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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: If the Caps wanted to re-sign Holtby, could they even make it work?

Capitals Mailbag Part 1: If the Caps wanted to re-sign Holtby, could they even make it work?

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

Have a Caps question you want to be answered in the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Don G. writes: I have seen dozens of articles and assumptions that the Capitals will not keep Braden Holtby next year but what if they do? What other player moves would have to be made to allow that to happen and strategically would that be a good move? I mean, you'd be keeping one of the best, most consistent goalies in the league which is not a bad thing to build around. Could they replace an older, more expensive player or two with younger, cheaper players from Hershey (or free agency) and keep the known and valued commodity in goal?

Projecting out to 2020, the Capitals will have 10 forwards, four defensemen and one goalie under contract for just over $62 million. That means they will need three forwards and three defensemen in addition to Holtby. This does not include restricted free agents Chandler Stephenson, Travis Boyd, Breandan Leipsic, Jonas Siegenthaler or Christian Djoos.

The salary cap is not expected to make a huge jump next season so let’s call it $83.5 million. That leaves the Caps with a little less than $21.5 million to fill the roster. Now let’s give $7 million of that to Nicklas Backstrom who will need a new contract and who has been on a team-friendly deal for some time. That leaves the team with about $14.5 million.

The first and most obvious answer to your question is that Brian MacLellan would have to convince Holtby to sign for less than he is worth. You cannot commit $10+ million per year and make this work especially with Alex Ovechkin also needing a new contract in 2021. I’m not even sure $9 million would be low enough to make sense and anything lower than that you have to wonder if Holtby would even be willing to talk about.

Second, MacLellan would have to trade Ilya Samsonov. For anyone out there holding out hope for a Holtby-Samsonov tandem for the next three to five years, that’s not going to happen. The looming Seattle expansion draft means the Caps will only be able to protect one goalie and both Holtby and Samsonov are far too valuable a commodity to risk losing for nothing. If you commit to Holtby, you are doing so over Samsonov.

Any decision beyond that will be dictated by what happens this season. If the team struggles perhaps players like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov end up on the trade block which would free up more cap space. If that happens, however, it almost certainly will mean the championship window is closed and you have to ask if committing to a 30-year-old goalie over the 22-year-old prospect would even make sense.

On the other hand, if the team makes another deep playoff run then those players are not going anywhere, plus RFAs like Siegenthaler and Djoos will expect raises and the team will have even less money to work with.

If the former happens, this is a done deal and Holtby is gone. There is no point in starting a rebuild by trading away your top goalie prospect. As difficult as it would be to make the money work, having another deep playoff run would be the only scenario I see for Holtby to come back. To make it work financially, MacLellan would have two options. The first option would be to plug roster holes with cheap prospects but that option is dependent on having prospects who are NHL ready available to you. The second option would be to sign veterans to cheap contracts by offering term which MacLellan did this offseason with players like Carl Hagelin, Garnet Hathaway and Richard Panik, all of whom were signed for four years.

@jamezbezt writes: Ilya Samsonov had an up-and-down season in the AHL last year. What are your thoughts on his potential heading into this year?

The start of the AHL season for Samsonov was not good at all, but he turned the corner midway through and looked tremendous after that. If he continues that trajectory, then the Caps have nothing to worry about.

For me, the skill is there. He has everything that you could want in a starting goalie including size and athleticism. What he struggled with was tracking the puck and the play in his own zone which is to be expected for a goalie transitioning to the North American game. The smaller ice makes the game a lot faster and Samsonov has to continue adjusting to that to avoid getting caught out of position.

The improvement Samsonov showed from the start of the season to the end is encouraging and I still believe in him as an NHL starter. We may even get to see him play a few games with the Caps this season. I do not see any way that the team can avoid calling him up at some point. If they are even considering letting Holtby go for this guy, you have to get a few looks at him at the NHL level before you can reasonably make that decision.

@sports_god1 writes: What are the chances of Jakub Vrana breaking 30+ goals this year? I would say in order for him to be a 30-goal scorer regularly, he has to get more PP priority and/or even top line with Alex Ovechkin and whoever in the middle.

Vrana scored 24 goals last season in just his second full NHL campaign. Of those 24 goals, only one of them came on the power play.

I do not think Vrana necessarily needs to play on the top line to reach 30 goals, but I think you are correct in saying that he needs more power play time if he is going to get there and that is why I do not think he will.

Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, John Carlson and T.J. Oshie all return this season and I do not see Vrana replacing any of them. Unless he does, I see him being able to reach 30 goals at 5-on-5 play alone.

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, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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Game 3 of the Caps-Blue Jackets 2018 playoff series ignited a rivalry

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USA Today Sports Images

Game 3 of the Caps-Blue Jackets 2018 playoff series ignited a rivalry

The Columbus Blue Jackets opened its first season in franchise history in 2000. For most of the first 18 years of the team's existence, the Caps took little notice of them. Why would they? Columbus was originally a Western Conference expansion team until it moved to the Metropolitan Division in 2013. Despite being in the same division as the Caps, the NHL's realignment also brought Washington together with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. The Blue Jackets just did not compare.

That's certainly not the case anymore.

"When you play a team like Columbus, we have a pretty good rivalry with them and they're a tough team to play against so we've got to be ready for them," Tom Wilson said.

Things changed between the Caps and Blue Jackets in 2018. More specifically, things changed on April 17, 2018.

    In 2018, once again Washington was headed to the playoffs with a high seed after a strong regular season and once again, no one had any faith in a team with a long history of playoff disappointments. The Caps drew Columbus in the first round of the playoffs and the Blue Jackets jumped out to a 2-0 series lead after taking both games in Washington in overtime.

    The series looked over. Heck, the entire era of the Cup-hopeful Caps looked over. One goal late in Game 3 on April 17, 2018 changed everything.

    In Game 3, Washington and Columbus once again battled to a tie in regulation. In double overtime with the season essentially on the line, Lars Eller scored the ugliest most beautiful overtime winner as he charged the net and the puck pinballed off of him and a defender before finally trickling into the net.

    Eller called the goal "maybe the biggest one" he has scored, which is high praise for a player who would go on to score the Stanley Cup-clinching goal.

    "Maybe also the longest game I've ever played," Eller said. "It just makes this more satisfying to come out on top after four-and-a-half periods or whatever it was."

    The series devolved from there for Columbus with the Caps going on to win four straight before going on to win the Stanley Cup.

    But the Caps never hoist that Cup without Eller's goal, something Todd Reirden said he thinks about.

    "All the time I've thought that," he said. "That was a crazy turn of events."

    "It certainly wasn't a picture-perfect play that went right underneath the cross-bar," he added. "It won't be remembered like that. It will be remembered that it was a beautiful goal and it was a defining moment for sure."

    The Blue Jackets evidently were not over that loss in January 2019 the following season when Artemi Panarin scored an overtime winner at Capital One Arena. Columbus taunted the Caps with Evgeny Kuznetsov's bird celebration after the win.

    From the Caps' perspective, there's no question the intensity between these two teams went up a notch after that playoff series.

    "I think when you play divisional rivals, you face each other all the time, there tends to be a bit more emotion in the game," Eller said. "I think it's certainly the case with this team over the years, especially when you play them in playoffs too."

    "That's how I felt about it for sure," Reirden said. "There's some different characters in the story in the last little bit with different players for us and for them that are involved, but that's how they're coached to play a hard, physical brand of hockey and they do a good job of that. It's never an easy game."

    The Caps-Blue Jackets rivalry will be renewed for the first time this season on Monday (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington) in the first of three meetings between these two teams in the next 18 days.

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    John Carlson's six-point week nets him the NHL's first star

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    USA TODAY sports images

    John Carlson's six-point week nets him the NHL's first star

    After a sterling week with three goals and three assists in three games, John Carlson was named the NHL's first star for the week of December 2-8.

    This isn't the first time this season the NHL has honored Carlson for his stellar efforts. He was named the NHL's first star in October and was the second star of the week for the week of October 14-20.

    Two of Carlson's three goals last week were game-winners, and the week included his sixth three-point performance this season.

    Carlson currently tops the league's defensemen in goals (11), assists (32), points (43) and game-winning goals (4) through 31 outings this season.

    He is also the only Caps player on pace for a 100+ point season.

    And that pace is historic. The only two defensemen in NHL history that have recorded as many points through their team’s first 31 games of a campaign are Bobby Orr (5x, most recently in 1974-75: 21-37—58 w/ BOS) and Al MacInnis (1990-91: 13-31—44 w/ CGY).

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