The Washington Capitals made a smaller splash on the second day of NHL free agency last week, adding AHL All-Star Matthew Phillips to their organization. Phillips, who left his hometown Calgary Flames, joins a Caps team that will still have some form of familiarity for the 25-year-old forward.
Phillips revealed in a recent interview with the Toronto Sun that growing up he took a liking to Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. The now iconic number eight that Ovechkin sports even led to Phillips wearing the same number throughout his entire pre-Canadian major junior hockey career.
“I was a huge Ovechkin fan,” Phillips said. “I wore number eight for Ovechkin. That was my number, all the way until I hit junior. I actually have an old Caps jersey, but it doesn’t fit me anymore.”
Phillips was one of the AHL’s top players this past season, recording 76 points (36g, 40a) in 66 games. He finished sixth among players to play at least 50 games with his 1.15 point-per-game scoring rate.
#ALLCAPS signed Matthew Phillips to a one-year, one-way contract ($750,000 cap hit)
— Jacob Stoller (@JLStoller) July 2, 2023
As the team’s leading scorer, Phillips helped the Calgary Wranglers clinch the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the AHL’s top team during the 2022–23 season. Despite his tremendous AHL success, the former Flames sixth-round draft pick has only received three games at the NHL level with Calgary over the past three years. That’s one of the major factors that led to him departing for DC.
“It was definitely not an easy thing to land on,” Phillips said. “But, at the end of the day, I just thought this was a good opportunity. It seems like a good fit for me.”
According to Daily Faceoff‘s Frank Seravalli, Phillips turned down a two-year offer from Calgary to sign with the Caps. Phillips was personally reached out to during the free agency process by new Caps head coach Spencer Carbery and was coached at the AHL level the past two seasons by new Caps assistant coach Mitch Love.
Phillips sees his new landing spot as his first real chance to crack the highest level.
“My goal every summer and going into every training camp is to make the NHL team and to play in the NHL,” Phillips said. “I feel like hopefully I have a decent chance to achieve that in Washington. By no means is it something that is going to be handed to me. It’s something I have to work for. You have to beat guys out of jobs. But, I’m excited for that challenge.
“Washington, they checked a lot of boxes and they seemed to like my game and what I can bring,” he continued. “That’s what you’re looking for when you hit free agency is a team that wants you and you want to go there. So, I’m excited for it.”
The one-way nature of the contract that Phillips signed with the Caps means that he’ll be paid $775,000 whether he is in the NHL with the Caps or in the AHL with the Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears. That is a hefty raise to the $140,000 that he made with the Wranglers last season and indicates the Caps will give him a real look during training camp and the preseason.
The Caps have just ten NHL forwards signed to a contract for next season. The final two spots, barring more offseason additions, will be fought for by players like Phillips and prospects like Connor McMichael, Beck Malenstyn, Aliaksei Protas, Joe Snively, etc.
Headline photo: David Moll / Calgary Wranglers
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