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Over The Boards

Capitals' chances against Penguins among questions

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly mail

by Dan Rosen @DRosenNHL / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the Aug. 3 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run periodically through the course of the offseason. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

Let's get to it:

Can the current Washington Capitals defeat the Cup champions? -- @samb999

Yes. 

The Capitals have the depth, scoring, goaltending, experience and coaching to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins. The addition of Lars Eller as a productive third-line center should help. Defenseman Brooks Orpik being in the lineup instead of being suspended for an unnecessary hit would have helped. The Capitals are built to win now. They are built to defeat any team in the NHL in a playoff series, and they can do it. They didn't do it last season because they had two overriding problems against the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that led to a six-game series loss in the Eastern Conference Second Round: 

1) Evgeny Kuznetsov was a no-show

2) Washington's bottom-six forward group didn't make up for Kuznetsov being a no-show. 

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm5: Murray stones Kuznetsov on two-on-one

The Capitals survived against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round with top-heavy scoring minus Kuznetsov because they were the better team, clearly dominant despite the fact that the series went six games. They couldn't survive against the much deeper and faster Penguins without getting something out of Kuznetsov, and at least a marginal level of secondary scoring from Marcus Johansson, Jason Chimera, Andre Burakovsky, Tom Wilson, Mike Richards, Jay Beagle and Daniel Winnik. Those eight forwards, including Kuznetsov, combined for six points against the Penguins. By contrast, Pittsburgh's "HBK line" of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel combined for 18 points.

The rest of the series breakdown told a much different story. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom outscored Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin 11-4. Penguins goalie Matt Murray barely edged Capitals goalie Braden Holtby in save percentage (.926-.923). Washington's power play was superior (21.7 percent vs. 15.8 percent). The total shots on goal were close (209 for Pittsburgh, 202 for Washington). 

If they were to play again, I would anticipate Kuznetsov being a factor and Eller stabilizing the third line to help it become at least somewhat productive. Although that wouldn't guarantee a win, it would give the Capitals a better chance.

With David Backes on board, do the Boston Bruins try to trade David Krejci for a defenseman? -- @rayguarino

It's an interesting question and it's not a ridiculous idea, especially since Krejci is 30, coming off hip surgery and will count for $7.25 million against the NHL salary cap for six more seasons. Then again, the fact that he's 30, coming off hip surgery and carries a $7.25 million cap charge might be some reasons to keep potential trading partners from dialing up Bruins general manager Don Sweeney to inquire about his availability. The Bruins should explore what they could get for Krejci, but it might not be worth their time. It also might not be worth the value they would get in return because although they need a defenseman or two to insert into their top-four group, it never hurts to have strong center depth. As it stands now, Bruins coach Claude Julien has the option to use Backes as a third-line center behind Patrice Bergeron and Krejci. That would be my preference if I were a Bruins fan. I love having three potential No. 1 centers spread out over three lines. Julien also could use Backes on the wing in the top-six group. A line of Brad Marchand, Bergeron and Backes could become one of the best lines in the League. 

Jimmy Vesey still hasn't signed with a team. What is taking the kid so long? He must know what he wants to do by now. -- @dontcallmejim1

The Buffalo Sabres own the exclusive negotiating rights with Vesey until Aug. 15. If Vesey is still unsigned by Aug. 15, he will become an unrestricted free agent. That appears to be the plan. He hasn't signed with the Sabres because he wants to keep his options open. He will meet with other teams once he becomes a UFA and presumably will make his decision after those meetings. Vesey, 23, is in the envious position of being a top prospect who gets to pick his first team among those interested. The short list reportedly includes the Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Bruins and New York Rangers. This is not a decision to be made lightly. Vesey has earned the right by the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement to make this decision for himself. It makes total sense for him to have all of his options open, to get every question he may have answered and to do all of the necessary research. The money will remain the same regardless of where he signs because it'll be a two-year entry-level contract worth $925,000 per season plus bonus incentives. He's doing the right thing by taking his time. 

Do you think the Rangers would trade a player like Rick Nash for Kevin Shattenkirk? Who would get the better end of the deal? -- @ccrruuuuzz

Yes, I think the Rangers would trade Nash for Shattenkirk, but it's silly to think that it would be that easy, which is why predicting who would get the better end of the deal is impossible without knowing all the particulars of such a trade, which isn't a real thing at this point.

The Blues would trade Shattenkirk because they don't want to give him his next contract. He's 27 and with another strong season, will get a significant raise in his next contract. He will count for $4.25 million against the NHL salary cap this season but will make $5.2 million, according to General Fanager. I can see Shattenkirk's next contract paying him in the neighborhood of $7 million per season. If the Blues don't want to pay him that, why would they want Nash at full cost even if coach Ken Hitchcock is one of his biggest fans and supporters and might know his game better than anybody else in the League? Nash has two years left on his contract, which counts for $7.8 million against the salary cap. However, he is owed $16.2 million, according to General Fanager. The money would not line up in the Blues' favor.

To make a trade like this work, the Rangers likely would have to retain some of Nash's salary, which puts dead salary on their cap for the next two seasons. That might be palatable if they can make this a sign-and-trade or a trade-and-sign, meaning either the Blues give Shattenkirk his new contract and trade him or Shattenkirk signs a new contract with the Rangers upon being traded. Getting Shattenkirk with no guarantees he would stay after one season would be nonsensical on the Rangers' part and not something general manager Jeff Gorton would entertain, at least in my opinion. However, the Rangers would be at a cap loss here because not only would they have to pay Shattenkirk more starting in the 2017-18 season, they'd still have the two-season dilemma of retaining some of Nash's cap. 

I'm not suggesting such a trade can't or won't happen because I think both teams would be interested in what the other has to offer, but there has to be more to it than a straight one-for-one. 

Thoughts on Antoine Vermette? Will he get picked up? -- @bugg1963

I'd be shocked if he didn't sign at least a one-year, $1 million contract with a new team soon. Vermette, who was bought out by the Arizona Coyotes on Monday, is 34 years old and coming off a 38-point season that was considered a disappointment for him. He won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015 and I think he's got some time left in the League. He could be a valuable center for a contender looking for depth at the position because of his ability to win faceoffs and score the occasional goal. He had 17 last season, had 16 points on the power play and won 55.8 percent of his faceoffs. 

Vermette is five years younger than unrestricted free agent Matt Cullen, but I can see him having a similar impact for his new team as Cullen did for the Penguins last season. Cullen was signed in August to a one-year contract and had an enormous impact in Pittsburgh on and off the ice. He had 16 goals and 32 points in the regular season and another four goals and six points in the playoffs. Cullen played a key role on the Penguins fourth line, winning many defensive zone faceoffs, to help them win the Stanley Cup. He was beloved by his teammates and was partly responsible for the maturation we saw from rookies Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust and Tom Kuhnhackl throughout the playoffs. They credit Cullen for being a role model for how to be a pro. 

Max Domi is confident the Coyotes can make the playoffs this season. What percentage do you give for that to happen? -- @PUCKSandFILMS

It's hard to predict in percentages when it comes to playoff berths without a game being played, so the best I can do is say low to very low. Although I admire Domi's public vote of confidence in the Coyotes, I would hope and expect him to say "there's no reason we can't" make the playoffs, like he told TSN last Friday. He has to believe that or why else lace up the skates and go out there to play? Since I am afforded the luxury of an unbiased opinion on this matter, I find it difficult to impossible to call the Coyotes a playoff team at this stage because they are still young and relatively unproven at key spots with questionable goaltending. They are a team and an organization on the rise. There is no question about that. I also understand how the division they're in could foster some optimism for a quick ascent into the playoffs. However, I still have the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings ahead of them in the Pacific Division, and I think the Central Division will again send five teams to the playoffs. That would leave the Coyotes out.

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