Capitals

Capitals

It’s time for the weekly Capitals mailbag! Check out the Jan. 23 edition below.

Have a Caps question you want answered for next week’s mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Edward F. writes: What changes do you think are forthcoming to end this streak? Do you think a trade happens and what player would you like for use to get that will fit in right away on a 3rd or 4th line?

Benjamin C writes: The Capitals’ top 6 aren’t concerning me too much but the 3rd and 4th lines are. When will Eller and Conolly or Burakovsky contribute more? My other question is will the defense get themselves together?

You both had similar questions so I tried to combine them here.

I actually don’t believe there needs to be any drastic changes to overcome the losing streak. They just need to get back to the basics. Simple plays, simple mentality, 100-percent effort. Before the All-Star break, Todd Reirden was making a few drastic lineup changes to try to spark the team and understandably so, but I thought some of those changes didn’t make sense, and I would like to see the team get back to what works.

To that end, the first change should be putting Michal Kempny back with John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov with Matt Niskanen. Kempny, Orlov and Niskanen have all struggled, but putting Orlov with Carlson and Kempny with Niskanen has not worked. In fact, they have arguably been worse since those pairs were shuffled. I don’t think those combinations compliment the players as well as the original pairs do.

 

Second, do whatever it takes to get Evgeny Kuznetsov back on track. He is too important to the offense to have only two 5-on-5 goals at this point in the season.

Third, get rid of the Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie line. That line worked in the past and is talented enough to put some occasional points on the board, but it is too slow for this age of hockey and the few points they do manage together only mask the clear deficiencies of that line.

Finally, I am pulling the trigger on an Andre Burakovsky trade. Before the losing streak, I thought the team had the luxury of waiting until after the season if the right deal did not come along. Now, I believe they need to make a move. The production just isn’t there for him, and that third line needs a spark in the worst way.

There are a number of players I think could boost that line. My dream trade would be to get Jesse Puljujarvi from Edmonton, but I think the asking price will be too high. A guy like Brian Boyle would be a much more realistic target, though I would expect more back for a 23-year-old Burakovsky than a 34-year-old rental. Another intriguing possibility would be Valeri Nichushkin from Dallas. He’s also a young player in need of a change of scenery.

A trade to bolster the third line could be just the wake-up call Eller and Connolly need.

Nathan S. writes: At what point do Caps make a coaching change? Do you see any roster overhaul i.e. breaking up the core given that the team is failing badly on a nightly basis?  

This team is nowhere close to considering a coaching change. The organization felt so strongly about Reirden’s coaching ability that they promoted him to associate coach in 2016 and barred him from interviewing with other teams. He has been a head coach for a grand total of 50 games. That is not nearly enough of a sample size to judge him on. The only reason why a coaching change would be considered is if he loses the locker room, and there is zero indication we are anywhere close to that at all. It’s not going to happen.

I also think it’s a bit harsh to say this team is failing on a nightly basis. They have lost seven straight. Before that, they were 27-12-4. That’s not failing on a nightly basis.

Washington has hit a tough spot in the season. Seven straight losses in the regular season is not going to suddenly trump winning the Stanley Cup, which this team did with virtually the same roster. Brian MacLellan went to great lengths to keep the roster intact this season, he’s not going to abandon that now and starting trading away the core in a panic move.

 

I would not be surprised to see Andre Burakovsky traded, but as far as core players go, no I do not anticipate the team tearing apart the roster this season.

Carl L. writes: Since the Capitals desperately need a good face-off man and they have basically given up on Burakovsky, why not trade him to Vancouver for Jay Beagle? They’re both making about $3M a year and, unlike Burko, Beagle’s salary won’t go up next year.

There are three reasons you don’t make this move. First, the Caps are not getting equal value in this deal. Trading away a 23-year-old forward who, though he has struggled, still has a high ceiling for a 33-year-old fourth line forward is not a good trade.

Second, you are solving one problem by creating another. Adding a fourth line center leaves a hole on the third line, and simply promoting one of the team’s five fourth line players is not the answer. Strengthening the team’s fourth line at the expense of the third is not a viable solution, and you’ve also made it harder to fill that role by trading away one of your top trade assets.

Third, I’m sorry to say this because he’s such a great guy, but Beagle’s contract is not a good one. Two more years at $3 million for a 33-year-old fourth line player is pricey. To intentionally take on a bad contract like that on a team that is always up against the salary cap like the Caps frequently are makes no sense to me.

MacLellan has been open about the fact that he prefers to sign third and fourth line players to one-year contracts. This is why.

Eller is a notable exception because he is a center, but for depth wingers, MacLellan prefers the shorter-term deals. Connolly, Devante Smith-Pelly and Nic Dowd will be unrestricted free agents after this season and Vrana, Burakovsky, Dmitrij Jaskin and Chandler Stephenson will be restricted. Vrana is the only guy in that group the team must re-sign. The others they could potentially walk away from if the asking price is too high for what the team is looking for.

So to answer your question, I think the team would love to return all those players listed, but if they can’t make the money work I also believe they will have no qualms about letting them walk and going after other alternatives. Whether those come from low-risk, high-reward signings that MacLellan loves to make or you promote someone like Riley Barber remains to be seen.

I don’t see this happening. MacLellan really puts an emphasis on the importance of center depth and the bottom line is that Eller is just plain better than Boyd is right now. Sure, Boyd should continue to improve, but he’s not a 22-year-old prospect -- he’s 25. A reasonable case could be made that Eller’s play is above Boyd’s ceiling.

 

Eller is locked up at a pretty reasonable cap hit and he also happens to be the guy who scored the Cup clinching goal. I don’t see the team moving on from him after this season just one year into a new five-year contract negotiated by the current general manager.

Jimmy H writes: How much longer do you see Ovechkin playing or renegotiating his contract?

Minor quibble, but I think it is important to note for those who may not know this, the CBA does not allow for players to renegotiate their contracts. This may be a fairly common practice in the NFL, but hockey players can’t do it.

I know you probably mean renegotiating in terms of re-signing once his current deal is over, but I like to point that out because I have had a lot of people ask me about why some players don’t renegotiate their deals and the answer is that they can’t.

As for your question, I spoke with Ted Leonsis about Ovechkin at the start of the season. Here are his thoughts:

The great thing about Alex, and he's got three more years, he's a man with great, great pride. He also knows his place in history. If at the end of his contract he's playing as a first line player and he's all-star caliber, he'll want to continue his career and of course we'd want Alex here for the rest of his career. But I do not believe you will ever see Alex Ovechkin 'hanging on.' If he can't be a great, great player, he's not going to play for the money.

I agree with this sentiment. As long as he wants to stay in Washington, the Caps will make that happen, but I also don’t think we are going to see him stick around the same way a Jerome Iginla or Jaromir Jagr did. When he really starts to decline, I don’t see him staying just to be a third or fourth line, 15-goal player.

I will also say this -- I think there are many Caps fans who assume he will leave to play in the KHL. He may ultimately do this, but as long as he can be a top line player in the NHL, I believe he will stay in Washington. He is incredibly competitive, and the NHL is just plain better than the KHL. Returning to Russia is never going to be off the table, but I don’t see him going back until he is convinced his days as an NHL star are over.

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in next week’s mailbag, send it in to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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