The NHL has drawn a line in the sand when it comes to the Olympics. It's not going to pause the regular season for the 2018 Olympics or allow its players to go. For many players, that's the end of the discussion, but many are watching to see if any superstars decide to call the league's bluff.
One superstar, Alex Ovechkin, has been adamant that he intends to play in the Olympics regardless of the NHL's stance. His tone seems to have softened of late, but Ovechkin is essentially the face of Russian hockey. If anyone is going to leave to play in Pyeongchang, Ovechkin seems the most likely leader of the pack.
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Would any of his fellow Russian countrymen follow? Well, you can count out Evgeni Malkin.
When asked about whether he would consider playing in the Olympics, Malkin made a quick joke about the Capitals captain and his budding friendship with Vladimir Putin.
Putin has honored the Russian superstar in the past and the two often can be seen together in the offseason (such as here and here). In an Olympic tournament that will be devoid of NHL players, Team Russia looks like the clear favorite to win thanks to the Russian players in the KHL. Adding Ovechkin to that roster would be icing on the cake or whatever the Russian equivalent is (sour cream to the borscht?).
Then again, if Malkin was interested in playing, I'm sure Putin wouldn't be opposed.
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The Capitals made their first round of roster cuts on Thursday, trimming 11 players ahead of their back-to-back preseason games against the Blues and Hurricanes.
Among the youngsters who were returned to their respective clubs: forwards Robbie Baillargeon, Tanner Jeannot, Brendan Semchuk, Mark Simpson, Jimmy DeVito, Damien Riat, Kristian Marthinsen, Beck Malenstyn, Garrett Pilon as well as defenseman Dmitri Zaitsev and goalie Adam Morrison.
Forward Kevin Elgestal, meanwhile, was returned to his European team on Wednesday.
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A week into training camp, Washington’s roster now stands at 53—30 forwards, 17 defensemen and 6 goalies. That means 30 more players will be cut or reassigned as the team gets down to the roster maximum of 23.
Coach Barry Trotz said earlier this week that a second round of cuts could come over the weekend.
None of the Friday cuts qualify as a surprise; Pilon, Riat and Malenstyn—all 2016 draft picks—appeared in a preseason game before being released back to their clubs.
The Caps were off on Thursday. They return to the ice Friday for a morning skate at 10 a.m. (for players suiting up against St. Louis) and 11:15 a.m. (for players who aren’t).
The Capitals are one week into training camp with two preseason games already in the rearview mirror. The roster battles are coming into focus and some players are already staking their claims.
So what will the final roster ultimately look like on opening day? Here's a projection based on what we have seen and heard through the first week:
Andre Burakovsky - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Jakub Vrana
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Tom Wilson
Nathan Walker - Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson
Anthony Peluso - Devante Smith-Pelly
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Aaron Ness - John Carlson
Brooks Orpik - Madison Bowey
- According to Cap Friendly, this roster would put the Caps $40,000 over the salary cap. My caveat is that the salary cap is so complex that no one really knows exactly what a team's salary number is except for the team and the NHL. Cap Friendly is an incredibly useful tool, but it is a projection. A difference of $40,000 is well within the margin of error I consider to be realistic. for the Caps to make this roster fit under the cap.
- If the Caps can't make this work, don't be surprised to see them start with 22 players.
- Peluso is not talked about all that much, but the team needs Wilson to focus on his offense and not fighting. They need someone else to take that responsibility from his shoulders. Peluso may spend more time in Washington than you may think, even if he spends more games in the press box than on the ice.
- Chiasson played well in Washington's first preseason game and his versatility makes him attractive to Washington. In a pinch, he could play on the third line, perhaps even the second if needed. The only way it can really work in Washington, however, is if he agrees to sign for a league minimum $650,000 which you would think is certainly doable. He was without a job a few weeks ago, is he really going to haggle over price?
- Christian Djoos did not play particularly well in the team's first preseason game and given his size, the team will not simply give him a spot because they have a hole in the lineup. As of now, I would predict the Caps will send Djoos back to the AHL and hope his size will dissuade any potential poachers form snagging him. If he hopes to make the NHL roster, he needs to make an impactt with his next opportunity or he will almost certainly be back in the AHL.
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