After dropping the opener of their Eastern Conference semifinal match-up against Pittsburgh, the Washington Capitals have elected to make at least one lineup change in advance of game two. According to a tweet from Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post, Paul Carey will draw into the lineup replacing Brett Connolly. As the scribe noted prior to the start of the series, Connolly had his ATOI cut back drastically in the latter half of their six-game series win over Toronto, averaging less than six minutes per contest in games four through six so perhaps a healthy scratch shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
Limited ice time is nothing new this season for Connolly. The six-year vet averaged just 10:41 per game yet managed to set a career-high in the goal scoring department with 15. In fact, among all NHL players who reached that threshold, Connolly saw the lowest ATOI per game. The lack of playing time, both during the regular season and playoffs, would appear to inject some doubt as to how interested the Capitals will be in renewing their working relationship beyond the current campaign with the former first-round draft pick. Connolly is scheduled to be a RFA and will likely seek a significant bump in pay over his 2016-17 salary of $850K based on his solid goal scoring ouput. With several key regulars – T.J. Oshie, Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner and Justin Williams among them – approaching unrestricted free agency and with RFA’s Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov also needing new contracts, the Capitals will have a difficult time re-signing or replacing all the talent they may lose with just $20MM in projected cap space. Salary cap considerations may also prompt the team to move on from Connolly this summer, meaning he might be available via trade for any interested parties.
Elsewhere in the Metro Division:
- It’s been reported that Ilya Kovalchuk may be preparing a return to the NHL after four years of self-exile playing in the KHL. As it stands, he is still property of the New Jersey Devils, unless all 30 NHL GM’s agree to allow Kovy to sign with another team. Of course, while the Devils could certainly use the offensive boost Kovalchuk would bring, they likely aren’t close enough to serious contention to justify committing the necessary salary cap resources to an aging, albeit still skilled winger. In fact, they would benefit more by agreeing with an interested club on a sign-and-trade, which would allow Kovalchuk to go to a contending team of his choice with the Devils picking up assets needed to further their rebuild. Whether or not Kovalchuk ultimately returns to the NHL, one thing is certain; the Russian winger will not be representing Team Russia at the upcoming World Championships. According to a report from the Russian sports site SovSport.ru (link in Russian) – H/T to TSN’s Gord Miller for retweeting the link – Kovalchuk has, or will soon undergo knee surgery and is expected to miss the next month to recover. Evidently the knee was an issue throughout the KHL playoffs though it wasn’t enough to prevent Kovalchuk from helping his SKA St. Petersburg club from winning the Gagarin Cup. While he won’t have another chance to showcase his skills for interested NHL teams, it’s unlikely this injury will do much to stunt his market, should he elect to come back.
- Newsday’s Steve Zipay retweeted a report from the Russian Prospects website indicating that coveted young winger Vladimir Tkachyov is slated to attend prospect camp this summer with the New York Rangers. It should be noted that Zipay had yet to independently confirm the report. Tkachyov, an undrafted free agent, spent last season skating with Admiral Vladivostok in the KHL, finishing with 14 goals and 39 points in 49 contests. Prior to returning to Russia, Tkachyov appeared in 66 QMJHL games split between Moncton and Quebec, tallying a combined 26 goals and 79 points. Scouting reports describe the 5-foot-10, 154-pound LW as a dynamic offensive talent and an explosive skater. Tkachyov has been linked to Toronto and Edmonton previously but at this point it looks like the Rangers may have the first chance to convince the skilled winger to join their organization. The Blueshirts interest is understandable as they favor skill and speed in their roster construction and with the lack of high draft choices in recent seasons due to sacrificing futures in pursuit of a Stanley Cup, adding a talent like Tkachyov helps the team keep the prospect pipeline producing NHL-caliber players.