Capital Letters: I'm Cuckoo for Kuznetsov!

Welcome back to "Capital Letters," a poorly planned mailbag where I answer any and all questions relating to the local professional hockey team.

The NHL is in the midst of a two-week hiatus for the Winter Olympics, but my adequate coverage never takes a day off. Your questions. 


Everyone and their mother wants to know when Evgeny Kuznetsov, the Capitals' highly-touted and injury-prone prospect drafted nearly four years ago, will finally arrive stateside. 

As of this writing, Kuznetsov's KHL club, Traktor Chelyabinsk, is in eighth place in the league's Eastern Conference with four games remaining. The last day of the regular season is March 4, and Traktor's first potential playoff game is March 8.

Each series is best-of-seven, so below are the dates of a full seven-game series in the East:

  • Quarterfinals: March 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16 and 18
  • Semifinals: March 21, 22, 24, 25, 27, 29 and 31
  • Final: April 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 and 15
  • League Championship: April 18, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28 and 30

Assuming Traktor holds onto the eighth spot, then they will face top-seeded Metallurg Magnitogorsk, the KHL's second-best team so far this season. My knowledge of KHL hockey is rudimentary at best, but if Traktor is eliminated as one would expect in such a situation, then Kuznetsov could be available to join the Capitals by late March.

if and when Kuznetsov does arrive, he will have to sign an entry-level contract. Kuznetsov will sign a two-year contract; he will be 22 on Sept. 15 of this year, and 22- and 23-year-olds are required to sign two-year ELCs, per the NHL collective bargaining agreement. To clear up any confusion regarding the age requirement, here is the explanation in the CBA:

As used in this Article, "age," including "First SPC Signing Age," means
a Player's age on September 15 of the calendar year in which he signs an SPC, regardless of his actual age on the date he signs such SPC.

Because he was drafted in 2010, his maximum base salary per season is $900,000. And according to the invaluable CapGeek, that would be Kuznetsov's salary cap hit for the remainder of the season. (Anything after that, including signing and performance bonuses, is way over my head. Please consult a competent mathematician or assistant general manager for more details.)

So how does that fit into Washington's current cap situation?

Again, let us assume Kuznetsov receives the maximum base salary and that Aaron Volpatti, currently on long-term injured reserve with an upper-body injury, is activated when the team reconvenes after the Olympic break. The Capitals will have 21 active players on their roster with $1,329,725 of available space, more than enough to squeeze Kuznetsov in temporarily. (I say temporarily because if/when Jack Hillen and his $700,000 hit are activated, then the Capitals will not have enough room.)

Some sort of reconfiguration will be necessary to fit in Kuznetsov for the final month(s) of the season, but we can revisit this when I actually see him on American soil with my own four eyes.

As for what position he will play, my understanding is that he plays right wing for Traktor, but with a left-handed shot, I picture coach Adam Oates sliding him over to the left side of Washington's top six. 

Either a first line featuring Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin or a second line of Kuznetsov, Mikhail Grabovski and Troy Brouwer would certainly be enticing. Then again, anything sounds better than Marcus Johansson, Casey Wellman and Brouwer. 

Great question, Tommy (if that IS your real name). The Capitals were able to initiate contract negotiations with Grabovski on Jan. 1, and last month, his agent, Gary Greenstin, said that the two sides have begun to talk.

"He's comfortable here," Greenstin said at the time. "Good coaching staff, he fits here very well, but Grabo is very talented center. He's able to play in a lot of organization the same role. He's a first-two liner, he reads the game very well, but we'll see what's happening. Most likely he'll stay here."

The question is how much it will take for the Capitals to retain Grabovski's services. The 30-year-old has certainly met expectations; before suffering a left ankle injury that forced him to miss the final eight games prior to the Olympic break, Grabovski was one of Washington's most consistent forwards.

With 33 points, he has already eclipsed his point total from all of last season (16) and has fit in seamlessly throughout the lineup. (He has been on the ice for 55.4 percent of Washington's goals at even strength, which leads the team, as does his 51.8 Corsi percentage.)

Grabovski is due a raise from the $3 million he is earning this season, but would you be willing to give him upwards of $4.5 million? Keep in mind that the salary cap is expected to rise from $64.3 million this season to about $71 million next season, so room is not necessarily an issue.

Personally, I find anywhere between $4-5 million per season to be fair value for a player of Grabovski's caliber. 
The easy answer is 57, because that is what he is on pace for (that would mean 17 goals in his final 23 games). Yet something that must be factored in is the post-Olympic hangover. Unfortunately, there is no formula for that.
The widely held belief is that Ovechkin internalized Russia's sixth-place finish in Vancouver four years ago, which manifested itself in his overall play. 
Using 2010 as a guideline, Ovechkin entered the Vancouver Olympics with a league-leading 42 goals in 54 games, which averages out to .77 goals per game. Upon his return, he scored eight goals in 18 games, .44 goals per game.
This season, Ovechkin scored 40 goals in 55 pre-Olympic games, a pace of .73 goals per game. Let us say that Ovechkin once again has some sort of "letdown" in March and April and scores at the .44 goals-per-game pace he did in 2010. With 23 games left, that would equate to 10 goals. That gives him 50 on the season, which coincidentally was what he finished with in 2010.
Fifty goals is a lock as long as Ovechkin stays healthy (or does not viciously board Brian Campbell in a post-Olympic game again when the Capitals play the Florida Panthers on Feb. 27) and does not miss any significant time down the stretch.
As for a concrete number, put me down for 52. If I am right, then I will gladly accept your praise and admiration.

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