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Caps make major changes to medical staff

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Caps make major changes to medical staff

The Capitals' athletic training staff is undergoing some major changes.

The team announced Tuesday that it has hired former Coyotes head athletic trainer Jason Serbus to handle the same responsibilities in Washington. Serbus, who worked in Arizona from 2008 through last season, replaces longtime trainer Greg Smith, who is retiring.

Smith had been the Caps’ head trainer since 1999. The 48-year-old Bowie native will continue in his role with D.C.-based Pivot Physical Therapy, the company he co-founded and owns.

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Under Smith, the Caps had been one of the NHL’s heathiest teams the past two seasons, having accrued an NHL-low 48 man games lost a year ago and just 109 the year before.

“It’s been a great 18 years behind the bench in Washington, and unfortunately I made the hard decision to reconnect and spend more time with the family,” Smith told CSN. “I haven’t missed one of my kids’ sporting events this summer.”

Smith and the team management had discussed a reduced/advisory position in recent weeks, but the team was unable to settle on a role for him.

Serbus, meanwhile, comes to Washington after nine seasons in Arizona. The Coyotes did not renew his contract this summer amid a broader house-cleaning following the team’s 28th place finish.

Prior to heading up the Coyotes’ training staff, Serbus was an assistant in Tampa Bay for three years. The Minnesota native has also been involved with Team USA at various international competitions.

In addition to adding Serbus, the Caps have also named Michael Booi assistant athletic trainer and Cleo Bates the team's new massage therapist. Booi takes over for Ben Reisz, who has decided to pursue other interests. Reisz had been with the Capitals for 10 years.

“We would like to thank Greg and Ben for their service, commitment and dedication to the Capitals,” GM Brian MacLellan said in a statement. “On behalf of everyone in our organization, we wish them both all the best in the future. We are also pleased to welcome Jason, Michael and Cleo to the organization. Their credentials and previous experience make them uniquely qualified to oversee our medical department and the health of our players.”

Although Smith’s contract expired in late June, he stayed around this summer to assist in the transition. Serbus and Booi have been with the Caps for several weeks now so they figure to be up to speed when training camp begins on Friday.

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Caps make 17 cuts Sunday, pare roster to 36

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Caps make 17 cuts Sunday, pare roster to 36

The Capitals have made another significant round of cuts, reassigning 16 players to AHL Hershey and releasing another.

Among the players headed to the Bears are: forwards John Albert, Mathias Bau, Chris Bourque, Dustin Gazley, Hampus Gustafsson, Tim McGauley, Garrett Mitchell, Mason Mitchell and Wayne Simpson; defensemen Kristofers Bindulis, Connor Hobbs, Tommy Hughes, Lucas Johansen, Hubert Labrie; and goalies Adam Carlson and Vitek Vanecek.

The club also released forward Stephen Collins.

The highest profile cuts were Johansen, the team's first round pick in 2016, and Hobbs. The Caps have high hopes for the young blue liners, but it’s obvious both will benefit from some seasoning in the minor leagues as they make the leap from junior to the pro ranks.

Hershey’s training opens on Monday.

After taking Sunday off, the Caps will return to practice on Monday with a roster of 36 players—and three preseason games left to sort out the position battles.  

Forwards Riley Barber, Travis Boyd, Alex Chiasson, Tyler Graovac, Liam O’Brien, Anthony Peluso, Zach Sill, Devante Smith-Pelly, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana and Nathan Walker are left battling for the three available jobs up front.

Meanwhile, defensemen Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos, Jyrki Jokipakka, Tyler Lewington, Aaron Ness, Jonas Siegenthaler and Colby Williams are competing for the two open spots on the backend.

Although some players, such as Chiasson and Walker, have already begun to separate themselves from the others, you can expect the competition to intensify over the next week. The Caps host the Devils on Wednesday, then play at the Hurricanes on Friday and at the Blues on Sunday.

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Did Barry Trotz show us what his fourth line will be to start the season?

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Did Barry Trotz show us what his fourth line will be to start the season?

Barry Trotz likes to play his cards close to the vest. With roster battles and lineup holes surrounding the team, there are plenty of questions for the Caps that need answering this preseason. If you look at how Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes ended, however, he may have given us at least one answer.

At the start of the game, Jay Beagle centered a line with Devante Smith-Pelly and Wayne Simpson on his wings. By the end of the game, Nathan Walker was playing on the left with Beagle at center and Smith-Pelly on the right.

"Walker was giving us some energy, he was giving us some speed and I just made that flip," Trotz told reporters after the game. "I just thought Walks was starting to make things happen. His speed was noticeable, his will on the puck if you will was really good. I thought that'd be a good fit. I just moved him over there and I thought he had an effect on the game."

Could that have been a preview of the team's fourth line?

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Walker turned in another tremendous performance showing great energy, speed and grit. Despite being 5-foot-8, he still remains a feisty player who could be found at the center of every scrum. He exchanged hits and jabs with the 6-foot-3 Klas Dahlbeck multiple times throughout the game and even drew a penalty on the Carolina defenseman as he drove the net after managing to slip away from a hit along the boards.

"He's one of those hard guys to play against because ... they're on you all the time," Trotz said. "When you can affect the opposition and take them out of their game because the way you play, then you're pretty effective."

That brings us back to the lines. The Caps have not one, but two openings on the fourth line to play alongside Beagle. The fact that Trotz put Walker and Smith-Pelly on that line, two players fighting for a spot in the lineup, could be a preview of what the fourth line may ultimately look like to start the season.

That would be just fine with Beagle.

"It's fun to play with a guy who brings that much energy," Beagle said of Walker. "He's always had that energy and he's always been a little guy who grinds it out and isn't afraid to get in there and get in the corners and wins a lot of battles. He's awesome to play with. He's a lot of fun."

At this point, given how he has played in his two preseason games, it is hard to see how Walker does not make the roster. His energy and style are a perfect fit for what the Caps need on their fourth line. He would be an excellent compliment to Beagle and that has not escaped Trotz's notice.

"I think they might enjoy playing together, but they're effective together," Trotz said. "They get on the puck, they work you over and they tire you out. I'll tell you that."

With other players such as Alex Chiasson, Riley Barber and Anthony Peluso still vying to make the team, it is still too early to tell if this is definitively what the fourth line will look like, but the trio certainly made their case.

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