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. Also, most of these questions came before the Brenden Dillon trade so please keep that in mind as you read.
Craig Boden writes: Do you feel the Caps are just in a slump, which happens over 82 games, or that there is something definitely wrong with the club?
The answer is both. Since this gets to the heart of what everyone really wants to know this week, I'll expand a bit on this.
There are a lot of issues to the Caps' game right now that are based purely on frustration. I have seen a lot of people blaming the "system" for the team's struggles, but, looking at Monday's game in Vegas as an example, there is no system that says both defensemen should be on the left side of the ice leaving open a stretch pass breakaway attempt that ultimately led to the first goal.
There is no system that says no one should challenge Tomas Nosek when he has the puck in the Caps' defensive zone, or cover Williams Carrier or Nick Holden who was standing literally right in front of the crease. There is no system that says lose a loose puck battle to Jonathan Marchessault or to let Reilly Smith cut through three Caps to get the pass and find the shooting lane. There is no system that says Radko Gudas should get the puck stolen behind the net allowing for a quick pass and goal before Braden Holtby could even realize Gudas had lost the puck.
Those are just misplays from a team that can't seem to do much right at the moment, particularly defensively. I can't sit here and tell you the system is the problem when the goals the team is giving up come on plays in which no one seems capable of playing the system or playing even basic defensive hockey. In that sense, this is is a "slump" because this team is not so bad that it suddenly forgot how to play defense. That's frustration taking over and forcing boneheaded mistakes.
The Caps are not as bad as they have played of late, but there are some deeper problems here. The team has lost four of its last five and is 11-11-0 since Dec. 23.
They have earned fewer points than any team in the Metro during that time, even New Jersey. While many teams wish that their slump would be .500, that's too long a sample size to simply expect the team to play its way out of at this point. The first and most glaring issue, and something I have talked about for much of the season, is that this defense just is not good enough. Neither Nick Jensen nor Radko Gudas are good enough to play in the top-four and Michal Kempny is struggling.
That means two of the team's top four on defense is a question mark which led to Monday's trade for Brenden Dillon.
I am also beginning to wonder if forward depth is more of an issue than previously thought. The top six is cold right now, but there is too much talent there to worry about, they'll be fine.
My concern is that, outside of center depth, if the Caps need to shuffle lines, there are not many players they can turn to throw into the top six. Sure, there's Lars Eller, but what about the wings? Carl Hagelin's has very little offensive finish, Richard Panik is a two-way forward whose offensive output has not been good enough to think he could bolster the top six, and Brendan Leipsic and Garnet Hathaway are fourth line players.
There is no Brett Connolly or Andre Burakovsky the team can throw into the top six for a game or two when the offense gets stale, which it certainly has of late. That leaves Todd Reirden with few options for how to wake the offense up.
So while I do not think the Caps are as bad as they look right now, there are certainly glaring issues that must be addressed if they have any hope for a deep run.
Nathan S. writes: Why aren't Caps willing to change their systems to address their awful defense?
I touched on this a bit above, but I'm not sure how much you can blame the system when the team is abandoning it the moment they face any adversity in-game and the defensive mistakes are things you wouldn't expect from a high school team. If there were a quick fix to the team's defensive issues, I promise you the team would have adjusted by now, but it's not that simple.
Kevin Mills writes: I read multiple reports about this being the sixth time in six years the Caps traded for a defenseman at the deadline. Is there a reason that the Capitals always seem to have a hole in the defense at the trade deadline?
Yes, Brian MacLellan has traded for a defenseman at the deadline every year since becoming general manager, but it's not always because defense is a hole.
Last season, for example, the team acquired Nick Jensen to supplement the blue line, not because there was any glaring hole to it. The injury to Michal Kempny happened after the deadline and that gets to the heart of why MacLellan always feels the need to add. The playoffs are very long and very grueling and no one escapes unscathed. The prevailing theory within the hockey community and one MacLellan has talked about in the past, is that for a deep playoff run a team needs eight defensemen it can rely on. That's a lot of defensemen so MacLellan likes to add at the deadline.
Justin Tepe writes: With salary cap problems, if the Caps want to make a Cup run does trading a T.J. Oshie or a 2nd/3rd line forward have enough value to get that 2nd pair defenseman? Who can draw enough interest?
Specifically, does trading Oshie for a defenseman make sense? No, absolutely not. Oshie has 24 goals this season, the second-most on the team. I have a hard time believing a move like this would make the team better.
In a more general sense, as I mentioned above, there's not enough scoring depth to risk a move like that. If you trade someone off the second line, who replaces them? There are no clear candidates. You don't want to trade away Hagelin because he is a proven playoff performer and the team's best penalty killer and Panik is not going to be enough to get a top-four defenseman back in return.
Paul Trubits writes: When are the Caps going to realize that Evgeny Kuznetsov is the 2nd coming of Alex Semin (not a good thing)? They beat a good playoff team on the road without him. Eller deserves to be the 2C. Should the Caps trade Kuzy for another 2-3C now while he still has a lot of value and maybe save some cap space for a top-four right D?
I get that Kuznetsov's 2018 playoff run seems like an anomaly at this point, but it did still happen. I don't think it makes sense to trade Kuznetsov because Eller played well in a game against Colorado while ignoring what happened in 2018. That's one game as opposed to 2018. Eller is a third-line center. That's what he is. He's a very good one and one in whom the team can trust in the top six in limited amounts of time, but he is not a 2C.
Take a guess as to what Eller's career highs are. Every time I watch him play, I think this guy must be a 20-goal scorer, 50-point per season type of player. He's not. In fact, he's never been that. His career highs are 18 goals, 23 assists and 38 points. Now yes, Eller is more of a two-way forward and he doesn't have Jakub Vrana or Oshie on his wing. That's totally fair. But even when Kuznetsov is having a down year, which I would argue this is for him, he is still on pace for 65 points. He can sleepwalk to what most players would consider to be a great season.
I get the frustration. Kuznetsov should be 90 to 100 point player every year. But I don't think 75-percent Kuznetsov hurts the team the way a 75-percent Alex Semin did. He's still a better player than Eller. Trade away Kuznetsov and this team takes a very clear step back.
Tim K. writes: Why do Caps fans insist that a left-handed LD (Alec Martinez) is a perfect fit, or even an option, to fill the second pair RD slot? Am I missing something here?
Martinez actually routinely plays on the right so that's not an issue, but it's moot now after the team acquired Dillon.
Joe Nieves writes: What do you think about trading Nick Jensen and his 4-year contract for Alec Martinez and his 1 more year?
Again, doesn't matter with Dillon, but that would not have been nearly enough to get a deal done. Yes, the Kings would be getting more years, but they would be losing a higher quality player.
Chris writes: I enjoyed reading through the list of potential acquisitions that the Capitals could make by the trade deadline. I was looking at another Minnesota Wild defenseman, however. What are your thoughts trying to trade for Carson Soucy? To me, he looks like a guy similar to picking up Kempny a couple years ago.
Soucy is a left shot, has six goals and six assists which is fairly decent given he plays less than 16 minutes per game, but his PDO is the third-highest on the team and the highest among Minnesota's defensemen so that may have more to do with luck. His analytics aren't great compared with his teammates so I'm not sure this one would work.
My biggest issue with him is that I'm a big fan of "The Usual Suspects" and his name is close enough that I worry I would call him Keyser Soze by accident, thus torpedoing whatever reporter/player relationship I could have had.
Jason Woodside: Hear me out: Caps bring back Oates to work exclusively with centers on face-offs. Two or three practices a month with no contact allowed with other players. How could he make things worse?
No. He would find a way. Trust me.
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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MORE CAPITALS NEWS:
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- Shuffling: Would a line mix-up help the Caps?