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As Braden Holtby enters a contract year, he is determined not to be a distraction

As Braden Holtby enters a contract year, he is determined not to be a distraction

ARLINGTON, Va. -- An early playoff exit gave way to a long offseason for the Capitals. Though certainly a disappointing end to the team’s quest to defend its Stanley Cup title, goalie Braden Holtby was able to take advantage of the extra rest it offered.

Speaking after an informal skate on Wednesday, Holtby said he feels like he has a little more jump in his step after getting more time to heal and rest.

“There’s an opportunity in everything,” he said.

The extra time off was good to have as Holtby prepares to jump from a long offseason into what will likely be a very long season both physically and mentally.

In addition to returning as the No. 1 goalie for a team hoping to win it’s second Stanley Cup in three years, Holtby is in the final year of his contract. As arguably the best goalie in franchise history and still in his prime, it would seem on the surface that bringing Holtby back would be a no-brainer for general manager Brian MacLellan. Holtby’s situation, however, is made far more complicated by a tight salary cap, the Seattle expansion draft and prospect Ilya Samsonov who is widely regarded as the team’s future starter.

Holtby, however, does not want to think about any of those things.

“Obviously, my goal is to win a Stanley Cup here and everything else, I'm not an agent for a reason,” Holtby said. “I'm a hockey player.”

Hotlby’s future with the Caps became more cloudy when goalie Sergey Bobrovsky signed a massive 10-year, $70 million deal with the Florida Panthers in the offseason. Holtby will be the same age next year as Bobrovsky was this year when he became a free agent. With similar stats, Bobrovsky’s contract is an obvious comparable, but that money will be hard for Washington to fit under the cap.

LIke many, Holtby followed Bobrovsky’s free agency, but his main takeaway was not the term or the money the Russian netminder received, it was how it affected his team.

“We try and keep tabs with what's going on around the league,” Holtby said of Bobrovsky. “I'd like to handle it a little different throughout the year to try and just focus on our team and not let it be a media thing.”

Bobrovsky’s free agency hung over the Columbus Blue Jackets all season creating obvious tension within the team. That tension boiled over in January when Bobrovsky left the bench after getting pulled in a game. He was confronted by teammates and benched by the team for a game as a result.

Columbus rebounded to just barely squeeze into the playoffs and upset the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round, but fell short again of their ultimate goal with a second-round loss to the Boston Bruins.

Holtby does not want to see that happen in Washington.

Even entering a contract year, Holtby stressed that his focus is not on himself or his future, but rather the team and winning a Cup. That is a sentiment he has stressed to both his agent, David Kaye, and MacLellan.

“I think that's pretty universal between myself, Dave and Mac,” Holtby said. “These things are a part of every year, different player or whatever, but the number one thing is to not let it be a distraction and go out and win games.”

For a starting goalie, however, keeping this from becoming a distraction is easier said than done. But while Bobrovsky had already determined the prior year that he would be moving on, Holtby made clear he wants to remain with the Capitals.

“This is all I know here,” Holtby said of Washington. “I’d love [to re-sign]. I think that’s pretty clear. But you don’t worry about that stuff. I’m lucky enough to be here for at least right now so happy for that.”

To that end, Holtby believes Kaye is set to meet with MacLellan soon about a possible extension. How realistic a return ultimately ends up being remains to be seen. But even if Holtby realizes that and has started internally moving on from Washington, he shows no sign of it. He has one focus right now and that is enjoying another season with the Caps and trying to win a second Cup.

“It's just one of those things, you let the business side of it take care of it and you focus on your job,” Holtby said. “I'm lucky enough to be under contract for another year to play hockey here so it's pretty fortunate and I'm really looking forward to the opportunity with a great team coming back.”

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The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if Vrana had a top power play role all season?

The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if Vrana had a top power play role all season?

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

Today’s what if: What if Jakub Vrana had a top power-play role all season?

Jakub Vrana may be having the best season that no one is talking about. When you are teammates with one of the best goal scorers of all-time and a bonafide superstar, other players tend to get overshadowed. Just ask Nicklas Backstrom.

Vrana scored 24 even-strength goals in the 2019-20 season, tied for 11th in the NHL. It’s only four behind David Pastrnak, three behind Leon Draisaitl, one behind Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin, tied with Jack Eichel and more goals than players like Mika Zibanejad (23), Nathan MacKinnon (23), Connor McDavid (23) and Brad Marchand. So why isn’t Vrana viewed as the same caliber offensive player as those others? The answer is the power play.

While Vrana ranks 11th in even-strength goals, he ranks tied for 35th overall with 25 goals. That’s right, he has one single power-play goal this season. The 10 players ahead of him in the even-strength goals list averaged just over 10 power-play goals for the season. An extra 10 goals would have tied Vrana with McDavid for 10th in the NHL.

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Vrana did not start the season on the top player play unit. He was actually only moved there late in the season as Washington’s power play struggled. Relegated to the forgotten and rarely used second unit, Vrana only recently started to see more opportunity on the power play resulting in just one goal which came on Jan. 11.

But what if Vrana had been on the top power-play unit all season? Would he have racked up enough goals to garner national attention?

RELATED: 2003 NHL REDRAFT

Probably not as much as you may think.

First, let’s remember that the power play has been terrible this season. It ranks 17th in the NHL overall, but is actually 24th since Dec. 23. Second, there is not a natural spot where Vrana fits on the top power play. He is a sniper, his best asset is shooting and he is not going to replace the player tasked with taking the one-timer from the far faceoff dot, Alex Ovechkin. Vrana was playing the goal line in place of Evgeny Kuznetsov. Based on how Washington's power play has worked the last few years, this spot is primarily for setting up the slot or bouncing it back to the half-wall. Vrana is a better set-up player than many give him credit, but this role really does not put him in the best position to use his shot. More time on the power play should increase his goal total just as a result of him being on the ice more, but based on how the power play has played and how he is used, it probably would not have boosted his totals into being one of the top 10-15 scorers in the NHL this season.

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Redrafting the 2003 draft: Patrice Bergeron could have been a Penguin

Redrafting the 2003 draft: Patrice Bergeron could have been a Penguin

It takes years to determine who the best players in any given draft are. How would past NHL drafts look if they were redrafted today? Let's look back at the 2003 draft and see how it shaped today's NHL.

Here's a look at the first round of 2003 redrafted.

The draft was a total bust for Washington

In the real draft, the Caps took Eric Fehr 18th overall. He played in 652 NHL games. The remaining five players the team drafted combined for one single NHL game. Yikes.

Phaneuf to the Caps?

In the redraft, I had defenseman Dion Phaneuf going to Washington. Before you groan, let's not forget that he played in over 1,000 NHL games and, while he was with Calgary, he looked absolutely dominant. I don't think there are any questions that he struggled handling the pressure as captain of Toronto. Almost every stat takes a precipitous decline when you compare his Calgary numbers to when he was with the Maple Leafs. I don't think that would have been a problem in Washington as just one year after this draft, the Caps selected a guy by the name of Alex Ovechkin who took all the attention. If Phaneuf had been in a city where he could just play, he would have been a top-pair defenseman for most of his career.

This also would have affected the 2004 draft for Washington. The Caps had three first-round picks. They used one on Ovechkin then took Jeff Schultz and Mike Green late in the round. Do they go both defense at that point if they had taken Phaneuf the year before? I'm not so sure.

Would Bergeron have helped Pittsburgh?

Patrice Bergeron was the best player in the 2003 draft. He went with the 45th overall pick to the Boston Bruins. The Pittsburgh Penguins had the No.1 overall pick that year and selected goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. That is not a bad pick by any stretch, but with one of the best two-way forwards of all-time available to them, would Pittsburgh have been able to pass him up knowing how good he really was?

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The interesting thing about this is that if Pittsburgh had taken arguably the better player in Bergeron, it may have cost them in the long run. Fleury was the backstop of three Stanley Cup runs for the Penguins. OK, so he only played in two playoff games in 2016 and yielded the crease to Matt Murray, but he retook the No. 1 job in 2017 when again Pittsburgh won the Cup. Also, just two years after the 2003 draft, the Penguins ended up with a pretty decent two-way center by the name of Sidney Crosby. The idea of a team with both Crosby and Bergeron on it is daunting, but its two players of the same position and they would have still needed a goalie.

The Penguins may not have ended up with the better player overall, but they did get exactly the player they needed in Fleury.

Fleury to Columbus?

In the redraft, Fleury dops from first to fourth and is snagged by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Would Fleury have been able to get Columbus over the playoff hump sooner? That's a tough question to answer.

Goaltending has not been a major weakness for Columbus. Yes, he could have given the team a boost, but the roster was awful there for several years after the expansion draft. When the team did finally make the playoffs for the first time in 2009, it was off the back of an incredible rookie season from goalie Steve Mason. They also had a pretty good netminder in Sergei Bobrovsky from 2013 to 2019, or at least he was pretty good in the regular season.

Correction: regular season goaltending has not been a major weakness for Columbus. Actually, Bobrovsky was terrible in the playoffs for much of his career. Perhaps there is some validity to the argument that better netminding from Fleury -- who is a strong postseason performer -- could have potentially changed the trajectory of the franchise.

See the first round of 2003 redrafted here.

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