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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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The new normal: Caps adjust to the return of hockey during a pandemic

The new normal: Caps adjust to the return of hockey during a pandemic

Training camps opened across the NHL on Monday, marking the start of Phase 3 of the league's return to play plan and bringing us all one step closer to the postseason. But even though hockey may be "back" it sure does feel a lot different. The practices, once open to the public, are now closed. Most of the media are covering camp from home with only a few sitting at their own tables above the rink, each wearing a mask. Unless they are on the ice or conducting interviews on Zoom, the players are in masks wherever they go.

Hockey may be back, but not in the way anyone is used to.

"It's been weird," Lars Eller said. "I think it was most weird in the beginning coming back and doing these tests and seeing everybody wear masks, but now it's just become normal every day. It's almost you notice someone without a mask now. That's the weird thing, right? That's where we are now."

Professional athletes are known as creatures of habit and the Capitals players are no different. All of those habits now must be cast aside as the players adjust to the health and safety protocols imposed by the NHL and NHLPA.

RELATED: CONNOR MCMICHAEL AN OPTION FOR POSTSEASON

That's the reality of trying to play hockey in a pandemic.

"On the ice is normal," Alex Ovechkin said. "On the ice is same rules what we have before. But soon as you step off the ice in the locker room everybody have to wear a mask. It's kind of weird, but I'm pretty sure we're going to get used to it."

"Obviously, it’s things we’re not used to, but for the most part, every other day you just spit in a little tube and then you go onto the rink," T.J. Oshie said. "Obviously, it’s not as comfortable wearing a mask as it would be without, but as far as on the ice stuff it feels like a normal training camp except for we’re kind of ramping things up as we go, which I think is great. I think it’s saving guys from getting hurt. But just less numbers out there, so more reps. Unfortunately, it’s kind of becoming a little bit normal going around with a mask and not being able to hug the guys, but it’s fine and we’re grinding through it.”

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For their part, the players understand and accept the precautions being taken. No one wants to play hockey more than they do and they want to be able to do it in a way that is safe both for them and for their families.

"if we get a chance to play hockey we are going to do whatever we can to make it work," Brenden Dillon said.

He added, "I think our staff here has done an unbelievable job of making us feel safe and ultimately it is going to be about these next couple weeks before we can get to the bubble. We’ve been assured it is going to be as safe as it can be there and a little bit of an unknown until we can get there and get into that routine. It is going to be a little different setup than in your home dressing room, that comfortability that we’ve gotten used to. I think everybody if we can all do our part and realize that with this crazy circumstances we have to be safe.”

The trade-off, however, is that the game they loved and have played for essentially their entire lives looks and feels a lot different than ever before.

"It's been an adjustment, but the whole world's adjusting and we're just adjusting with it," Eller said. "Now it's just started to feel normal. We see every single person around you doing the same thing, it becomes the new normal."

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Capitals top prospect Connor McMichael an option to play in postseason, according to Todd Reirden

Capitals top prospect Connor McMichael an option to play in postseason, according to Todd Reirden

When it comes to the playoffs, rarely do black aces generate much excitement. Black aces are players a team recalls from the minors to serve as depth/practice players during the postseason. Most of them are brought in with the expectation that they won't play and, even if they do, it is only out of necessity. And then there are players like Connor McMichael.

The Caps' first-round draft pick from 2019, McMichael is coming off a brilliant season in the OHL with the London Knights where be recorded 102 points in 52 games. Teams will often bring up players they see as future NHLers to serve as black aces even if they are not going to play, just for the experience of being with the team during the postseason. After a productive training camp in September, it is no surprise to see McMichael back with the Caps as the team prepares for the playoffs.

"It was really cool, just coming in and seeing all the pros like [Alex Ovechkin], [Nicklas Backstrom] and those guys, guys I grew up watching," McMichael said. "It was really cool to be around them and to see how they approach the game every single day. So, I took a lot of that back to London. Just here, black acing it, it's a cool experience watching them play in the playoffs and how they treat their bodies every day to be ready to go. So, I'm really excited."

In a typical season, there were be essentially no chance the 19-year-old, 181-pound McMichael would get into the lineup. But this is not a typical season.

RELATED: CONNOR MCMICHAEL A BLACK ACE CANDIDATE FOR PLAYOFFS

The first three games for Washington will be round robin games and, though they matter in terms of seeding, they don't matter in terms of being do-or-die. The Caps could lose all three games and still be in the playoffs. Because of that, it leaves head coach Todd Reirden the opportunity to experiment with his lineup if he chooses. Could that leave an opening for McMichael to possibly crack the lineup for a game?

It's not a subject the coaches have breached with the young forward just yet.

"No, they haven't talked to me about that too much," McMichael said. "The coaches were just telling everyone to be ready. You never know what can happen in the playoffs. You need depth in the playoffs, especially. I'm just ready to go whenever I get my name called."

When asked if McMichael could possibly play in the postseason, however, Reirden made clear that he wouldn't be with the team if he wasn't seen as at least an option.

I AM THE PROSPECT: CONNOR MCMICHAEL'S PATH TO THE NHL

"I think that's something that we're going to continue to evaluate," Reirden said. "If we didn't think that he was an option to be able to be played then that would be a player we wouldn't probably bring to the hub city with us. He's going to be there and he's going to be in Toronto, then to me, he's an option because so many things can change so quickly with what's going to happen inside this bubble."

Lars Eller has already expressed his intention to leave the bubble for the birth of his second child which will force the team to replace him in the lineup. Also, the longer the Caps go in the playoffs, the more likely it is that there will be an injury somewhere forcing in someone else. If that opportunity comes along for McMichael, he said he will be ready.

"I'm just really happy to be here," McMichael said. "I'm going to do everything to prove to the coaches that I can play in the lineup and, if not, I'll always be ready in case someone gets hurt or other things happen. So, I'm just really excited to be here and it should be really fun."

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