Michael Nylander Saga Continues for Capitals

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, October 22, 2009 | , , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals loaned center Michael Nylander to Grand Rapids of the AHL (Detroit's affiliate) this week, in an attempt to find some playing time for the 37-year old Swede. To what result, at this point, is anyone's guess.

The conditioning assignment can last up to two weeks, and the team has already indicated he'll play in Friday's home opener and Monday's tilt for Grand Rapids.

Nylander will still count toward the Capitals' roster limit and salary cap.

The veteran pivot has not appeared for the Capitals in a game -- regular, post-season or pre-season -- since Game Three of the first round playoffs last season against the New York Rangers.

It's been a disappointing run wearing the red of Washington for Nylander. Once considered one of the finest playmakers in the game, he's been relegated to the fate of being loaned out to another team's affiliate just in order to garner playing time.

Just two seasons ago, Nylander manned the helm of the Rangers top scoring line, dishing out 56 and 57 assists in consecutive years. But in two seasons with the Caps, he has totalled just 50 helpers combined. To say that he does not mesh well into coach Bruce Boudreau's system is an understatement.

With the Capitals, Nylander should be enjoying his finest seasons, with some of the best finishers in the game. You might have heard of a couple of them, both named Alex (Ovechkin and Semin).

Yet, he found his way to the bench in last season's playoffs after appearing in 72 games in the regular season, and has not been out on the sheet for the Caps since, despite being healthy and practicing on a regular basis.

The Caps would like nothing better than to find a permanent place for Nylander to finish his accomplished career. However, the burden he carries is his contract, the no-movement clause (NMC) associated with it, and the hit it takes on the Caps salary cap.

For now, Washington's general manager George McPhee is fine -- he has enough bodies and enough flexibility under the cap to manage his roster.

But when Tomas Fleischmann comes off the Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR) in a couple of games, his salary will again count against the cap, and Washington will have to put a defenseman (or two) though waivers to send them down to the minors.

That situation has already cost the team the services of Chris Bourque, waived after he was told he'd made the opening night roster, and was claimed by Pittsburgh, of all teams. Washington does not relish the idea of losing Tyler Sloan, or any of the other NHL-quality defensemen on the squad.

Even if they get past that hurdle unscathed, Nylander's situation (his cap number is $4.875 million) is keeping the team from negotiating long-term deals for Semin and Mike Green, both due considerable raises going forward.

And then, you have to look at it from Nylander's point of view. All he wants to do is play, and make the money for the contract he signed in good faith two seasons ago. He's 37, and while a trade to an NHL team -- considering his contract -- is difficult, he can certainly be loaned to a foreign team so the Caps can claim some salary cap relief.

There have been rumors since training camp of Washington moving Nylander to Russia, Sweden, and elsewhere, but so far no deals have gone through.

Perhaps this "conditioning assignment" is a tryout for a specific team to see that indeed, Nylander is in shape and able to help out a club in need.

Perhaps it's akin to a yard sale. "Come see what we have on display, big discounts on Swedish centers (not named Nicklas Backstrom)."

Or perhaps, it's just a chance to let a veteran player get a few games in to show the rest of the NHL that he can still play.

Whatever the true reason, the Caps need to find a permanent solution. Because if they have to carry Nylander's contract all season, it will become a distraction in Boudreau's locker room, and severely limit McPhee's roster, especially when the trade deadline comes around.

They can't keep hoping to place players on the LTIR to get around making a deal.

Illness and Injuries at Kettler

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, October 21, 2009 | , | 0 comments »

Captials Insider reports that the Caps will recall two forwards for tomorrow night's game in Atlanta if Alexander Semin (illness) and Boyd Gordon (back) can't go. 

The obvious choice for the center spot is Keith Aucoin, who filled in for Gordon previously.  Who will the other forward be?  Put your guess in the comments!

It won't be Tomas Fleischmann, who still has some conditioning to do after being cleared to resume contact after rehabbing the blood clot in his leg.  He still has two games to serve on his Long Term Injured List spot regardless.

And needless to say, it won't be Michael Nylander either.

Shaone Morrisonn will be a game-time decision with a lower-body injury.  And John Erskine (hand) will travel with the team but is still day-to-day as well.  But then, aren't we all?

Goalie Jose Theodore had pronounced himself fit to play, but according to WP, he'll probably back up Semyon Varlamov tomorrow night.

Washington, DC-- Alex Ovechkin did what he does best:  score goals.  He scored twice in regulation and again in the shootout to lead the Washington Capitals over the Nashville Predators 3-2.  Nashville has now lost five games in a row.

After the Great Eight beat Predator goalie Dan Ellis with a backhand deke, he calmly buried the puck into the twine.  Then, something amazing happened.

Hats rained down on the ice from the red-clad frenzied crowd.  They proclaimed a hat trick for a goal that would not count in Ovechkin's totals.

"I don't think it's ever been done in the history of hockey," coach Bruce Boudreau said after the game. "It's a Washington original."

Boudreau could joke a little in the post-game press conference after his young goaltender, Semyon Varlamov, blanked the Predators in the shootout.  But the game was no laughing matter.

Washington shot out to a 2-0 lead on the strength of Ovechkin's two first period goals.  But as is becoming routine, the Caps could not finish off a hard-working, but talent inferior Nashville team.

The Predators had several decent scoring chances in the first period, including two short-handed breakaway opportunities that Varlamov came up big on.  Had the young netminder given up one of the breakaways, we might have been talking about a completely different game.

In the second period, Shea Weber fired a laser from 40 feet past a defenseless Varlamov on a nice drop pass from Tomas Hornqvist at 14:29, and J.P. Dumont flicked a shot from the goal line that deflected off defenseman Brian Pothier and between Varlamov's legs just minutes later. 

Just like that, the game was tied.  Washington had fairly dominated the proceedings, yet found themselves scratching and clawing in the second half of the game.

Boudreau went to three lines in the third period, and it was the checking line of David Steckel, Matt Bradley and Quintin Laing that bore the brunt of keeping Nashville off the board.  "When we went down to three lines, we had to keep them [on the ice]," Boudreau said.  "They were the most dominant line on the ice."

Mike Knuble, who assisted on both of Ovechkin's goals, spoke about the problem this team is having putting games away.  "It could be a lot different feeling in here right now, if we had let this one slip.  When you get up 2-0 you can't them them hang around too long, that's when teams are dangerous."

"You gotta get that third one to finish them."

Boudreau echoed his veteran winger. 

"We talked between periods about having the killer instinct and burying them.  If we had gotten that next goal, we think at that time they might have said, 'Here we go again'."

Center Brendan Morrison joined the chorus.  "We had them 2-0 there, and they are a team that is mentally battling themselves right now," Morrison said. "I think if we get that third goal, the flood gates open. But we didn't and we let them back in it."

They did not get that third goal, unlike Thursday night against San Jose.  Instead, they let an over-matched, poor offensive team hang around and gain a point they had no business accepting, putting pressure on a goaltender whose confidence has been shaky due to two poor outings previously.

But Varlamov did his job in overtime and the shootout, and the Caps got just enough from the best player in the game to hand Nashville their fifth consecutive defeat, regardless of taking a point in the Capitals building. 

"We controlled the game in the first period and a half," Ovechkin said.

After Nashville got their two markers in the second, the team really bore down and kept the score even, narrowly averting disaster and claiming the second point in the shootout.

But it shouldn't have come to that.

05:27 Power Play - Alex Ovechkin (8), Slap Shot. Assist: Green, Knuble
18:15 Alex Ovechkin (9), Wrist Shot. Assist: Morrison, Knuble

14:29 Shea Weber (1), Slap Shot. Assist: Hornqvist, Goc
16:04 J.P. Dumont (1), Wrist Shot, Unassisted.



Alex Ovechkin (1), GOAL

1. A. Ovechkin - WAS (Goals: 2, Assists: 0)
2. S. Weber - NSH (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)
3. S. Varlamov - WAS (Saves: 22, Save Pct: .917)

Shaone Morrison was scratched because of a lower body injury.  He was replaced by Tyler Sloan.

Boyd Gordon and John Erskine also missed the game with injuries.

Braden Holtby, recalled to back up Varlamov because of Jose Theodore's back spasms, was send back to South Carolina (ECHL) after the game.  The Caps are off until next Thursday at Atlanta and Theodore is expected back at that point.