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T.J. Oshie admits he's thought about next contract but remains 'extremley present'

T.J. Oshie admits he's thought about next contract but remains 'extremley present'

T.J. Oshie picked a good time to set a career-high in goals. With 29 goals, Oshie currently leads the team. Should that hold, he will be the first player other than Alex Ovechkin to lead the Caps in goals since Robert Lang in 2003-04, before Ovechkin was drafted. In fact, Oshie has set a career-high in goals in each of his two seasons in Washington.

Why is that good timing? Because Oshie is currently in the final year of his contract and the need to re-sign him was made clear on Saturday with his hat trick performance.

As a top-line caliber winger who will likely hit the 30-goal mark this season, Oshie will not lack for suitors this summer. Getting a deal done before he reaches free agency will likely be high on the Caps’ to-do list after the season.

While Oshie acknowledged after practice on Monday that he has thought about his contract status, he was also quick to say he is keeping his mind on the task at hand.

“When you have a wife and two kids, you have to think about it a little bit, but anyone that knows me knows that I'm extremely present,” Oshie said.

“It's always in the back of your mind where you're going to be because I have a family to think about,” he added, “But, same token, I'm just approaching every day to come have fun at the rink, get better and do something special.”

RELATED: NHL Power Rankings: Coming down to the wire

Right wing on the top line was a bit of a revolving door before the Caps traded for Oshie in the summer of 2015 to fill that void. He has since cemented himself in that position with his strong play beside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

But the fact that he has played so well could potentially be an issue after the season. Oshie’s salary this season is $4.5 million and, as he stands to be one of the top free agents in the NHL, he will be due a significant raise. At 30 years old, this is also likely going to be his last “big” contract. That means he will be looking for term and looking for money.

An article published by NHL Numbers estimates Oshie’s next contract on the open market will be worth $6 million for six years, but even acknowledges that is a “conservative” estimate. Re-signing Oshie was already not going to come cheap, but considering the money he stands to gain if he reaches free agency, it may take a very hefty contract to keep him in Washington.

But there are other potential factors that could work in the Caps’ favor.

Oshie’s production in Washington is no accident, clearly this team and coach are a good fit for him. His family also seems to have settled in well with the area.

“I don't think it could have worked any better,” Oshie said. “My wife loves all the other wives and girlfriends. Lila's became best friends with a couple of the young girls on the team. I couldn't have asked for a better fit, I don't think.”

That’s encouraging for the Caps, but even if Oshie is willing to take a discount to remain in Washington, it’s not likely to be a significant one.

Whether the Caps would be willing to offer him what it will take to keep him here is also a point worth considering. Oshie is, after all, on the wrong side of 30. If he does get $6 to 7 million per year, how much longer will he be able to play up to those numbers?

Landing a player in free agency almost always requires overpaying them. Whatever the Caps will be willing to pay Oshie, chances are another team will be willing to pay more. Whether the Caps will be able to keep him from getting to that point where he can start listening to other offers remains to be seen.

MORE CAPITALS: Penguins, Blue Jackets keep up the pressure on Caps

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Rangers the big winners, Caps among losers of archaic NHL Playoff format

Rangers the big winners, Caps among losers of archaic NHL Playoff format

The second round of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs are about to get started, and if you take a look at the bracket, you'll notice something strange.

The President's Trophy-winning Capitals have to face the Penguins, the team that finished just behind the Capitals for the NHL lead in points.

What that means is that the two best teams from the regular season have to play each other in the second round of the NHL Playoffs.

RELATED: CAPITALS vs. PENGUINS SCHEDULE ANNOUNCED

The reason the No. 1 and No. 2 teams are playing each other so early is because the NHL restructured the playoff format in order to have divisional teams face off against each other first, hoping to strengthen rivalries. It's an incredibly stupid idea, as Capitals forward Daniel Winnik has stated on several occasions.

The problem with the format is that when a division performs to the extent of what the Metropolitan did in 2017, the three top teams in the Eastern Conference end up in the same pod because the NHL wants divisional teams to play each other early in the playoffs.

When you add in the sheer chaos of playoff hockey, in which a No. 1 seed almost always gets eliminated early, the NHL ends up with wildly uneven paths to the Stanley Cup Final.

Consider this: When the No. 1 seed Capitals take on the No. 2 Penguins, it will mark the first time in six years that the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds faced off against each other in the playoffs. Having the top two teams face off in the playoffs should be the goal of the NHL on a yearly basis instead of a once-in-a-decade factoid.

But because the Capitals and Penguins are facing each other in the second round and not —say— the Eastern Conference Finals, it means there is at least one team with an unnecessary and highly favorable draw.

That team in 2017 is the New York Rangers.

The Rangers finished in fourth place in the Metro Division (48-28-6), but with 103 points, would have been good enough for second place in the Atlantic. The Rangers faced off against the Atlantic-Division champions Montreal Canadiens, a team that earned a No. 1 seed despite having the fourth best record in the East.

The Rangers knocked off the Canadiens and now face the Senators, the second-place team in the Atlantic.

If the Rangers advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, they will have avoided the top three seeds by points in the first two rounds. 

RELATED: NHL PLAYOFF POWER RANKINGS

This is what the Playoff rankings look like based on seed:
1M: Capitals, 118pts
1A: Canadiens, 103pts
2M Penguins, 111pts
2A: Senators, 98pts
3A: Bruins, 95pts
3M: Blue Jackets, 108pts
1WC: Rangers, 102pts
2WC: Maple Leafs, 95pts

This is what the Playoff rankings would look like if organized by regular-season points:
1. Capitals, 118pts
2. Penguins, 11pts
3. Blue Jackets, 108pts
4. Canadiens, 103pts
5. Rangers, 102pts
6. Senators, 98pts
7. Bruins, 95pts
8. Maple Leafs, 95pts

A points-based playoff bracket would not change much in the first round: The No. 1 seed Capitals would still face the No. 8 seed Maple Leafs, and the No. 5 Rangers would still face the No. 4 Canadiens. But what it impacts is the second round. The Capitals would face the winner of the Rangers-Canadiens series, instead of the Penguins-Blue Jackets winner.

A points-based bracket would reward the teams at the top of the Eastern Conference, not just the respective divisions. It would also prevent lower seeded teams from having an easier path to the Eastern Conference Finals in the event of a first-round upset. 

The NHL wants to build rivalries in early playoff series instead of what playoffs are intended to do: Weed out the lesser teams setting up a conference championship series between the two best teams.

We know that won't happen this season in the East, and the Rangers are the team benefiting from it the most. 

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Capitals vs. Penguins 2017 Playoff Preview: The rematch

Capitals vs. Penguins 2017 Playoff Preview: The rematch

Second round: Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Caps record vs. Pittsburgh this season: 2-0-2

3-2 shootout loss at Pittsburgh on Oct. 13
7-1 win vs. Pittsburgh on Nov. 16
5-2 win vs. Pittsburgh on Jan. 11
8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Jan. 16

Series schedule

Game 1: April 27 in Washington, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN
Game 2: April 29 in Washington, 8 p.m. on NBC
Game 3: May 1 in Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN
Game 4: May 3 in Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN
Game 5 (if necessary): May 6 in Washington, TBD
Game 6 (if necessary): May 8 in Pittsburgh, TBD
Game 7 (if necessary): May 10 in Washington, TBD

Offensive preview

Sidney Crosby showed this season that he is not just a setup man as he won the Rocket Richard Trophy with 44 goals. He also finished second in the NHL with 89 points. But the first round was about much more than just Crosby. The Penguins again flexed the offensive depth that gave the Caps fits last year as they scored 4.20 goals per game in the first round, easily the highest scoring rate in the playoffs thus far. Evgeni Malkin leads all skaters in the league with 11 points while Phil Kessel is close behind him with eight. The fact that Crosby is third on the Penguins with seven points speaks to their depth. And let’s also not forget about Jake Guentzel. The 22-year-old rookie who had 33 points in the regular season netted five goals against Sergei Bobrovsky and currently leads the NHL in playoff goals. The Penguins have tons of options when it comes to scoring, enough that they can survive if Crosby or Malkin struggle in this series. Few teams can boast that level of depth.

Alex Ovechkin currently ranks third among active players in goals per game in the playoffs and showed no signs of slowing down in the first round with three goals. T.J. Oshie also had a big series with at least a point in five of their six games in the opening round, but this series will likely not be determined by the superstars. The scoring depth is the key. The Capitals did not enough of it to beat Pittsburgh last season. Do they now? The addition of Lars Eller in the offseason gives Washington four dependable centers and allowed Barry Trotz to roll four lines all season long…until the playoffs. Stagnant production from the bottom six led to a change with Tom Wilson moving to the third line and Brett Connolly moving to the fourth. The fourth line was used sparingly after that. If Trotz does not trust the fourth line against Toronto, he won’t against Pittsburgh. Can Washington then get enough production from three offensive lines to match the Penguins? Perhaps, but they will need more production from players like Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky and Lars Eller.

RELATED: Power Rankings: On to Round two

Defensive preview

Pittsburgh will be without Kris Letang who is out for the remainder of the season with an injury. He is by far their best defenseman and his loss is a major, major blow considering the Penguins are facing a much better offensive team in Washington than they did in the first round. Pittsburgh's defense was average in the regular season (17th in the NHL with 2.79 goals allowed per game) and, despite the fact that they dispatched Columbus in just five games, they have remained average in the playoffs allowing 2.60 goals per game to the Blue Jackets. They still boast some notable players in Justin Schultz and Trevor Daley, but there is no question this team’s defensive stability is a question mark without Letang.

Washington boasted the NHL’s top defense in the regular season, but they sure didn’t look like it the first round. There’s no question that the Maple Leafs boast a lot of offensive talent, but not so much that the top defense in the league should be allowing 2.67 goals per game like they did against Toronto. That was good for 12th in the NHL in the first round. The team’s third pair of Brooks Orpik and Kevin Shattenkirk seemed to really struggle as the series went along and the Penguins could look to exploit that pair early to see if they are in fact a weakness. Nate Schmidt came into the series in place of an injured Karl Alzner and his speed really seemed to boost the team. Against a Pittsburgh squad that also likes to push the tempo, it’s hard to see him coming out of the lineup anytime soon, but is he ready for top-four minutes against the defending champs? Something interesting to look for is if Barry Trotz elects to go with a lineup of seven defensemen at some point. Brett Connolly has played less than seven minutes in each of the last three games and could be replaced in the lineup when Alzner is ready to return.

Goaltending preview

Marc-Andre Fleury had led Pittsburgh through the first round when an injury to Matt Murray forced him to miss the entire series against Columbus. If you need to go to your backup, however, you can’t get much better than Fleury who previously led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in 2009. He played extremely well in the first round with a .933 save percentage and a 2.52 GAA.

It took Braden Holtby time to get going, but he rebounded towards the end of the first round and put together his two best performances of the series in Games 5 and 6 in which he allowed just two goals total in 63 shots for a .968 save percentage. Washington needs that goalie to show this series and they need him right away. The Caps can’t afford for him to warm-up for four games.

Special teams preview

The power play for both teams is a work of art. Both finished tied for third in the NHL with a 23.1-percent success rate with the extra man. Where Washington holds the edge, however, is on the penalty kill. The Caps killed of 83.8-percent of the power plays they faced while the Penguins struggled at just 79.8-percent. Both teams’ penalty kills were at 83.3 percent in the first round, however, so both teams know they will have to be better.

Coaching preview

It is too simple to say that Mike Sullivan is the better coach because he has won a Stanley Cup. Let’s not forget, Dan Bylsma also led the Penguins to a Cup as a midseason hire and there are few who would claim today that the now former coach of the Buffalo Sabres is a better coach than Trotz. Sullivan, however, has done a masterful job of leading the Penguins to success even with all their injuries. He took a chance last season of spreading out his offensive talent, but that talent distribution proved to be the difference in the playoffs as the Penguins rode their depth to a Stanley Cup.

This year, however, Trotz is ready. Through three games in the first round, one of the story lines was the fact that Toronto head coach Mike Babcock seemed to be getting the better of Trotz. Trotz, however, adjusted to the matchups, switched up his lines and made the necessary adjustments to put the Maple Leafs away. If Trotz can match wits with Babcock, he can match wits with any coach in the league.

Injury concerns

For the Penguins, just about everyone is an injury concern. Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. The major injury is Letang who is out for the season. Goalie Matt Murray has not skated since suffering a lower-body injury. There seems to be no indication on when he could be ready to return and, even if he does return, it’s hard to imagine him taking over for Fleury considering how well Fluery has played. Carl Hagelin has been out with a lower-body injury since March 10, but he seems to be progressing rapidly and could be back at some point for this series.

Pittsburgh is also dealing with injuries to Chris Kunitz and Chad Ruhwedel. Sullivan said Monday both players were “game-time decisions” for Game 1.

Alzner has been out of the lineup since Game 2 against Toronto on April 15 with an upper-body injury. He is skating and is considered day-to-day. With Schmidt playing so well in Alzner’s place, it is unclear just who would come out of the lineup for Alzner when he is ready to return or if it would even be a defenseman.

Who has the edge?

Washington has not lost to Pittsburgh in regulation this season and really built its roster around beating the Penguins. But it is hard to argue with the defending champs who marched over the Caps on their way to the Cup. These teams are the two best teams remaining in the playoffs and there is little to separate them on paper. This is going to be a very close, very competitive series between two teams that look like the two frontrunners left in the playoffs.

MORE CAPITALS: Prediction recap: Caps survive Toronto's best shot