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.
Craig Boden writes: I think it's a joke that Alex Ovechkin has to sit a game for not going to the All-Star Game. He has put in his time at all the All-Star games he has been to and pushing 35 needs the time off. There has to be a better way to handle this for veteran players.
I get it from both sides. I totally understand why Ovechkin would want to have the time off and why he may feel like he has done enough to promote the game. But someone is going to have to explain to me why it would make sense for the league to tell anyone its OK not to go. How does that make sense?
The league wants to promote its biggest stars. Ovechkin was voted in by the fans. No one can convince me it is good for the game to allow him to just say no without any penalty. The fact is most veterans do get protection from having to go to the All-Star Game. It's called aging and it just does not seem to apply to Ovechkin. While he remains one of the top stars and best players in the league, of course people are going to want to see him and of course the league is going to want to compel him to be there.
Again, I'm not criticizing Ovechkin. I understand completely his desire to rest, I'm just saying it is ridiculous to think the NHL should be OK with its biggest stars not going. If you already dislike the All-Star Game, how would it suddenly get better if players are allowed to opt out?
The only change I would make to the current rule is that I would stipulate the suspension should have to be for the next home game. Washington fans have the chance to see Ovechkin play all the time. Montreal fans do not and they missed their chance because of the suspension.
Case Reed writes: Let's say the Caps go all the way and finish the season with the President's Trophy. Do you think that would hamper their chances of the Stanley Cup? It seems like very few President Trophy-winning teams actually win it all.
The last time a Presidents' Trophy winner won the Cup was in 2013 when the Chicago Blackhawks did it. To me, the fact that the top team in the regular season rarely wins in the playoffs speaks more to the parity of the league and the unpredictability of the NHL postseason. I really do not look at the Presidents' Trophy like it is somehow detrimental to a team. Coaches and players are paid to win. That's their goal and you will never convince me that losing is somehow more beneficial than winning or that fans should be rooting for the Caps to be good, but not that good. Having said that, that does not mean there are not potential pitfalls to having success or benefits to losing. A good coach can find both.
The common theory when it comes to Presidents' Trophy winners is that those teams are not tested enough in the regular season and that's why they fail in the playoffs. I don't buy it. You mean to tell me Tampa Bay wasn't getting every team's best shot last year when they were far and away the top team in the NHL? To me, the biggest pitfall to being the top team in the league is that those teams are not forced to acknowledge or account for their weaknesses. Opponents can't always exploit those weaknesses in the regular season when you are playing a different team every night, but give a good coach and a good team time to gameplan for a series, and they will find all of those weaknesses. When you are having a lot of success it can be hard for the coach to get his message across about how the team needs to improve. There is no sense of urgency to fix those issues because the team is doing just fine regardless.
In the Bruce Boudreau era, the Caps clearly thought they could outscore their problems and they could...in the regular season. When it became harder to score in the playoffs with defenses ready for the Caps, suddenly the team had no response offensively and its defensive weaknesses were all exposed.
So if the Caps win the Presidents' Trophy, I would not take that to be a bad sign for their playoff hopes. If they take that success as a sign that they don't need to improve defensively, well then that's an issue.
Stephan Johnson writes: Can the Capitals make a Stanley Cup run provided they can both stop and score during the power play?
Well, this question really assumes that special teams is the biggest issue and I would argue that it's not. I think defense is a much bigger issue for this team. The penalty kill ranks second in the NHL and I have no concerns about it. The power play has struggled immensely and is certainly something the team needs to improve on, but I look at it this way: do the Caps have a better chance going deep in the playoffs with a bad power play and an improved defense or with an improved power play and a bad defense? To me it's the former, not the latter.
To answer your question then, can the Caps go on a deep run with good special teams? Yes, but only if they improve defensively because I don't think they are at the level they need to be in that aspect of the game.
Brandon Freedman writes: Theoretically if the Caps had let’s say $7 million in cap space, who would the ideal/perfect d-man be to pick up?
That depends on if you want to go all the way to fantasy land or just dip your toe in. If money were no issue and the Caps could bring in whoever they wanted, go get Drew Doughty or Shea Weber. They're both righties.
If you're asking who would the Caps get among realistic targets for a second pair right defenseman if money were not a factor, I'd say see if Montreal is willing to acknowledge they aren't going to make the playoffs and ask about Jeff Petry. He has a 15-team no-trade list. Are the Caps on that list? If not, I would say he looks like a perfect fit for that position with a high Corsi-For percentage, an equal amount of offensive, defensive and neutral zone starts meaning he is trusted by the coaches and has a high point share. He would not come cheap, but again, we are living in total fantasy land here so I would get Jeff Petry, buy a bigger house and travel the world in the offseason with my good friends Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
Tim K. writes: Everyone seems to focus on rentals, but what do you think it would cost to trade for a second pair RD with term? Someone like Josh Manson comes to mind, as he has an affordable cap hit, and plays a physical game - basically an upgrade over Radko Gudas. Assuming the team would have to dump Jensen, can the team upgrade its biggest weakness without giving up the farm?
Short answer? No.
Long answer? No, but longer.
Let's go with your example of Manson. He is on the second year of a four-year deal with the Anaheim Ducks. The extra term already bumps up his price because you are paying for two years and one month rather than just one month.
Manson is 28 and is easily the best right defenseman on that team. A good general manager is willing to listen to offers for any player, but if I were running Anaheim I would have no interest in trading him unless you knocked my socks off with an offer I couldn't refuse. So right away the answer to your question is already no. You can't get a player like that without giving up a heck of a lot.
Let's say, however, that Bob Murray is willing to listen. The team stinks and Manson is already 28 so maybe Murray thinks he is not part of the long-term plan for Anaheim. You're going to try to get a right defenseman in his prime with term on his deal for cheap? How? And, by the way, you're not trading for a top-four defenseman, you're trading for a top-pair defenseman. If I'm Murray, I don't care how you intend to use Manson. Second pair, third pair, put him in the press box for all I care, but to me and to my team, he's my top right defenseman so whatever you want to offer me better match that value.
And we haven't even talked about Jensen yet. Trying to get Anaheim to take him as part of the trade would bump the price tag up even more. And if you're saying move Jensen to another team, you have to realize it is going to take an asset to get another team to take that contract. So now you are spending a lot to get Manson and adding another asset to the price tag just to move Jensen in order to make this deal even possible.
Justin Cade writes: If the Caps were to make a deadline deal for help on the blue line, who do you see fitting in with the team as they prepare for another Cup run and what would it cost to get him?
My thoughts on trade targets is that the Caps are going to have to find a Michal Kempny; a guy on a cheap contract who the scouts think is undervalued by his current team and has potential to be a top-four defenseman. Full disclaimer: I am not a scout. I do not pretend to be one. Scouts know way more about these players than I do.
Having said that, I will give you a name not so much because I think he is the answer, but more to illustrate the type of player I think the Caps will target.
I have mentioned on Twitter previously that a player like Tim Heed makes a lot of sense. Heed is a right-shot defenseman and is primarily a healthy scratch in San Jose despite having a good Corsi-For percentage and a fair amount of defensive zone time. He may not play that often, but he does not get sheltered minutes when he does and his analytics suggest the team plays well with him on the ice.
I got some push back for this from people saying, how could a scratch be the answer for the Caps' defensive issues? Well, what was Michal Kempny when the Caps got him from Chicago?
Look, the team is tight against the cap. There's no money to go after known commodities. Brian MacLellan is going to have to trust his scouts to find someone cheap who can plug into the lineup and upgrade the defense because, as I have said time and time again, I do not believe Washington's defense as being good enough to win but they just do not have the cap space to get a big-name player to solve their problems.
William Burton writes: If the Capitals are able to add a defenseman at the deadline is it safe to say that Nick Jensen is definitely the one who would come out of the lineup?
That would be my assumption. It would not be right away. I think we would see the new addition start on the third pair, then move up to the second with Jensen and Radko Gudas splitting a few games. But if Jensen and Gudas continuing playing as they have this season, I think Gudas will ultimately beat out Jensen in the end.
People can sometimes get hung up on who plays on what line or what defensive pair as a reflection of where a player ranks on the depth chart, but it is not always that simple. We have seen Gudas play on the second pair at times this season. While I think he is a third-pair defenseman, it is pretty clear he was better on the second pair than Jensen and yet Jensen remains on the second pair. Why? The answer likely has to do with the penalty kill.
Jonas Siegenthaler and Gudas get more shorthanded ice time than any other defensemen on the team. If you can have your third pair play those minutes it takes a lot of pressure off the top four who all get more even-strength ice time. Most teams do not have that luxury, but the Caps have one of the top penalty kills in the league despite leaning on the third pair.
Yes, Jensen plays a fair amount on the penalty kill too, but even when he struggles he stays on the second pair and I suspect the reason for that is Reirden likes having his top two penalty killers on the third pair. It keeps them fresh for the penalty kill and gives the top four a break.
All of that is a long-winded way of saying yes, I think Jensen would more often than not find himself to be the odd-man-out if the team added another right defenseman rather than him moving down to the third pair and pushing out Gudas.
Phillip Martin writes: Should the Caps consider trading for any of these players: Jeff Petry, Nikita Zaitsev, Mike Green, Sami Vatanen, Dante Fabbro, Josh Manson? Also, if we have to package Dmitry Orlov to get the deal done, do you think Martin Fehervary could step in for him effectively?
So let me see if I get your premise. The Caps need a right-shot defenseman to fill out the second pair so you want to trade away their second pair left defenseman to make it work? What does that solve? You've traded one hole for another. If you want to try to plug Fehervary into the lineup, then try him on the right. He has been playing on the right in Hershey and I would rather have one question mark in Fehervary than two by trying to add both Fehervary and who the team trades in exchange for Orlov into the lineup.
As I mentioned above, Petry has a 15-team no-trade clause, has too high a cap hit and I don't think Montreal is willing to throw in the towel on the playoffs even though they should. I don't see it happening. Zaitsev was given every opportunity to be a top-four in Toronto and he couldn't handle it. He is playing that role for a bad Ottawa team, but I am wary of trusting him in that role on a good team with pressure. Green, no. The Caps already have two third-pair righties, they don't need a third. I could see the team having some interest in Vatanen, but they probably won't be able to afford him even if New Jersey retains the maximum 50-percent of his salary. Even if they could afford him, retaining salary would make his price go up. I could also see Vatanen being a popular rental on the market and I don't think the Caps want to get into a bidding war.
What makes you think Nashville would ever consider trading Fabbro, a 21-year-old right defenseman they drafted in the first round who is still on an entry-level contract? Not a chance.
As for Manson, I addressed him above. Anaheim would have to retain salary which is a deal-breaker because he has an additional two years on his contract. Even if Anaheim were wealing to deal him, the cost of a top-pair right defenseman in his prime with term on his deal and who the Caps would need probably the full 50-percent of his salary retained would be astronomical.
Lisa McKay writes: This is premature, but just for fun: of the 9 possible first-round opponents for the Caps (PIT, NYI, CAR, CBJ, PHI, TOR, BOS, TB, FLA), which one would you choose as the best matchup for the Caps?
Super early for this, but of those I would look at Philadelphia or Toronto are the best matchups. The future is bright for Carter Hart, but I'm not sure he's there yet. I also don't think Claude Giroux or Jakub Voracek are good enough to carry a team through a seven-game series against Washington. They are very good players, but not the type of superstar players that can put a team on their back and beat a true contender in a playoff series. It would be very physical, but the Caps are the better all-around team without question.
Frederik Anderson is a wild card for Toronto, but the Maple Leafs look determined to tire him out with 40 games played already. Otherwise. Toronto does not match up well against Washington at all. The Caps are a heavy team and would physically man-handle the Leafs. Plus, their defense is very suspect and the Caps are one of the few teams that can match Toronto's offensive firepower.
Phillip Martin writes: REALLY enjoying seeing the Great 8 on fire. He has a shot at 50 goals and that would tie Wayne Gretzky for most 50 goal seasons, right?
You forgot about Mike Bossy.
If Ovechkin reaches 50 goals, it will be the ninth season he has done so in his career. That would tie Gretzky and Bossy for the most.
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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