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Brian MacLellan wants to re-sign both Holtby and Backstrom, but is that realistic?

Brian MacLellan wants to re-sign both Holtby and Backstrom, but is that realistic?

As the Capitals prepare for the upcoming season, talk of next season is already starting to take over due to the uncertainty surrounding Braden Holtby and Nicklas Backstrom’s future. Both players are in need of new contracts and, not surprisingly, general manager Brian MacLellan would like to keep both.

“We’re going to communicate with both players,” MacLellan said at media day. “Both guys have been a big part of our organization, big part of our success. We’d love to keep both. We’re going to play it out until the end here.”

But is it realistic to keep both players? The unfortunate reality is that it’s not.

First, we have to project how much Holtby and Backstrom could sign for.

Holtby has a very close comparable with Sergei Bobrovsky who just signed a seven-year, $70 million contract. Holtby and Bobrovsky’s regular season stats are almost identical while Holtby has enjoyed much more playoff success. That means the Caps would be looking at a cap hit somewhere in the $10 million range.

For Backstrom, a player of his caliber will be able to command a sizable contract from around the league even at 32 which he will be when he hits free agency. A 34-year-old Joe Pavelski just got a contract from the Dallas Stars with a $7 million cap hit. I view Backstrom’s range to be about $7 to 8.5 million, but $7 million at an absolute minimum.

Basically, to re-sign Holtby and Backstrom will cost the team about $17 million in cap space per year at a minimum.

But wait, those guys want to stay in Washington, right? So they definitely will be willing to take less!

Don’t count on it.

“There’s always that area where you can work with, but at the same time you have a responsibility to the other players in the league too,” Holtby said at media day when asked about taking less money to stay with the Caps.

As for Backstrom, he has played the last 10 years with a cap hit of $6.7 million which is an absolute steal. Why would he take less now when he has already been taking less for a decade?

Let’s ignore the discussion of whether it is worth committing that much money to two players who are over 30 on an aging roster. The question is if the Caps have room under the cap for $17 million?

Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson, Lars Eller, Jakub Vrana, Carl Hagelin, Richard Panik, Garnet Hathaway, Nic Dowd, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Michal Kempny, Nick Jensen and Pheonix Copley are all under contract for the 2020-21 season. That’s just over $62 million in cap space committed to 10 forwards, four defensemen and one goalie. Add in Backstrom and Holtby and their potential $17 million hit and you have a cap hit of over $79 million for 11 forwards, four defensemen and two goalies. The team will still need to sign two more forwards and three more defensemen.

We do not know what the cap ceiling will be for next season, but it is not expected to climb significantly. Let’s say it goes up to $83 million. That means the Caps will have less than $4 million to sign another five players. The minimum NHL salary for next season will be $700,000. If the Caps add five players at the league minimum, they can just barely fit under the ceiling, but that obviously is not a realistic scenario for how to build a competitive roster. Anything above the league minimum the team will not be able to afford and there are only two players in the entire organization, including prospects, who will carry a cap hit of $700,000 in the 2020-21 season.

Now that is just a projection, we ultimately do not know if the salary cap could go up more, but this projection also does not take into account any of the team’s RFAs including Jonas Siegenthaler who by that point will be due a significant raise.

The bottom line is that there is no way for the Caps to afford both Holtby and Backstrom without a significant trade to free up salary. Even then, whatever extra cap room the team gains from such a trade, much of it will go to RFAs, prospects and other UFAs the team may pursue.

An extension for Holtby and Backstrom handcuffs the entire offseason and would not allow Washington to do pretty much anything else. Whatever other needs the team may have, MacLellan would not be able to afford to address.

That’s not a recipe for success.

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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Who is the most underrated Caps player of all-time?

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Who is the most underrated Caps player of all-time?

It’s time for a new Capitals Mailbag! You can read Wednesday’s Part 1 here.

Check out Part 2 below.

Have a Caps question you want answered in the next mailbag? You can submit your questions here at the Capitals Mailbag submissions page on NBCSportsWashington.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Justin Cade writes: Who do you think is the most underrated/underappreciated player in Caps history?

So I have a  few candidates for this, but when I first read this question one name instantly came to mind. It is a current player so I went back and scoured through a list of all the players in franchise history to make sure this was not just a product of recency bias. In the end, I am having a hard time finding a better option. The most underrated player in Caps' history is Braden Holtby.

There, I said it.

Holtby is the best goalie in franchise history and was one of the key pieces in a Stanley Cup run and every time he lets in a questionable goal, I get inundated with people telling me that he is terrible, has always been terrible and he should be traded immediately.

Now, let's be clear. I am not talking about the people who think the team should move on from Holtby this season when his contract expires -- heck, I'm in that camp -- I am talking about the people who are unceasingly critical and disparaging not only of Holtby's recent play, but of the entire career of, let me repeat myself, the best goalie in franchise history.

Holtby became the undisputed No. 1 goalie in 2013-14. Since that time, no goalie in the NHL has played more games than Holtby and no goalie has more wins. Holtby has a whopping 20 more victories than Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask who is second in that stretch despite playing only 13 more games so don't tell me his win total is just a product of the number of games he has played. Before the Cup win, he was criticized as being a poor playoff performer which is ridiculous. Holtby has the fifth-best playoff save percentage of all-time. Of all time!

But JJ, what about Olie Kolzig?

Kolzig was great. I loved him when I was growing up. Holtby has a better career GAA and save percentage, both players have a Vezina Trophy to their name and, oh yeah, Holtby has a freakin' Cup. And yet, Kolzig is revered by the fanbase while I am left constantly having to defend Holtby.

Do I think he is past his prime? Sure, but the way in which people downplay how important a player Holtby has been to this franchise is staggering. To think he has not been a key factor in the team's success including the Cup run is just plain wrong.

Maybe this is a product of the fact that probable replacement, Ilya Samsonov, is younger, cheaper and already on the roster. Maybe 10 years from now, people will feel differently about Holtby, but for now it is stunning to me how many people undercut what he has accomplished.

There are two other names I wanted to bring up. First, Mike Ridley. Ridley has the fifth-most goals in franchise history with 218, but for some reason he has seemingly faded into history in the minds of Caps fans. If I told you to list the greatest players in franchise history, how far down the list would you have to go before you thought of Ridley? A guy who scored 218 goals and 329 assists in 588 games for Washington probably deserves more recognition.

The other name is another recent player: Alex Semin. I am not saying he is underappreciated, he did not take full advantage of his skills during his NHL career. That is not debatable. I guess this is just more of a quibble I have with the word "bust."

Sasha Pokulok was the Caps' first-round draft pick in 2005. He never played a single game in the NHL. That's a bust. Semin played 650 NHL games with 239 goals and 517 total points. That's not a bust.

Was he disappointing considering his talent level? Sure, but he still produced a heck of a lot of points while wearing a Caps sweater.

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John Schecter writes: Could you discuss and explain some of the various "systems" that teams use in hockey?

There are a lot of people who could explain this better than me, but I can give you the basics. A hockey system is basically the tactics of how a team plays. Hockey is a very fluid game and, as a result, it can look as if the players are largely winging it. You try to keep the puck out of the net and when you get it, you head down the ice as quickly as possible, pass to a teammate and shoot. Done. In reality, just about every aspect of what the players do on the ice is meticulously planned, coached and practiced.

How aggressive is the forecheck? Who's responsible for the forecheck? How do you defend the neutral zone? Do you try to trap? How do you defend the blue line? How does the defense defend in any given situation? How do you break the puck out of the defensive zone? How do you transition on offense? How aggressive are the forwards on the breakout looking for odd-man rushes? How do you break the puck in? How much does the team dump and chase? How does the team set up offensively? What type of shot is the offense looking for?

I think it is a little easier to grasp the different systems in football where it can be largely and easily defined such as a spread offense, wishbone, a 4-3 defense, etc. Hockey is more nuanced because the game is free-flowing and everyone has different responsibilities depending on where the puck is, who is on the ice and the situations. To really understand a hockey system in the NHL requires an insane level of knowledge and understanding of the game that is beyond most of us, including me. I can give you the basics, but believe me, it gets very complicated very quickly.

Austen Bundy writes: Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are obviously going to have their numbers retired together but I've always wondered why Scott Stevens, Peter Bondra and Olie Kolzig never had theirs retired. Any historical or practical insight you can provide on this, JJ?

This is something that I have argued about for years. First off, my guess with Stevens is that it is because he spent the majority of his career and had the most success in New Jersey. He had eight good seasons with Washington and what the team ultimately had to show for it was the five first-round draft picks the team received to compensate them for the offer sheet Stevens signed with St. Louis. I don't know why the Caps have not retired Bondra or Kolzig's numbers but if it were up to me, I wouldn't. I know that gets a lot of people riled up, but I have an extremely high standard for retired numbers.

There are only three numbers that should be retired by the franchise: 5, 8 and 19. That's it. That's the list.

Being a good player for a team is not a good enough reason to get your number retired. Believe me, it pains me to say this. I grew up watching Bondra and Kolzig play, I loved both of them. Bondra was my favorite player. But that's not good enough for no one else to ever wear No. 12 again.

Rod Langway, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom not only played hockey at an elite level for the team, but their impact on the franchise went well beyond good play. You have to have a greater impact on the franchise than just being good at hockey. To me, that's what it should take and those are the only three who meet that standard.

Jules A. writes: How would you rank each version of the Caps’ jerseys from start of the franchise to now?

  1. Original red
  2. Blue Stadium Series
  3. Current white
  4. Current red
  5. Black
  6. White eagle
  7. Original white
  8. Maroon Winter Classic
  9. Blue eagle

The hatred of the old red jerseys stems largely from the team's abysmal record while wearing them this season, but if you step back and actually look at them, you will recognize the undeniable beauty. That and the blue Stadium Series jerseys are far and away the two best jerseys this team has worn. It's a shame we only got to see the Stadium Series jersey twice.

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be answered in the next mailbag, you can submit it here at the Capitals Mailbag submissions page on NBCSportsWashington.com.

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John Carlson sees a centralized tournament as a 'longshot' for the NHL

John Carlson sees a centralized tournament as a 'longshot' for the NHL

It has been almost a month since the NHL season was paused. As the calendar has turned from March to April, that has people getting antsy for a possible return. Though NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman cautioned that the league was still weeks away from making any decisions about returning to action, different scenarios are beginning to be discussed. Not everyone, however, believes all of those proposals are realistic.

One proposal, as reported by Elliotte Friedman, is a centralized tournament in North Dakota, similar to the MLB's plan of gathering all the teams in Arizona to play the season. The basic idea is that the teams would gather into one location where they can be isolated. Travel would not be necessary as the teams would be playing in empty arenas.

The idea of a centralized tournament seems to be gaining some traction as the league would not need to wait until the coronavirus pandemic ends. Instead, it would be a way for the league to get back into action earlier by playing in empty arenas and mitigating the risk of the spread of the virus to players and personnel as much as possible.

Not everyone, however, is sold.

“I think it seems like a longshot, but I think that any option is a good option at this point with all the uncertainty going around," John Carlson said Wednesday on a video conference when asked about a centralized tournament. "I think it would be cool. We’ve all been away from each other for a while now and it would be nice to have the abbreviated training camp and maybe play as many games as we need to at something like that. That would kick start everyone back into gear and get ready for the rest of the season and the playoffs.”

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Carlson shared he was of the opinion that having at least an abbreviated finish to the regular season would be beneficial, but he understands that may not be possible. In fact, it doesn't sound as if he expects that even to be a realistic scenario.

As various reports of proposals for the NHL MLB and even the NBA potentially playing in Las Vegas, Carlson is trying not to get his hopes up and is keeping both feet planted firmly in the real world.

"I'm just worried about playing at this point," Carlson said. "I don't want to be too optimistic of coming back so quickly and being able to finish the regular season and all that. All I'm thinking about right now is trying to keep myself in the best shape that I can with the circumstances and whatever the rest of the season holds, I'll worry about that when I lace the skates up again."

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