ARLINGTON, Va. – General manager Brian MacLellan has some tough decisions to make this summer, but perhaps the two toughest decisions will be about contracts that do not actually expire until 2020.
Both Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby are entering the final years of their contracts with the Capitals, and figuring out just what to do with them may not be as clear cut as you may think.
Backstrom and Holtby were both instrumental to Washington’s Stanley Cup win and are undeniably a part of the team’s core. Both players will go down as some of the greatest to ever wear the Caps’ uniform and, as this is the only NHL team either has ever known, there are many fans who would love to see them spend their entire careers in Washington.
“This is all I know,” Backstrom said. “It’s crazy, but at the same time it’s a great feeling. I couldn’t ask for anything better from the fans and from the city of Washington.”
Entering the final year of their contracts means both can be re-signed as early as July 1. When asked, both players said they would welcome signing an extension if offered.
“I would love that,” Holtby said. “That’s not something that I’m going to try and dwell on or whatever. I’m pretty realistic about what goes on in the business and such. My focus is going to be to put in everything I can this summer to make sure I’m ready to help this team win next year. Everything outside of that you let sort itself out. But it’s pretty clear that I love it here and love this team and the city, but that’s the motivation to work hard and make sure that I do everything I can to make sure we stay here.”
“Honestly, I haven’t really thought about it, but I’ve played here my whole career, so I would like to stay here,” Backstrom said. “I love it here. If they want me, it’s a two-sided story.”
At 31, Backstrom has established himself as one of the top set-up and shutdown forwards in the league. He scored 22 goals and 52 assists in 2018-19 and has recorded at least 70 points in each of the last six seasons.
Holtby, meanwhile, is 29 and recorded 32 wins this past season with a 2.82 GAA and .911 save percentage. He won the Vezina as the league’s top goalie in 2016 and was a runner-up for the award in 2017.
While both players are at the top of their game and would welcome extensions, the decision for the team is a bit more complicated.
“They both have a year left, so we’ll talk to both of them,” MacLellan said. “We’ll have decisions to make as we go throughout the year.”
With a cap hit of only $6.7 million, Backstrom’s contract has been extremely team friendly for several years. He may come to the team looking to be rewarded for that and ask for higher than you would expect or that the team could really afford. Washington is a cap team and does not have much flexibility under the salary cap. That will likely lead to several cap casualties this season and could make it difficult to bring Backstrom back at the price he wants and could get as a free agent.
The goalie market will also make getting a new deal for Holtby a challenge. When you pass 30, most skaters see their value decline. The same is not true for goalies.
At 31, Carey Price just finished the first year of an eight-year contract that carries a cap hit of $10.5 million. Sergei Bobrovsky, 30, is expected to look for a similar contract when he becomes a free agent this summer.
Goalie is one of the most important positions in the game, but committing $10+ million of the salary cap on a single player will be a difficult pill for a team like Washington to swallow. Plus, the team’s top prospect, Ilya Samsonov, is a goalie and after a rocky start has been brilliant in Hershey in his first season in North America.
Keeping those factors in mind, MacLellan said he would not be rushed into re-signing either player.
“I don’t think it matters,” MacLellan said when asked if he would prefer to get those contracts settled before the new season. “We’ll have conversations and if it feels like it’s going in the right direction, then we can get more assertive on it.”
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