Keith Aucoin In Contact With Capitals Regarding Extension, According To Agent

The Washington Capitals ended the season with seven unrestricted free agents and that number has been whittled down to three as Alexander Semin, Dennis Wideman and Keith Aucoin remain unsigned.

While it seems that both Semin and Wideman are unlikely to return to Washington, Aucoin is currently in talks with the Caps in regards to negotiating a new contract, according to his agent, Jerry Buckley.

“We’re still in contact with the Capitals with regards to Keith potentially re-signing with them,” Buckley said in a phone interview Friday. “We’re continuing conversations. We’re working on potentially doing an extension.”

Aucoin, who has spent the majority of his professional career in the American Hockey League, earned consistent playing time down the stretch for the Caps, appearing in 22 of the last 23 regular season games and all 14 postseason games and finishing with 13 total points (three goals, 10 assists) in a bottom-six role. His 41 total NHL games this season were nearly double the amount he had played in the NHL since joining Washington in 2008 (22).

Through most of his four-year stint in the Washington organization, however, Aucoin has been a linchpin of the Hershey Bears. In four seasons, Aucoin has won a scoring title and a MVP award while leading the Bears to two Calder Cup championships.

Buckley did not comment on what Aucoin is looking for in a new contract with Washington, such as a more prominent role with the Caps or a one-way contract. Yet, considering that the team chose to notify both Mike Knuble and Jeff Halpern – also unrestricted free agents – early on that they would not be returning next season, the odds that Aucoin will continue to be a member of the Washington organization next season seem to be high.

“If we can strike a deal that makes sense, that’s great,” Buckley said.


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George McPhee, Capitals Taking Time Hiring New Head Coach

It has been exactly one month since Dale Hunter stepped down as Washington Capitals head coach and the team – just one of two with a head coaching vacancy – is still looking for the right person to fill that position.

Thursday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, General Manager George McPhee provided an update on the search.

“It’s going great,” McPhee said. “It really is. It’s been a real enjoyable process. It’s a fun process doing it in the summer. Obviously, if you have to do something midseason, it’s much more difficult. There are fewer people available to talk to, so there’s some real limitations and some time constraints. When you do it in the summer, it becomes a real thoughtful process, real comprehensive. You can talk to a lot of people and come up with a plan on how you’re going to do it. We’ve enjoyed it. There’s some terrific people out there.”

“There’s some real good candidates and we like where we are in the process,” McPhee continued. “We like how it’s gone so far. We’ll just keep working away until we’re comfortable making that final decision.”

That decision, according to McPhee, will likely not be made before the NHL Draft, which begins June 22, but the list has been “narrowed down a little bit.”

McPhee added that the Caps are “not necessarily” looking for a coach with previous NHL experience either as a head coach, associate head coach or assistant coach (all four of McPhee’s coaching hires – Bruce Cassidy, Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau and Hunter – did not have NHL head coaching experience upon their respective arrivals in Washington).

“We’re wide open,” McPhee said. “There are really some terrific people. Without getting into names, there are veteran people that have been terrific, there have been young people that have been terrific. We’ll let you know when we get there.”

Reported candidates included Philadelphia Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube, former Carolina Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice, while New Jersey Devils assistant coach Adam Oates, Los Angeles Kings assistant coach John Stevens and Norfolk Admirals head coach Jon Cooper have also gained steam as potential replacements,

Two other possible candidates are already members of the Washington organization: assistant coaches Dean Evason and Jim Johnson. Yet, McPhee said Thursday that he does not believe that either of them will return next season.

While McPhee was characteristically tight-lipped Thursday, he did reveal what kind of style that he would like the Caps to play next season. McPhee was impressed with the compete level that Hunter instilled and wants that to continue along with the defensively-responsible style of play, but wants to speed things up as well.

“I think the whole league is obviously trending towards an uptempo style of play,” McPhee said. “Everyone wants to do that. It’s not necessarily the style of play that’s most important. If you’re the coach, you’ve gotta sell this to the players and have them buy in. That’s what works, if you can get everybody to buy in.”

“We really liked the way that the team competed,” McPhee continued. “That was something that we were trying to get to – to have them compete like that – and they were terrific. They played their guts out. We want to maintain that kind of commitment and play a little more uptempo. It’s the compete we want.”

McPhee has hired four coaches since becoming General Manager, but it has been 10 years since he hired one during the summer (Hanlon, Boudreau and Hunter were all hired midseason). Now that he has that luxury, he plans on taking his time.

“There’s no need to set an artificial deadline to have it done before the draft or have it done by [development] camp,” McPhee said. “The Devils hired a guy in [mid-July] last year and they end up in the finals. I think in terms of housekeeping, some people like to get it done before the draft, but I just don’t think it’s that important. What’s important is hiring the right person and really being able to come to your team with a terrific coach and knowing that you’ve really done a real comprehensive job in the summer talking to these people.”

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Evgeny Kuznetsov’s Decision To Remain In KHL Further Brings To Light Capitals’ Lack Of Forward Depth Among Prospects

It was widely known that Washington Capitals prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov was planning to stay in Russia and the Kontinental Hockey League, but with Monday’s news that he had signed a two-year contract with Traktor, it became concrete.

While Kuznetsov’s decision hardly came as a surprise, it highlighted the fact that Washington’s organizational depth among its forward prospects is incredibly thin.

As of now, arguably the Caps’ most NHL-ready forward prospect is Cody Eakin, who saw 30 regular season games with Washington last season. Yet, Eakin’s time in the NHL had the opposite effect of what the Caps probably hoped would become of their highly touted prospect as his mystique wore off as the season progressed and his deficiencies (offensive consistency on the NHL level, size) were brought to the surface.

After Eakin, the Hershey Bears currently possess little to no semblance of impact players. Mattias Sjogren, who was thought to be one of the aforementioned players when he signed last summer, did not impress, even leaving North America altogether during the season before returning during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Last month, Washington traded Chris Bourque, who had plenty of scoring upside, but could never translate it to the NHL level, to the Boston Bruins for Zach Hamill, who fits the same exact mold. Michael Carman will likely remain in the AHL throughout his career, while Garrett Mitchell and Christian Hanson might see some NHL time as fringe players in an energy role.

There is a reason why Hockey’s Future recently ranked the Caps 27th out of 30 teams in regards to overall prospect talent: they have a “surplus of role players,” but a “shallow pool in terms of overall NHL potential,” none of which have “proven game-breaking ability outside of Kuznetsov.”

Fortunately for Washington, it looks like help might be on the way. Stanislav Galiev will begin his first professional season in 2012 after another productive season with Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. A season with the Bears is likely in store, but that will allow Galiev to build strength and develop his game, which the Caps hope will be similar to that of Alexander Semin (minus the temperamental issues). Also, the Caps possess two first-round picks in this month’s NHL Draft at 11th and 16th. Both picks could bring in much-needed forward reinforcements.

The Caps have enough high-end forward talent on the main roster to keep them competitive for now, but they must restock the pond with quality forward prospects sooner rather than later. The last thing Washington – or any team for that matter – can afford is for the prospect pipeline to run dry.


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The “KOLWTF” Countdown – No. 1

To say that the Washington Capitals’ 2011-12 season was tumultuous would be an understatement, but there were several moments that stuck out even more so as being just, well, awful. This is a countdown of those awful moments.

Welcome back to the “KOLWTF Countdown,” where we will look back at the five moments of the season that made us scratch our heads, throw our hands to the sky and simply ask, “Why?” Or more appropriately, “WTF?”

No. 1 – “The Wrecker” In More Ways Than One?

When a parent club recalls a player from its minor league affiliate, the reasons behind it can usually be sorted into one of two categories: performance or injury. Yet, when you cannot properly classify a certain call-up by either of the aforementioned labels, what do you call it then?

Joel Rechlicz, that’s what. Or more appropriately, who.

Rechlicz is a mountain of a man. Standing at 6’4′ and weighing in at a solid 220 pounds, Rechlicz looks like he was chiseled out of stone. He is also as old school as it gets; he is a “punch faces first, ask questions later” kind of enforcer who uses a wooden stick to boot.

Unfortunately for Rechlicz, as the NHL game has evolved and sped up, there is not much use for a tough guy with a limited skillset. That fact, however, did not stop Washington from calling him up not once, but twice in what became the most confounding move/moves of the 2011-12 season.

Upon his first recall January 30, Rechlicz had one goal, one assist and an AHL-leading 184 penalty minutes in just 27 games with the Hershey Bears. To make Rechlicz’s recall official, the Caps, who already had little wiggle room salary cap wise, had to sign him to an entry-level deal, taking away $525,000 worth of space.

When asked about the reasons behind Rechlicz’s promotion, head coach Dale Hunter said that it was because he is “a tough character and he’s just a tough guy you can have on the road” (the Caps were preparing for a three-game road trip). Yet, during that three-game trip, Rechlicz took a total of six shifts for 4:26; he did not even play in the final game of the trip against the Montreal Canadiens February 4 (though his comments regarding Rene Bourque might have had something to do with that). The Caps reassigned Rechlicz after the game.

That was not the last time, however, that Rechlicz would be join the Caps. Before Washington’s game against the San Jose Sharks February 13, the team recalled Braden Holtby and Rechlicz. While Holtby’s start came as a slight surprise, it did not compare to Rechlicz’s, who earned a roster spot over newly anointed healthy scratch Mike Knuble, who was already sour over his recent lack of playing time, and Keith Aucoin, one of the AHL’s leading scorers.

Making matters worse, Rechlicz only played 1:30 during the game and received a 10-minute misconduct while seated on the bench.

Pressed once again on his decision-making process regarding Rechlicz, Hunter said that he inserted him into the lineup as a deterrent to Sharks enforcer Brad Winchester, who took liberties with Alexander Semin in the teams’ previous game in January.

“They had that Winchester,” Hunter said February 14. “He ran over Semin and Ovi had to jump in last game…so Winchester wasn’t a factor out there.”

Sadly, but perhaps expectedly, neither was Rechlicz.

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The ‘KOLWTF’ Countdown – No. 2

To say that the Washington Capitals’ 2011-12 season was tumultuous would be an understatement, but there were several moments that stuck out even more so as being just, well, awful. This is a countdown of those awful moments.

Welcome back to the “KOLWTF Countdown,” where we will look back at the five moments of the season that made us scratch our heads, throw our hands to the sky and simply ask, “Why?” Or more appropriately, “WTF?”

No. 2 – Buffa-WOAH (Alternate Title: Buffaslugged)

The Caps lost 40 combined games during the regular season, so there are plenty of defeats to dissect. Yet, there was not a team that handed Washington more embarrassing and/or potentially season-altering losses than the Buffalo Sabres.

November 26, 2011: The End Of An Era

Washington had seemingly recovered from a hellacious three-game road trip with two straight victories at home, but a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers November 25 – the day after Thanksgiving” – gave “Black Friday” new meaning.

That is, until November 26.

The Caps faced the Sabres for the first time while the latter was missing nine regulars from its lineup. On paper, the game looked like an exhibition game between a NHL team and its AHL affiliate, but it was actually the Sabres that looked like the better team. The Sabres jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period with two goals in 4:36. Jason Chimera cut the Caps’ deficit in half with a penalty shot goal in the second period, but 27 seconds later, Zach Kassian scored his first career NHL goal to restore the two-goal lead. Buffalo scored two more times in the third period – including a backbreaking shorthanded goal by Luke Adam just 1:12 into the period – as it coasted to a 5-1 victory.

This game ultimately became Bruce Boudreau’s last. Two days later, the team relieved Boudreau of his duties as General Manager George McPhee admitted that the players were no longer responding to their coach.

December 26, 2011: Buffalo Stampede

Exactly one month after their last visit, the Caps returned to Buffalo looking to exact some sort of revenge. So much for that plan.

The Sabres steamrolled the Caps in the first period, putting the game out of reach within 15 minutes. Jason Pominville scored a power play goal just 51 seconds into the contest (Roman Hamrlik was the offender in the penalty box, committing a  delay-of-game penalty nine seconds into the game). Matt Ellis, Christian Ehrhoff and Brayden McNabb followed their captain’s lead and Buffalo took a commanding 4-0 lead after 20 minutes before holding on for a 4-2 victory.

March 27, 2012: “The Seventh Game Of The Playoffs”

Entering the teams’ final meeting March 27, the Caps and Sabres were tied with 84 points in a tight Eastern Conference Playoffs race. Washington held the tiebreaker and a win would give them even more breathing room by way of a two-point lead. Head coach Dale Hunter likened the game to “the seventh game of the playoffs.” Considering Washington’s patented brand of bad luck in decisive postseason games (at least before this postseason), perhaps that was a bad idea.

The Sabres took a 1-0 lead on a very costly turnover by Braden Holtby. Holtby’s errant clearing attempt behind the crease found Brad Boyes instead of Jeff Schultz and Boyes sent a centering pass to Cody McCormick for the game’s first goal at 8:45. With less than two minutes remaining in the first period, Drew Stafford added another goal to give the Sabres a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Thomas Vanek made it 3-0 2:31 into the second, chasing Holtby after he allowed three goals on 18 shots. Alexander Semin gave Washington some hope less than three minutes later to cut Buffalo’s lead to 3-1, but near the end of the period, Jason Pominville took advantage of an Alex Ovechkin turnover on the power play, outmuscled the Caps’ captain and finished a 2-on-1 shorthanded break on his own to put the game out of reach and completely deflate Verizon Center in the process. The Sabres added another goal in the third period and won 5-1.

With five games remaining in the regular season, Washington was on the outside looking in at the postseason. Of course, we all know how it turned out; the Caps secured the seventh seed, while the Sabres could not take advantage of the momentum gained March 27, falling out of the playoffs by season’s end.

Regardless, Buffalo gave Washington all it could handle this season. It might be difficult to sum up how Caps fans (and the Caps themselves) feel about the Sabres.

Well, maybe not.

Check back later this week for the No. 1 “WTF” moment of the season.

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The ‘KOLWTF’ Countdown – No. 3

To say that the Washington Capitals’ 2011-12 season was tumultuous would be an understatement, but there were several moments that stuck out even more so as being just, well, awful. This is a countdown of those awful moments.

Welcome back to the “KOLWTF Countdown,” where we will look back at the five moments of the season that made us scratch our heads, throw our hands to the sky and simply ask, “Why?” Or more appropriately, “WTF?”

No. 3 – Bad Things (And Red-Line Goals) Come In Threes

Some goals are scored with precision and skill. Others, pure luck. With that being said, during the first half of February, the Washington Capitals’ goaltenders were hexed.

First was Michal Neuvirth on February 1 against the Florida Panthers.

Not to be outdone, Tomas Vokoun was up next eight days later, when he allowed an 82-foot goal to Dustin Byfuglien.

After allowing two long-distance goals in a span of five games, surely it could not happen again – this time to Braden Holtby – right? Not so much.

For those of you keeping score, that is three goals scored on three different goaltenders from an average length of 67.3 feet and, most importantly, three losses.

Bad things do indeed come in threes.

Check back throughout the next two weeks for more “KOLWTF” moments.

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The ‘KOLWTF’ Countdown – No. 4

To say that the Washington Capitals’ 2011-12 season was tumultuous would be an understatement, but there were several moments that stuck out even more so as being just, well, awful. This is a countdown of those awful moments.

Welcome back to the “KOLWTF Countdown,” where we will look back at the five moments of the season that made us scratch our heads, throw our hands to the sky and simply ask, “Why?” Or more appropriately, “WTF?”

No. 4 – February 13 – A Day To Remember…But Not Really

There were plenty of days throughout the season that were filled with nonsensical events, but February 13 stands out above the rest as perhaps the most inane day of the year.

Try to keep up, but first, some background:

February 12

  • Tomas Vokoun leads the Caps onto the ice against the New York Rangers, but ultimately d0es not start after the illness he is suffering from renders him too sick to play.

February 13

  • 10:00 a.m.: Vokoun does not take part in the optional morning skate and while it is not made official at the time, it seems inevitable that Michal Neuvirth will start against the San Jose Sharks. Head coach Dale Hunter says that a decision has not been made on whether or not the team will need to recall a goaltender to replace Vokoun.
  • 5:20 p.m.: Hunter says during his pregame press conference that the Caps have “not yet” recalled anybody.
  • 5:50 p.m.: The Caps officially announce the recalls of Braden Holtby and Joel Rechlicz from AHL Hershey (meaning that both players are in the locker room as Hunter says otherwise 30 minutes earlier).
  • Around 6:45 p.m.: Holtby leads the Caps onto the ice and earns his first NHL start of the season, which comes as a surprise.
  • Around 7:20 p.m.: Rechlicz is officially in the lineup over both Mike Knuble and recent call-up/AHL leading scorer Keith Aucoin, which comes as an even bigger (and more ridiculous) surprise.

And this all happened before the game officially started. Once the game began, however, things got worse.

The Sharks took a 1-0 lead midway through the first period when Joe Pavelski tipped Dan Boyle’s shot from beyond the red line, causing it to bounce off the ice, ricochet off the top of Holtby’s glove hand and trickle into the net. San Jose took a 3-0 lead in the second period, but Dmitry Orlov’s last-second goal gave Washington hope entering the third. Yet, those good feelings did not last long as Brent Burns scored about five minutes into the final frame to restore San Jose’s three-goal lead. The Sharks went on to win 5-3.

(On a completely unrelated, yet equally weird note, the three Washington goal scorers were Orlov, Roman Hamrlik and Jeff Schultz, who entered the game with just two combined goals among them.)

After the game, Holtby said that he found out that he was starting when he arrived at Verizon Center around 2 p.m. after being made aware of his call-up at around 9:30 that morning. When asked about his decision-making process regarding his goaltenders, Hunter said that he did not want Neuvirth to start back-to-back games, forgetting that Holtby also played for the Bears the day before and had to travel to Washington as well.

The fallout continued on February 14, when Hunter further explained his reasoning behind his interesting personnel decisions. In Rechlicz’s case, Hunter said that he inserted the enforcer into the lineup to counteract Sharks tough guy Brad Winchester, who took a run at Alexander Semin during the teams’ other meeting January 7.

“They had that Winchester,” Hunter said. “He ran over Semin and Ovi had to jump in last game…. So, Winchester wasn’t a factor out there tonight.”

Rechlicz only played 1:30 and earned a 10-minute misconduct while seated on the bench for chirping the Sharks’ bench.

Meanwhile, when asked to gauge Neuvirth’s confidence level after being passed over in favor of Holtby, Hunter criticized Neuvirth’s recent play.

“It’s one of those things that if he was standing on his head every night, would Braden be playing? No,” Hunter said. “It’s always judged by how you play.”

Before Hunter spoke February 14, Neuvirth said that he was not told that he was not starting against the Sharks (though he was not necessarily told that he was, either).

What a day.

Check back throughout the next two weeks for more “KOLWTF” moments.

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