It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 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.
Tim K. writes: Why didn't Alex Ovechkin just say he was injured and go to the All-Star Game but not participate? Auston Mathews didn't get suspended because he was "hurt." Does the NHL review paperwork to confirm that a player is truly injured, or do they take the team at their word?
I don't know if the NHL looks into these injuries or how closely, but the big difference between Matthews and Ovechkin, as you pointed out, is that Matthews still went to St. Louis. The All-Star Game is about promoting the NHL more than anything else. Mathews showed up and had his face time with the media. I don't know what would happen if Ovechkin decided not to play and still went to the All-Star Game, but I'm guessing he would have a much better shot at avoiding suspension. Clearly Ovechkin had other places he wanted to rest.
MORE OVI: LOOKING BACK AT A WIDE-EYED OVI ON DRAFT NIGHT
Roger Brinley writes: I disagree with the traditional, ultraconservative view on the goalie situation and the top 6 on the blueline. If I am the GM and coach I am not afraid to go with Ilya Samsonov if he continues to play at a high level given even greater responsibility. I also would not be afraid to swap Martin Fehervary for Nick Jensen and deal Jensen and a future pick to get cap room to acquire more scoring on the third line. Ken Dryden played less than 20 games in the NHL before leading Montreal to the Cup as a rookie. Brian Rafalski helped win a Cup as a rookie d-man and if we can agree Fehervary is not Rafalski a comparison to Connor Clifton from last year's Boston run could end up being an appropriate one. Are we sure MacLellan doesn't see that and is just not looking to rankle veteran feelings until absolutely necessary?
First, a disclaimer. This question came in before the news of Samsonov's injury on Tuesday.
As I have said about every week since the summer, I would be shocked if MacLellan trades Holtby.
Yes, Ken Dryden did indeed lead Montreal to a Stanley Cup in 1971. If you want to use history to determine how the Caps should manage their goalies, there is another historical example of a goalie winning a Stanley Cup that I would argue is more relevant: Holtby in 2018.
Why you would expect a general manager to manage his goalies based on something that happened nearly 40 years ago and ignore something that happened two years ago? Holtby lost his starting job, the Caps needed to make a change in the playoffs and Holtby came in and won a Cup. If you want more recent history, four of the last five Stanley Cup champions have had at least two goalies start in the postseason. In this day and age, teams need two goalies.
None of this is to say that Samsonov absolutely can't handle being the starter in the playoffs, the point is we don't know. If the Caps have a great tandem in Samsonov/Holtby, that's a good spot to be in. I don't look at this as a goalie surplus.
As for Jensen, Fehervary started on the left on Tuesday but played a lot on the right as well and ended up playing most of the game with Orlov. The hole this team has on defense is on the right and I would not be surprised if the Caps are auditioning him for that role. If he can take it from Jensen, I don't know that you need to trade Jensen away. A lot of general managers don't like giving up defensemen this time of year because of the attrition teams run into in the playoffs. If the playoffs start and Jensen is not in the top six, in a long playoff run there's a good chance they would still need him at some point.
Clifton last year played a third-pair role for Boston averaging 13:17 of ice time per game and 32 seconds of shorthanded ice-time per game. The problem the Caps have is they need someone to plug into the top four. Jensen right now is averaging 17:49 per game and 2:19 of shorthanded ice time per game. The Caps would be asking a heck of a lot more from Fehervary than the Bruins did from Clifton if Fehervary were to take Jensen's spot in the lineup.
And while you may not be happy with the offense the team is getting from the third line, Todd Reirden likes how the line is adjusting to its role as a shutdown line. If they look for anything at the trade deadline, it's going to be defense, not offense.
Blake Boynton writes: Why isn’t Todd Reirden running with the hot hand? Give Samsonov as much experience as you can. I see no logic in sitting him over Holtby. Play the guy that gives your team the best chance to win. Thoughts?
Benjamin Cross writes: When will Todd say enough is enough and let the deserving Samsonov take over the starting spot?
Again, these questions were sent before Samsonov was injured.
The fact that Samsonov started Sunday's game against Pittsburgh, the first meaningful game the Caps have played in a long time this season, indicates to me that the starting job for the playoffs is at least up for grabs. But, barring injury, I don't think Reirden will start giving Samsonov a bulk of the starts and I'm not sure it would make sense to.
There are 28 games left in the regular season. How many would you want Samsonov to start? The most games he has played in a single season in his professional career is 37 which he did last year. Add in the playoffs and it is 42 total. If he starts 20 of the last 28 games, for example, that brings him up to 41 before the playoffs even begin. Maybe he can handle that, maybe he can't But you know when would be a bad time to find out he still needs to build up his stamina as a starting goalie? In the playoffs.
There's no need to force Samsonov into 20+ starts to finish the season because they still remain atop the NHL standings and are very comfortably in a playoff spot.
And, don't forget, you also need to keep Holtby engaged too. He is not used to not playing and you have to keep him engaged heading into the playoffs.
Look, if the Caps were battling for a playoff spot and were on the bubble with five other teams then yes, throw caution to the wind and give Samsonov as much as you think he can handle. That's not the position the team is in so they can afford to handle Samsonov with kid gloves.
Drew Crispell writes: Was just wondering what you thought of maybe any one of Sean Walker in LA, Dylan DeMelo in Ottawa or maybe Collin Miller in Buffalo with retained salary as another possibility?
I like Walker a lot. He's a bit unproven still so the scouts would have to be sold on him being able to step into a bigger role and more minutes. I am not sure that would even be a player Los Angeles would be willing to talk about though. They still have Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar and so I don't think that team is looking for a complete tear-down rebuild. A 25-year-old right defenseman with good analytics who is a restricted free agent to me would be part of the plan going forward. If he's available, I think that should definitely be someone the Caps could pursue.
I also like DeMelo as more of a defensive option. He would likely be a pure rental as a pending UFA so you could probably pry him away from Ottawa.
I am not nearly as high on Miller. He is not having a good year, comes with term and Buffalo would have to retain salary. Retaining salary is a much harder sell for a player with term than it is for a rental.
Robert James writes: With Richard Panik's struggles on the third line and Travis Boyd's good offensive productivity in very limited minutes, is there a chance we can see Boyd get extended time on that line? More so given that Eller and Hagelin are very responsible defensively.
What is the Caps' biggest weakness this season? I would argue it is very clearly defense. So why would you take out a two-way forward to put in a player with little defensive upside?
Reirden is starting to use the third line more and more in a shutdown role and for that, Boyd does not fit at all. Boyd has shown an ability to produce offensively when he gets into games which is great. That's a definite asset. But in terms of what Reirden wants the third line to do, Panik is a much better fit.
If the Caps were concerned with Panik, they would have tried Boyd in that spot more than they have to this point.
Jason Woodside writes: Are the Caps really that bad at early games compared to the rest of the league or does it just seem that way with them under our microscope? Is our record much worse than the average or does it just seem that way?
I am guessing this question comes in response to Evgeny Kuznetsov's comments after Sunday's game against Pittsburgh. By my count, including 5 p.m. games, the Caps have played in seven afternoon games and have a record of 3-3-1. I don't know the record of other teams so I can't tell you if they are noticeably better or worse than the rest of the league. I honestly think this has more to do with just the players' annoyance in playing them.
Professional athletes are creatures of habit. When you play at night, they have a routine they go through throughout the day. When you play in the afternoon, that changes everything in terms of how the team prepares for those games.
When you play an afternoon game, both teams have to play at the same time. There's no real advantage for either team. I think Kuznetsov gets that and was expressing frustration because he doesn't like them and would rather have all day to prepare for a big rivalry game.
Ginevra Bridges writes: Could you provide some insight as to why the Capitals haven't pulled up some of the defensive players from Hershey (for example Martin Fehérváry) to see how they play with the team at this point in the season? Would it better to test that out now before the trade deadline and before it gets too close to the playoffs so that they would have the maximum amount of time to adjust or is there a reason the Capitals might wait or not try at all?
You must be pretty happy that Fehervary was recalled and played on Tuesday. One thing Barry Trotz used to say when he was coaching the Caps was that the NHL is not a developmental league. There are some players whose talent dictates they need to play in the NHL, but the vast majority of hockey players benefit from time to develop at lower levels. It can't be understated the value of a player like Fehervary being in Hershey and playing top-four minutes in his first season in North America.
What would be better, Fehervary going in and out of the lineup in a third-pair role for most of the season in Washington or playing every game in a top-four role in Hershey? For his age and where he is in his development, the answer is obvious.
Now yes, if the Caps are serious about Fehervary possibly playing in the top six in the playoffs, you have to figure out now if he can do that before the trade deadline. I probably would have recalled him right out of the all-star break, but I get why they waited until around this time to bring him up.
As for anyone else, Fehervary is far and away the most NHL ready defensive prospect in Hershey. I think Alex Alexeyev has been playing catch up ever since missing training camp.
John Cuevo writes: What are your thoughts about Connor McMichael? He has been fantastic with the London Knights. I have heard he may have been the steal of the 2019 draft at #25.
Opinions are more mixed on him than you would expect given the type of season he is having in London. I think he has proven he has NHL potential without question at this point. I see him as a top-six center but, because his puck-handling and skating are two areas of need, I have seen some speculation that maybe he would be better off on the wing instead of center.
It shouldn't be lost that McMichael's own junior coach, Dale Hunter, started him on the fourth line in the World Juniors. It also shouldn't be lost that he played his way into a much bigger role on the team with continued offensive production as the tournament went on. The point is that the jury is still out on exactly what type of player McMichael can be at the NHL level. I would put his ceiling as a top-line center and his floor as a third-line scoring winger. I think he will end up being much closer to the ceiling than the floor, but that's just my opinion.
Thanks for all your questions! Part 2 of the mailbag will be coming on Thursday. 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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