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Who is the Caps' MVP at the bye week?

Who is the Caps' MVP at the bye week?

There's no hockey this week for Washington as the Caps are on their bye week. That gives us time to take a look at the team and evaluate how they look at this point in the season. Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent J.J. Regan offer their bye week grades for each aspect of the team. Today, they give their picks for MVP.

El-Bashir’s MVP: G.M. Brian MacLellan

There are several qualified candidates from which to choose. There’s Nicklas Backstrom, who’s fourth in the NHL in points. There’s Braden Holtby, who’s in the Vezina Trophy conversation again. And there’s T.J. Oshie, who carried the Caps’ offense early on.

But my pick for MVP is Brian MacLellan, who recognized his team’s biggest weakness after last year’s playoff ouster and did something about it. He traded for third line center Lars Eller and signed Boston Bruins castoff Brett Connolly to a one-year contract in the span of a few days last summer. 

The Caps hoped Eller and Connolly could provide a jolt to a bottom-six forward group was that was badly outplayed in the second round loss to the Penguins. Now, as the regular season enters its stretch run, that hope has turned into reality. 

Eller has anchored the third line, produced 10 goals and, prior to the bye, was deployed on the power play as a replacement for an injured Andre Burakovsky. Connolly, meanwhile, is up to 12 goals despite missing 14 games as a healthy scratch. Both Eller and Connolly struggled initially to fit in, but they now looked like fully integrated pieces on the NHL’s best team.

If the Caps go on to claim the franchise’s first Cup, Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and Holtby will, no doubt, be the headliners. But the team’s supporting cast, led by Eller and Connolly, is going to play a big role, too. 

And that supporting cast wouldn’t have been in place without MacLellan’s decisiveness during the offseason.

RELATED: Burakovsky skates in cast before practice

Regan's MVP: Nicklas Backstrom

Alex Ovechkin is the Caps' best player, but a reasonable argument could be made to say that Backstrom is actually the team's most important player. That has certainly been true this season.

Backstrom leads the Caps in points with 61. That's nine more points than the second-place Alex Ovechkin. He is also fourth in the NHL, trailing Connor McDavid by only six points.

But it's not just about stats. What sets Backstrom apart is his consistency.

Ovechkin went seven straights games without a goal from the end of November to the start of December, Evgeny Kuznetsov was sleep walking unitl January, T.J. Oshie was the MVP before he suffered an injury against Detroit in November, Marcus Johansson could not stop scoring in the team's Western Canada road trip but went through a lengthy dry spell afterward.

All the while, Backstrom was there, quietly producing just like he always does. The longest the veteran center has gone without a point this season is three games. That's it.

And even when he's not scoring, Backstrom remains incredibly important because of how he can limit the other team's offense. As great as he is offensively, he may be just as good defensively. That's a rare combination.

Seriously, Backstrom may be the most underappreciated player in the NHL, but not by me. He's the team MVP and in my mind, it's not close.

MORE CAPITALS: Sanford, Vrana rejoin the Caps

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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?

RELATED: CHIASSON, WALKER MAKE THEIR CASE TO MAKE THE TEAM

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.

MORE CAPITALS: TOM WILSON SUSPENDED 2 PRESEASON GAMES

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Thumbs up, thumbs down: Chiasson, Walker make their case for the roster

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Thumbs up, thumbs down: Chiasson, Walker make their case for the roster

The Caps dropped another preseason game on home ice as they fell to the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1. Here is who stood out for Washington.

Thumbs up

Alex Chiasson: Chiasson, who is playing this preseason on a PTO, was in good shape before this game, but he may sealed the deal on getting a contract with his first period goal. While it did come on the power play and he is not likely to see much time with the extra man this season, the fact that he was playing on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov in the first place should tell you something. With another solid performance on Saturday, it looks like Chiasson will be in Washington for the long haul.

Nathan Walker: This kid is not afraid of anything. Not only will he fight for the puck in all the dirty areas, he is not afraid to mix things up with anyone. In the second period, he caught got in a scrum exchanging jabs with defenseman Klas Dahlbeck. Dahlbeck is 6-foot-3. Walker is 5-foot-8. Later in the period, Dahlbeck rid him into the boards, but Walker would not give up on the play and eventually broke free, drawing a penalty from Dahlbeck as he fought for room in front of the net. He looked like everything a team would want in a fourth line, energy player and I cannot see at this point how he does not make the Caps roster.

Jakub Vrana: Good speed, good eyes and he added an assist on Chiasson's goal. Vrana has clearly established himself as the best player not already on the Caps' roster. Whatever questions there may be surrounding Vrana, there should be none about his talent on the ice. He's got it.

Thumbs down

Riley Barber: Like Chiasson and Walker, Barber was also competing for a spot on the roster, only no one seemingly told him that because he was invisible. Actually, scratch that, he did get called for a slash early in the first period. Let's not overstate it, it was not as if Barber was horrible, but when his teammates were making their case to make the team, Barber was nowhere to be found. With another round of cuts looming, it would not be surprising to see him headed to Hershey very soon.