It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check it out below.
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Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.
Michael K. writes: How would you rate Todd Reirden’s first season as coach? There were a few things I liked and a lot of things I didn't like. Mainly the handling of Dmitrij Jaskin's play and his constant lambasting towards Evgeny Kuznetsov’s play. Are we going to see a lot of the same this season if things go awry?
I’d give him a B grade. Reirden was put in an impossible situation in his first season as a head coach taking over for the defending Stanley Cup champions. There is no way to beat that so chances are his first season was not going to be as good as the season before.
Like with all coaches, regardless of their experience level, there were things I liked and did not like. I was impressed with the way the team recovered from the early season slump and how they rebounded from the seven-game losing streak. At no point during that streak did I get the sense Reirden was losing the locker room. Winning a competitive Metropolitan Division given some pretty significant injuries and fatigue reflects that he did a pretty darn good job. I don’t think we really understood how tired the team was until they reached the playoffs and they were exposed for it.
I also am not going to put Kuznetsov’s season on Reirden. He has had inconsistencies in his game before Reirden took over.
Having said that, it wasn’t all good.
I do not understand what went on with Jaskin. I get that a player needs to take advantage of his opportunities, but he was playing well even if he wasn’t producing. Brian MacLellan essentially signed two replacements for Chandler Stephenson this offseason. If the team was so unsatisfied with his play, there probably was an opportunity to get Jaskin more time. Putting John Carlson on the left in the playoffs was not the best solution for replacing Michal Kempny and it should not have taken as long as it did for Reirden to try something else, nor should it have taken as long for him to try Jonas Siegenthaler. Siegenthaler was with the team during the home stretch of the season. Why not at least experiment with him with Carlson during a game?
The defense was atrocious last season and that is Reirden’s specialty. Having said that, MacLellan made the team much more defensively formidable this offseason so let’s see how a more experienced Reirden handles Year 2.
@Billiebee111 on Twitter asks: If the Caps are really intent on keeping Christian Djoos on the NHL roster, the only way I could see them doing it is by trying to sneak Copley through waivers and bringing up Vitek Vanecek. Do you think they’d risk losing Pheonix Copley and is Vanecek ready to be a No. 2 in the NHL?
To answer your question, I do see the team risking Pheonix Copley to waivers for a few reasons. First, at some point the team is going to have to recall Ilya Samsonov. If you are even thinking about moving on from Braden Holtby, you have to see what you have in his potential replacement. I do not think he is going to get as much time as the team would ultimately like to gauge his future, but I would be stunned if he did not play in the NHL at all this season.
Second, when the team signed Copley through the 2021-22 season, it was clearly with an eye toward Seattle. Every team will have to expose at least one goalie with term in the expansion draft and Copley fulfills that requirement. Now that Vanecek is signed through 2022 as well, it allows the team with some insurance if Copley is claimed off waivers.
Vanecek looked like a much more polished product in the AHL last season than Samsonov, but that is because he is closer to reaching his ceiling in his development. I see him as an NHL backup. It would obviously be a big risk to have Vanecek as the backup and risk losing Copley to waivers because if Vanecek shows he’s not ready after all, then you’re in trouble. There is no clear back-up left in the organization and now you have to recall Samsonov sooner than perhaps expected. If it works out, however, this solves a lot of Washington’s problems. The team can afford both Vanecek and Djoos if Copley and Stephenson are both placed on waivers and Vanecek is waiver exempt meaning there is no risk of losing him whenever the team does decide to recall Samsonov.
Damon C. writes: If Braden Holtby does end up leaving next summer, what should be the plan to fill in for him? Since Samsonov hasn’t had any NHL time (and I won’t assume he gets much this season), it would be hard to throw him into a starting role right away. Pheonix Copley is a good back up but with the core being 1 year older when Holtby’s contract is up, I wouldn’t think the Caps would want to roll with a back up goalie and goalie with no (or maybe little) NHL experience to try and win another cup.
We have talked to death about why this season will likely be Holtby’s last in Washington. What you bring up, Damon, is an important question to consider as well.
OK, so you want to move on from Holtby. Then what?
In many ways, I think the answer to this question will depend on where MacLellan thinks the team is next season. If they crash and burn this season or if there is another first-round playoff exit and it looks like the championship window may be closed, then maybe you do roll with a Samsonov-Copley duo or even Samsonov-Vanecek. In all likelihood, what I find more likely is for the team to sign a veteran backup like Thomas Greiss or Jaroslav Halak and have a goalie tandem. Samsonov is not going to be a 60-game starter in 2020-21. A 50-32 split is a pretty realistic figure.
@TheWuWu on Twitter asks: What does the blue line have to do in order to improve this year over last, especially with the new personnel?
First off, the second pair has to be better. Whether you blame Dmitry Orlov or Matt Niskanen at this point is irrelevant. It just was not good enough. There is a lot riding on Orlov to rebound and for Nick Jensen to feel more comfortable on Washington’s blue line. Analytically, Radko Gudas will be an upgrade over 2018-19 Niskanen and he is on the third pair. As long as he stays on the ice and does not get into trouble with the Department of Player Safety, that will be a huge boon for the defense.
Schematically, the team has to be better on the penalty kill and the forwards need to be more involved in helping the team in its own end of the ice. The biggest thing is Washington must take back control of the slot and the high-danger areas in front of the net. Per Natural Stat Trick, only one team in the NHL allowed more high-danger chances over the course of the 2018-19 season than the Caps did. Washington held the third-worst high-danger scoring chance percentage and has seen that percentage get worse in each of the past five seasons.
That is the area in which the Caps’ most need to improve.
Benjamin C. writes: Caps get to play the defending champs opening night which is kind of scary if we reflect on last year’s game with us. How do you think we do against the St. Louis Blues?
The NHL seems to have an obsession with having the Caps play a team on its banner night. This will mark the fourth time in the past seven seasons Washington played in a game in which the Stanley Cup banner was raised. They obviously won last year’s game at Capital One Arena, but the two games on the road were both losses, one to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 and the other to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016. I do not expect a 7-0 blowout like the one Washington unleashed on the Bruins last season. In fact, I think you may be surprised by how well they play. The Caps have been on both sides of this now and are about as well-equipped to deal with this as anyone given their experience.
Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.
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