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NHL Round 3

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Sep 30, 2015; Raleigh, NC, USA;  Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (8) looks on before the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Washington Capitals 4-3 in a shoot out. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 30, 2015; Raleigh, NC, USA; Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (8) looks on before the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Washington Capitals 4-3 in a shoot out. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

I didn’t get the post up in time, but for the record my picks for the round. I liked Nashville to win the west before the last round and I have no reason to change now, although Anaheim won’t be an easy out. The Senators…well, I think you can make a good case that Karlsson is more valuable that anyone — as Dom Luszczyszyn puts it, “[w]hen he’s on the ice, Ottawa is one of the league’s best teams. When he’s off the ice, they’re one of the worst” — and that prevents this from having odds like a pre-finals NBA series, but I’d be very surprised if Ottawa can even get it to a seventh game.

After you’ve read this excellent tribute to the Oilers (“his Good-In-The-Room/60 was off the charts,” “For the first time in the history of the National Hockey League, a HFBoards transaction was carried out by a NHL General Manager”) James Mirtle’s piece on Ovechkin and the Capitals is really good. First, the context behind his contract is worth remembering:

What I (and the Capitals) didn’t see was that the cap hit was an even bigger problem.

When then-GM George McPhee gave Ovechkin that behemoth $124-million deal with a $9.54-million cap hit back in 2008, the theory was that the NHL’s salary cap would go up every year the way it had been. That, in turn, would drive star salaries through the roof.

In 2008, when the deal was signed, the salary cap had risen by an average of $5.65-million a season. It was early days under a new cap-driven system, and no one knew what was coming. Projected out, from the 2007-08 cap hit until now, that level of increase would make for a nearly $107-million salary cap in the NHL by July 1, 2017.

That hasn’t happened. Not even close. The NHL’s cap has stalled and is likely to come in around $75-million this summer. What’s been even more of a problem for the Ovechkin deal is that contracts to top-end superstars have been very slow to reach the $9.5-million mark set by the Capitals nearly a decade ago.

Despite the bad (if not unreasonable at the time) bet, the Capitals have actually assembled a pretty solid roster behind him. They haven’t been able to win a Cup, but I think Mirtle is also right that there’s no point in BLOWING UP THE CORE now:

As frustrating as this has been in D.C., Washington has the roster to keep taking runs. That’s a luxury not a lot of franchises have. The league is so wide open right now that it’s very random which teams are advancing deep in the postseason. Just being there, in the final eight mix, year after year, will give them a chance of breaking through, the way Nashville finally did after a dozen years of good teams never got past Round 2.

That’s not to say they shouldn’t change anything. All of the new contracts they’ll need to give to Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Andre Burakovsky and others are going to mean they’re close to the cap, even if they don’t re-sign Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie. (Which they should try to do.)

They’ll likely have to buy out Brooks Orpik’s ill-advised deal. They’ll have to turn more of the roster over to kids, too. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to compete.

In fact, it might help them. Get younger. Get faster. Build around more pieces than just the older core. Spread out the load.

I think Ovechkin can be secondary contributor on a winning team, the way Phil Kessel has been in Pittsburgh. Shelter him a little more, let him dominate on the power play and don’t expect $9.5-million value from him. Maybe even break him away from Nick Backstrom, who remains a superstar, and have three dynamic lines that can beat teams.

Ovechkin will be overpaid, but so are a lot of players around the league. The Blackhawks won their first Cup while paying backup goaltender Cristobal Huet $5.6-million.

He played one game.

Ovechkin isn’t that kind of albatross. He also isn’t going to drive the franchise anymore. He shouldn’t be playing 20 minutes a night. That doesn’t mean, however, that the Capitals are done.

Right. In addition to the breakthrough of the Preds, the Ducks had lost 5 straight game sevens before beating Edmonton. There’s a tendency to assume that multiple consecutive close playoff defeats means there’s something fundamentally wrong with the team, but often it just means you got unlucky. As lifeless at the Caps looked at some points in the Pittsburgh series — including in the 3rd period of Game 7 — they still outshot the Pens in every game, and had Holtby even been mediocre (let alone his usual self — or, conversely, had Fleury not been outstanding) they’d have a star-and-scrubs team between them and the finals. You obviously couldn’t trade Ovechkin for anything that would improve the team now, they still have a window, and Mirtle is right that pretty much all teams have bad contracts. Keep what is still a good core together, supplement it as best you can, and we what happens next year.

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