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Penguins, Blue Jackets both win Sunday, keep up pressure on Caps

Penguins, Blue Jackets both win Sunday, keep up pressure on Caps

On Friday the Capitals became the first team in the NHL to reach 100 points and clinch a playoff berth. You would expect that would mean they were leaving the rest of the NHL in their wake and for the most part, you're right. Yet, the Caps still find themselves in a tight race for the division.

On Sunday, both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets won their games. Sidney Crosby scored a hat trick to lead the Penguins to the 4-0 win over the Florida Panthers. Columbus meanwhile scored two penalty shots in a 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. That leaves the top of the Metropolitan Division very crowded:

1. Washington Capitals, 100 points, ROW 45
2. Columbus Blue Jackets, 100 points, ROW 45
3. Pittsburgh Penguins, 99 points, ROW 42

RELATED: Prediction recap: Caps take down Tampa in 'must-win' game

Oh, did I say the Metropolitan standings? That's actually what the NHL standings look like too. Yes, as of Sunday afternoon the top three team in the league all reside in the same division. That will mean a much more difficult finish to the season than anyone would expect for a team that leads the NHL in late March.

This also raises questions about the NHL's current playoff format. In the divisional format, the team that finishes first in the division will get to play a wild card team, but the reward for the second and thrid place team will be a first round matchup against each other. The winner of those two series then face each other in the second round.

That means if the standings hold, two of the top three teams in the entire league are guaranteed to be eliminated before the conference finals. Granted, upsets happen so there's no guarantee any of these teams would make it deep into the playoffs regardless of the format, but considering the playoff seedings are in theory supposed made to reward regular season performance, this doesn't seem like the best way to determine plyoff matchups.

There's no perfect playoff format, but the current standings expose the glaring issues the NHL's divisional format has and it's not just a one year aberration. Last season, the Capitals and Penguins were the top two teams in the East, but they met in the second round.

Looks like the NHL may need to rethink things a bit when it comes to the playoffs.

MORE CAPITALS: Burakovsky picks up where he left off for Caps

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A handy-dandy guide to the Caps' free agents

A handy-dandy guide to the Caps' free agents

If you are a fan of the Capitals, you have been hearing for a long time about how difficult this offseason is going to be because of how many expiring contracts the team has. There are a bunch and it can be hard to keep track of.

Luckily, we are here for you. Here is a handy-dandy guide to all of the Caps' pending free agents.

Why is everyone assuming Evgeny Kuznetsov will be re-signed but keeping T.J. Oshie will be difficult? Who is unrestricted and restricted? What are the chances players like Daniel Winnik and Brett Connolly return?

We have all the answers. Check out the guide to Caps free agency here and impress your friends with all your hockey knowledge.

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20 offseason Caps questions: Should the Caps re-sign T.J. Oshie?

20 offseason Caps questions: Should the Caps re-sign T.J. Oshie?

Another playoff disappointment—as well as a host of expiring player contracts—has left the Capitals with a ton of questions to answer this offseason.

Over the next month, Jill Sorenson, JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir will take a close look at the 20 biggest issues facing the team as the business of hockey kicks into high gear.     

There’s no denying what T.J. Oshie has meant to the Capitals over the past two seasons; his goal production spells it out quite clearly.

Since 2015, in fact, Oshie’s 59 tallies are second to only Alex Ovechkin’s 83. So, yeah, he’s a critical part of Washington’s potent offense. Oshie’s coaches and teammates also laud the impact his energy has on the ice, bench and dressing room. But that doesn’t mean Oshie is a slam dunk to be back in red next season.

He’s going to be expensive to re-sign and the Caps don’t have a lot of room under the salary cap ceiling.   

Today’s question: Should the Caps re-sign Oshie?

Sorenson: This is an easy one. Yes, yes, yes, yes. I love spending other people’s money!  Absolutely the Capitals need to find a way to make this happen. T.J. Oshie has a young family who loves it here in the DMV, and I would imagine that a longer term deal would trump any kind of short term money another team may offer. In the past, the Caps have been loathe to offer contracts longer than three years, but they did it for two cornerstones on the blue line three years ago in Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, who were also unrestricted free agents at the time. Oshie reached career highs in goals in both of his years here in Washington (26, in his first year, 33 in his second), but I believe the intangibles he brings are just as valuable. Oshie is a guy who is almost always smiling, he loves hockey, loves his teammates, and seems to find joy coming to the rink every day.This is an important perspective to have in this day and age when professional sports quickly become a pressure-filled business. Oshie also helps draw some of the attention away from the other stars on the team, which means that pressure is spread around more equally, which is better for everyone.

CLICK HERE FOR HANDY GUIDE TO EVERY CAPS FREE AGENT

El-Bashir: Let’s weigh the pros and cons. (When considering this season’s stats, remember Oshie missed 14 games). First, the pros: As I mentioned in the intro, Oshie is the second best goal scorer on the Caps. He’s an integral piece on the league’s third-ranked power play (7 ppg) and can be dangerous on the penalty kill, as well. He brings it every shift of every game. In fact, I’d argue that no Cap plays harder on a nightly basis. Oshie does the small things, too. He ranked first among Caps forwards in blocked shots (50), second in takeaways (49), third in hits (95) and third in penalties drawn per 60 minutes (1.14). In the playoffs, Oshie’s 12 points (4 goals, 8 assists) were second only to Nicklas Backstrom’s 13. Now for the cons: Oshie, at age 30, ain’t getting any younger. He was one of five 30-somethings to hit the 30-goal plateau last season (out of the 26 players who netted 30 or more goals). Additionally, the miles on Oshie’s generously listed 6-foot, 189-pound frame are hard miles and his injury history shows that he tends to get banged up and miss games. Considering all the above factors, here’s my take: if the plan is to contend next year, the Caps need to figure this one out, even if it means he’s the only UFA they retain and it forces a tough decision with regard to another player (or even two). The free agent market does not appear to be a great option and no one currently on the roster is ready to replicate Oshie’s production.    

Regan: If there was no such thing as a salary cap, absolutely they should re-sign T.J. Oshie. The Caps searched for years for a top line winger to play alongside Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin and Oshie was the best answer this team has had since Mike Knuble. But there is a salary cap and Washington is going to be up against it. Oshie has made it clear he wants to stay, but there is no way Washington can afford to pay him anywhere close to what he can command on the open market and every player has that point where there is just too much money left on the table to ignore. If you can somehow make the numbers work, I am all for it, but I also do not think the Caps should handcuff their entire offseason plans so they can re-sign a 30-year-old winger who surpassed 30 goals for the first time in his career in a contract year. You always have to overpay for free agents and honestly, if you give Oshie something like a five-year deal for $6 or 7 million per year, I have a hard time believing he will still be living up to that contract in years four and five. If there's any way to bring him back for a reasonable number, do it, but I am not about to get into a bidding war for him.

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