On Tuesday night, a day after news broke that Michael Latta would not receive a qualifying offer from the Washington Capitals, I had a lengthy interview with the forward, who is now set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Latta told me that he was caught off guard by the team’s decision to non-tender him, but had nothing but good things to say about his teammates and his time in Washington.
“I was getting texts from everyone,” Latta said when the news dropped. “I wasn’t replying right away to [Tom], so he double, triple, quadruple texted me.”
“I think that’s one of the best things about hockey, the relationships you build,” Latta continued. “Tom and I obviously have become very close and will probably be one of my best friends forever. I’ll take a lot of good things from Washington, like the friendships I’ve built.”
Latta, who according to Hockey Fights has dropped the gloves 106 times in his professional career, will now look for a new team. He’s hoping to find a spot where he can bring energy every night and penalty kill. Depending on where he ends up, Latta could find himself playing against his former Caps teammates next year. It may get very awkward for fans.
For 17 years, George McPhee served as the Washington Capitals’ General Manager and Vice President of Hockey Operations. He presided over many drafts and selected superstars like Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, and Braden Holtby.
But on Saturday, McPhee — now serving a different role as a special advisor to Garth Snow — left the New York Islanders table on the floor of First Niagara Center and found a seat in the crowd. He had a different role to perform once the fourth round of the draft began: being a dad.
“After all the years in the business, it’s torture sitting there,” McPhee said to Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt about the experience.
Standing in front of reporters three hours after the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft began, Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan was happy that he finally got his man. He was not referring to the draft pick the Caps made an hour earlier.
With a sly “yes” and a smile, MacLellan confirmed that Lars Eller, whom the Capitals traded for earlier in the night, would be the team’s third-line center heading into next season. According to the 2016 GM of the Year finalist, the deal was in the works for a long time and that he inquired about the center’s availability frequently.
Photo: Bruce Bennett
Washington Capitals goaltender and Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby rocked a stunning John Varvatos number to the 2016 NHL Awards on Wednesday, noting that he enjoyed the “rock and roll” motif of his new suit. Caps video coach Brett Leonhardt appeared wearing socks with Barry Trotz‘s face on them to go along with a fancy tuxedo. When Trotz, who won the Jack Adams, appeared on the red carpet, he was also wearing new attire, ditching his usual black for a fresh blue suit with narrow pinstripes.
Photo: Kyle Mace/Chocolate Hockey
Back in the 2009-2010, the Washington Capitals dominated the NHL’s regular season, capturing the franchise’s first-ever Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s best regular season team. While the Caps lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round that year, their top minor league affiliate, the Hershey Bears, had different fortunes in the playoffs, winning their their second consecutive American Hockey League championship. It was the storied team’s 11th Calder Cup.
Six years later, Braden Holtby, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Jay Beagle — all stars from that championship Bears team — guided Washington to another Presidents’ Trophy this season. But once again, the Caps made an early playoff exit. The Bears, however, are still playing hockey in June, competing in their first Calder Cup Finals since their championship in 2010. But after Friday night’s 5-3 loss to the Lake Erie Monsters, Hershey faces a 0-2 series hole, though both games in the series have been relatively tight affairs.
“It’s not over by any means,” said Aaron Ness, who had two points in eight games with the Caps this season. “We’re excited for the challenge, we’re excited for the next game, and we’re ready to go.”
Capitals’ forwards Eric Fehr and Joel Ward watched helplessly as the Rangers’ Derek Stepan sent a puck flying past Braden Holtby in Game Seven of the second round last year. Both wanted to win a Stanley Cup with Washington. But as the Capitals blew a three-games-to-one series lead, Stepan’s overtime tally became their final play with the team.
If the offseason, the Capitals acquired Justin Williams and TJ Oshie, letting Ward and Fehr walk. Ward, going to the Sharks, and Fehr, going to the Penguins, signed three-year deals worth $9,825,000 and $6,000,000 respectively. Now, they will face each other in the Stanley Cup Final, which begins Monday night in Pittsburgh.
“Fehrsie and I were good buddies when we played together,” Ward said Sunday. “It just kind of happened and we parted ways. I went left and he went right. And here we are.”
It’s been a couple weeks since Nick Bonino of the Pittsburgh Penguins scored in overtime to eliminate the Washington Capitals from the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The second round series was an epic battle between the hottest team in the league, the Penguins, and the team with the best record in the NHL, the Capitals.
Over the six-game series, the Penguins netted just one more goal than the Caps, outscoring them 16-15. Three of the games went to overtime. If a few more bounces went the Capitals’ way, they could be getting ready to host Game One of the Stanley Cup Final right now.
Photo: Patrick Smith
Every year, Nicklas Backstrom’s facial hair gets a little less terrible and Alex Ovechkin’s hair gets a little more gray. Both players are still at the top of their game — for now. But by the time next season rolls around, Ovechkin will be 31. Backstrom will turn 29 soon after. Each player is getting near the latter half of their career.
“It absolutely crosses your mind,” Backstrom said when asked about him and Ovechkin running out of time to win a Stanley Cup. “We need to get over the hump we can’t get over.”
Photo: Drew Hallowell
On Thursday, the Capitals gathered at Kettler Capitals Iceplex to discuss another season that ended prematurely. The players were more visibly emotional than in years past at the annual end-of-season confab with reporters, promising Stanley Cups to the fans and articulating their frustrations with plenty of “failures” and “sucks.”
The news, however, came in the form of injuries revealed publicly for the first time. Karl Alzner’s ailment was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Referred to by Braden Holtby as the team’s most important player, Alzner missed most of the final game with a torn groin. He played just two shifts early in the second period before being pulled from the game.
“I know that the first four games of the series, I was just out there filling a spot, Alzner said. “I was out there and I was not hurting the team I don’t think, but I also wasn’t helping in winning in the game. That’s when you know you can still do things, but once I’m getting beat up the ice trying to chase a guy and not able to at least stay in battles, that’s when you know it’s time.”
He watched the Capitals penalty kill, a unit he normally plays big minutes on, give up two power play goals in 33 seconds after Brooks Orpik took a double minor for high-sticking. Later, Alzner sat helpless on the bench as the Penguins won it in overtime.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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