in 2017-18. This is the first time in his pro career that Chorney enters into an offseason with the security of a two-year NHL level contract.
“It's nice,” he said. “Going into the year, you don't really know what to expect. You're just hoping to get an opportunity to show you can play and I think I did a pretty good job of doing that and it was definitely nice getting an extension in the middle of the year.
“It just kind of puts your mind at ease to know that most likely you're going to be here and you're going to be a part of it. At the same time, I think that knowing that you're probably going to be back next year it makes the loss that much tougher. I think you feel more invested with this group of guys and the expectation was so high for us and I think that it's going to carry over for us next year and we'll be ready to rock.”
As well as the Caps played with Chorney in the lineup during the regular season, they were 1-6 in the games he played in the post-season.
In their season-ending 4-3 overtime loss to the Penguins in Game 6, Chorney logged a playoff-high 16:10 of ice time and was on the ice for Nick Bonino’s game-winning goal. Chorney was beaten off the boards by Carl Hagelin and despite a stick check by Chorney, Hagelin got off the shot that Bonino shoveled past Braden Holtby to end the Caps’ season.
“There's some things that you could do differently,” Chorney said of the game-winner. “It's tough. It's a bang-bang play right at the net and that's usually how those overtime goals happen and just whether you're a half step late on the coverage or just get your stick in there to maybe break it up, that's definitely one of those things that, I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been thinking about it for a couple days. I'm sure that it'll be with me for a little while, but I guess I don't really regret anything about the way I played. It's just one of those plays where you'd probably do something a little bit different. …The big picture, there's probably a lot more going on than just that one play, but at the same time there's some things that you'd probably do a little bit different.”
Heading into next season, Chorney is one of six Capitals defensemen under contract and with Dmitry Orlov expected to be re-signed, his role likely won’t change much. Neither, he said, will the expectations of a team that ran away with the Presidents’ Trophy this season.
“We had high expectations for our team all year,” he said. “Just the way we played throughout the season, we knew that we had a chance to do something special and we fell short this year and I think that that's probably going to be with us for a while now. Hopefully, it'll fuel us for next season.”
MORE CAPITALS: SEASON IN REVIEW: MATT NISKANEN
Sudden thoughts and second thoughts as the Tampa Bay Lightning and San Jose Sharks are now one win away from meeting in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs:
Lessons for Willy: Did you notice that former Capitals right wings Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer each scored goals Monday night by batting pucks out of the air?
NBC analyst Jeremy Roenick noted that both players must have played baseball growing up. What he didn’t point out was that both goals came from about a stick length away from the goal line.
Those goals are exactly the kind the Capitals were missing in their six-game loss to the Penguins in Round 2 and the kind of goals they want Tom Wilson scoring next season. Those goals don’t just happen; they are the result of hours and hours of repetition in the summer months.
By the way, Brouwer now has eight goals and 13 points in 19 playoff games for the Blues. That’s one more goal than he had in his first 78 career playoff games with the Blackhawks and Capitals. His post-season production is adding about a million a year onto his next free-agent contract.
Ward, who has two years left on his deal in San Jose, has four goals and nine points in 17 playoff games for the Sharks.
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Rooting interests: Last week, I asked Caps left wing Jason Chimera if he was rooting for Ward or Brouwer in the Western Conference Final. After some prodding he said Ward, because he’s never won the Stanley Cup.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with Justin Williams at the beginning of this season. (Ironically, I’ve had the good fortune of reporting on Williams’ first NHL game and his 1,000th). When I told Williams I root for people, and not teams, and that I was happy to see him win the Cup three times, he quipped, “What about the (jerks)? Do you root for them?”
Fortunately, there aren’t many in this sport. Ward and Brouwer are both quality people, but I’m with Chimera. I’d like to see Ward hoist that big silver chalice.
Statistically speaking: Per Elias, when teams are tied 2-2 in a best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoffs series, the winner of Game 5 holds an all-time series record of 192-53 (78.3 percent).
But here’s a more interesting stat from this spring: Road teams have won 41 of 82 games this postseason after winning only 38 contests during the entire 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs (38-51). So much for home-ice advantage.
Final word: I’ve always been a big proponent of finding a No. 1 goaltender in the playoffs and sticking with him, even after a lopsided loss.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and Penguins coach Mike Sullivan took calculated risks when they replaced Brian Elliott and Matt Murray with Jake Allen and Marc-Andre Fleury following Game 4 losses.
Facing elimination, the two coaches must weigh the options of sticking with Allen and Fleury or going back to Elliott and Murray. Hindsight is always 20/20 but I’ve always said that if you think you have two No. 1 goalies, you really don’t have any.
That’s why Martin Jones, who has started all 17 playoff games for the Sharks and has won 11 of them, has the best chance to win it all.
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