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The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if the team stuck with Copley as backup goalie?

The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if the team stuck with Copley as backup goalie?

We are looking at some of the biggest “what ifs” for the Capitals for the 2019-20 season.

Today’s what if: What if the Caps stuck with Pheonix Copley as their backup goalie over Ilya Samsonov?

Often times the most important stat for a backup goalie is wins. With an established No.1 netminder, as the Caps have had in Braden Holtby, the most important job of a backup is to be able to step into the lineup and win games. If not, it forces a team to overwork its starter. Pheonix Copley was able to go 16-7-3 in 27 games for Washington in 2018-19 , his first full NHL season. Because of that, it would have been absolutely understandable had the team decided to use him as the backup behind Holtby again this season. As much as Ilya Samsonov has been heralded as the next starter of the franchise, he came into 2019-20 with zero NHL experience.

Yes, with Holtby on the final year of his contract, it was important to get Samsonov playing time this season, but this was viewed as a legitimate competition in training camp. What if Samsoinov just did not look ready yet?

The first thing that would have happened is the team would have had to make a move to clear salary. Copley's cap hit is $1.1 million, slightly higher than Samsonov's $925,000. With the team so close against the cap, once Evgeny Kuznetsov returned from suspension and Michal Kempny returned from injury, the team would not have had enough cap space with Copley on the roster. All this likely would have meant was seeing the Chandler Stephenson trade happen a lot faster than it ultimately did in December.

The impact may not have been all that different in terms of roster makeup, but the team likely would have struggled on the ice. This is not to disparage Copley who has proven himself to be a capable backup, but along with his strong record last season, he also had a .905 save percentage and 2.90 GAA. Those two numbers are not nearly as impressive. With the team struggling at times this season, that likely would have translated to more losses with Copley in net. Considering Washington ended up winning the Metropolitan Division by a single point thanks in large part to the NHL have to pause and then cancel the remainder of the regular season, the Caps would almost certainly be lower in the standings.

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Perhaps Copley would have been able to improve on his numbers and overall performance in a second NHL season, but would he have been able to give Washington the 16-6-2 record, .913 save percentage and 2.55 GAA that Samsonov provided? Probably not.

RELATED: WHAT IF THE SEASON NEVER PAUSED?

That fact is that with Holtby's contract situation, we would have seen Samsonov in the NHL at some point in the 2019-20 season and the team's struggles probably would have prompted a recall as a way to shake things up while also getting a look at what he could provide in the NHL going forward.

Copley starting the season as the backup would have delayed the inevitable Samsonov call-up that had to happen this season, regardless of how well Copley managed to play behind Holtby.

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T.J. Oshie shows you don't always have to have a letter on your chest to be a leader

T.J. Oshie shows you don't always have to have a letter on your chest to be a leader

When T.J. Oshie took to the ice on Monday for the round robin game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, he did so with an "A" on his chest. With John Carlson out, his A went to Oshie. It was not a major talking point before the game and was mentioned only briefly afterward by head coach Todd Reirden. Oshie taking the A wasn't a major storyline not because no one cared, it was because no one needed Oshie to wear a letter to know he was a leader.

In the second period against the Tampa Bay, Oshie dropped the gloves with Tampa Bay forward Yanni Gourde in the second period while the Caps were down 2-0 and struggling to find any intensity in their game. Less than five minutes later, the game was tied at 2. It was the clear turning point of the game and helped the Caps earn a point in a game that looked like it was getting away from them.

"He has an A on his jersey without Carlson and clearly a leadership move right there and the results speak for themselves," head coach Todd Reirden said. "He does a tremendous job with our leadership group and that was another signal of the type of person he is, the character he has.”

The energy Oshie brings to a team is evident. You can watch his interviews, see his interactions with his family or even check out the butt tap. That type of energy is contagious and goes a long way towards loosening a team up and giving them confidence in key moments.

"He is a great teammate and everything he does inside the locker room on a daily basis that everyone doesn’t get to see," Nicklas Backstrom said, "He is always positive, comes in with a lot of energy."

He added, "[Oshie] brings everything to the table."

But it's not just about what he does off the ice that makes him a leader.

Oshie has fought before, but no one would label him a "fighter." It's not something he does not do often -- his last fight came back in May of 2018 against Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang -- but he did it when the team needed it on Monday and that's what makes Oshie a leader.

If the team needs a goal, Oshie scores. If the team is in a shootout, Oshie always goes. If the team needs a fight, he drops the gloves.

That fight against Letang? It came in the final minute of Game 4 in the second-round series against the Penguins. After that game, Washington would not lose to Pittsburgh again.

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When it comes to talking about the Caps as a contender, we can talk about the skill they have, the size, the speed, etc., but there's something else to consider: The leaders. The fact that the Caps can turn to someone like Oshie to wear the A when needed is a sign of the amount of leadership on the roster. And that's not even including guys like Braden Holtby, Lars Eller or Tom Wilson, a player many believe will be the next C after Ovechkin.

In terms of leaders, Washington is full of them.

And that's evident when a player like Oshie steps onto the ice wearing an A and no one notices. That's because he's always been a leader and it doesn't take wearing a letter for his teammates to recognize it.

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Lars Eller departs the bubble for birth of his second child

Lars Eller departs the bubble for birth of his second child

Capitals forward Lars Eller has left the NHL bubble in Toronto to be with his family for the birth of his second child, the team announced Wednesday. Eller had made it known he intended to do so before even arriving in Toronto so the news of his departure is no surprise.

Eller is actually not the first player to voluntarily leave the bubble for the birth of a child. That honor goes to Ivan Barbashev of the St. Louis Blues who departed on Tuesday.

Eller’s departure means he will miss Thursday’s game, Travis Boyd is expected to step into Eller’s position at third line center. Boyd has largely been an extra for much of the season in Washington and played in only 24 games, but still managed 10 points. Boyd also has experience playing the third-line center role in the playoffs as he did it in 2018 during the team’s Cup run. An injury to Nicklas Backstrom pushed Eller into the second line, which allowed Boyd to get into the lineup.

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Eller’s return will be complicated. It is not just a matter of rejoining the team, but also being able to re-enter the NHL’s bubble which will mean a period of quarantine and testing. That means that even upon returning to Toronto, he will not be available to join the team right away. Eller will almost certainly miss the team’s final round robin game as well against the Boston Bruins on Sunday.

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