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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: These kids are alright

Capitals Mailbag Part 1: These kids are alright

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.

@TheWuWu on Twitter writes: In order to get the salary cap down, which Caps players do you think, are up for trading away?

First, it’s important to note that the suspension to Evgeny Kuznetsov bought them an extra week. His cap hit won’t count against the salary cap for the three games in which he is suspended. When he comes back, however, the team is still going to have to make some tough decisions to get under the cap ceiling.

The guys I think could potentially be on the chopping block are Chandler Stephenson, Travis Boyd, Christian Djoos and Pheonix Copley. Stephenson and Boyd underperformed last season, Djoos is making too much money to be a No. 6-7 and at some point the Caps are going to have to get Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek playing time.

The problem with trying to trade any of these players is the fact that every general manager in the league knows Washington’s cap situation so unless there’s a player they really, really like, they are not going to be willing to trade for them and will instead wait until someone is placed on waivers and try to claim them then for nothing. If the Caps love what they see from Samsonov, for example, why would anyone trade for Copley? They know the team will have to put him on waivers to fit Samsonov so there would be no point.

@elbaforero on Instagram writes: How many new players?

The salary cap forced the Caps to let go of several players, but as this team is still contending for a Stanley Cup, general manager Brian MacLellan also had to find a way to improve the roster while shedding salary.

Richard Panik was signed in the offseason to play wing on the third line in place of Brett Connolly. He does have some offensive potential as he scored 22 goals and 22 assists in 2016-17 with the Chicago Blackhawks, but this move was about bringing in a defensively responsible player who can play on the penalty kill. That will be a theme with the team’s new faces.

Garnet Hathaway and Brendan Leipsic will be fourth-line additions. Hathaway signed for four years so he will be here for a while. Leipsic is the team’s latest reclamation project as this will be his fifth team in four years. Both players are strong in shot suppression and could potentially play on the penalty kill.

Defenseman Radko Gudas was acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers in a trade for Matt Niskanen. Known for dirty hits and checkered past with the Department of Player Safety, many do not realize that he is actually a solid defenseman and was voted by the media to be the Flyers’ best blueliner last season. He is better at this point in his career than Niskanen and this will be a good upgrade for Washington’s defensive end of the ice.

Micah R. writes: How much weight should we put into the training camp groups?

Some, but not much initially. Those groups are not random and there is a reason they are organized that way, but it is also important to remember that there is some competition and experimenting going on. Initially, the NHL players are spread out so that they can get plenty of time with the coaches during practice, but also so that prospects get time to practice with and against those players. In terms of lines and combinations, however, everything should be taken with a grain of salt.

For example, we saw the most likely line combinations for the first three forward lines on the very first day of training camp. It is also no coincidence that players competing for a fourth-line role are playing together with Chandler Stephenson, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway on a line and Brendan Leipsic and Travis Boyd together.

Does that mean I think Stephenson has a leg up and Leipsic and Boyd? Not at all. Do I read anything into prospect Brett Leason skating with Leipsic and Boyd? No. He definitely will not make the team this year. The defensive pairings also shuffle constantly so I read nothing into who plays with whom on the blue line at all.

When you dissect the groups and lines you can kind of start to see why they are organized in a certain way, but it is far too early to draw any conclusions from line combinations.

Niakan K. writes: Based on the results of the prospect showcase, who do you think made a strong enough impression on the coaching staff to potentially play for an NHL roster on the Capitals? I thought Martin Fehérváry looked the most NHL ready.

You nailed it. Fehervary was the most impressive player for the Caps in the tournament. I knew the team was high on him, but I was taken aback by how much praise was heaped upon him at the start of camp. Clearly, he has made an impression on the organization and his stock rose the most from the showcase.

The bigger takeaway I had was who did not impress. Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and Shane Gersich are thought to be the two forwards closest to being NHL ready and neither played all that well in the showcase. If you can't handle playing other prospects, chances are you are not ready to play against NHL competition yet. Granted, their chances of making the NHL roster this year given the depth additions MacLellan made were pretty slim. To me, it only goes to confirm my suspicion that neither player is ready for the NHL and needs a full season in Hershey to get there.

tim101searle on Instagram writes: Caps lineup looks pretty set — if a rookie has a camp too good to ignore, what do they do?

This is dependent on who the rookie is and what position they play. Teams are loath to burn entry-level contract years if they do not need to with junior players and there are also times where a prospect just will not get enough playing time to justify a spot on the NHL roster.

For example, I think Tyler Lewington has a much better chance of making the Caps this year than Fehervary. In terms of skill, Fehervary blows Lewington out of the water. Neither player is going to beat out someone in the top six, however,  and Todd Reirden knows he can use Lewington as a No. 7 and not feel pressure to get him playing time. He can’t do that with Fehervary because he needs to play regularly to help his development.

On the other hand, if Fehervary plays so well that it looks like he is actually one of the team’s top six defensemen, then you find a way to get him in. The Caps are right up against the salary cap so adding a rookie to the roster with his entry-level salary would only help that situation and give the team more flexibility in terms of trade or waiver possibilities.

So far, I do not foresee any unexpected players performing so well as to change the outlook of the team ... yet.

Purvis G. writes: Are there any young scoring wingers in the farm system ready to contribute anytime soon?

Not really, no. Brett Leason has good size and, at 20 years old is certainly older than most draft picks, but he looked bad in the Prospect Showcase and clearly needs time in Hershey to adjust to the pros. I mentioned Gersich and Jonsson-Fjallby above, though neither player would be what I would consider a scoring winger — both will be bottom-six energy guys. Perhaps they could get a call-up this season, but neither player is ready yet. Riley Sutter and Kody Clark are both injured so I can’t judge how far along they are, but I would be surprised if either sees the NHL this season.

So to answer your question, no. Leason, Connor McMichael and Aliaksei Protas are exciting additions to the farm system, but in terms of players who could help right away, the cupboard is still pretty bare.

Christopher S. writes: Has the coaching staff ever considered/what do you think about giving Christian Djoos some time as a winger? I know the mind-set and game-play is very different for the two positions but it actually might make Djoos a better defender down the road.. and it gives cover for a 7th defenseman and 13th forward.

I do not believe the coaches have ever considered this and I do not know why they would. Djoos will become a better defenseman by working on being a defenseman, not trying to learn a new position that would require extensive work and practice. That would not happen overnight or over the course of a week.

The idea of teaching him as insurance in case you need an extra forward or defenseman is not a viable option. If your roster is so barren you cannot find a natural forward to insert into your lineup when needed and have to go with Djoos, that says a lot about the team's forward depth or lack thereof. Prospect forward depth may be an issue for Washington, but it's not that bad.

@theoneandonlydoofnugget on Instagram writes: Do any of the guys like waffles?

Cereal is the breakfast food of choice, particularly Ovi O’s.

@avabetzner13 on Instagram writes: Can Jakub Vrana get any cuter?

Who, this guy?

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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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Why are abusive coaching tactics tolerated?

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Why are abusive coaching tactics tolerated?

It’s time for a new Capitals Mailbag! You can read Wednesday’s Part 1 here.

Check out Part 2 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.

Nathan S. writes: Why have abusive coaches such as Bill Peters, Marc Crawford, and to some extent Mike Babcock been tolerated as it's clear that front office people and players knew about this type of abuse for years?

Because I do not believe players have felt empowered enough to speak out. While some people knew somewhat what these coaches were doing, I do not believe they knew to what extent. Who in their right mind would have hired Peters if they had known he had shouted the N-word in a locker room? They wouldn't have. Even if Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving had known Peters could get after his players, had he known to what extent he never would have done it.

To me, it's a culture thing. I am not saying the culture of hockey is rotten, far from it. What I am saying is hockey players have a mentality of not wanting to speak out about...well, anything. That has to change.

The position of authority these coaches hold over players is a factor as well. A coach does not just get to the NHL and decides he wants to be a hard-ass. He has been doing it at every step of his career meaning in the junior leagues, in college, in the minors. If you're a player in one of those leagues and hope to make it to the NHL someday, it is hard to speak out against your coach who you feel controls your future. Your coach has contacts at the next level, he has friends in the organization, he has a history, he has fans, he has influence. Plus, who are you going to talk to? The general manager? The guy who hired the coach in the first place who, if the coach fails, reflects negatively on him? Players find believe they have a choice of speaking out and risking their careers or staying silent and just dealing with it.

Players have to have some sort of outlet outside of a team to report these things so that it is clear this will not come back to negatively affect them.

Nick Crawford writes: With the upcoming contract negotiations for Nicklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby and Alex Ovechkin, is it at all possible that the Caps will be able to sign all three?

Not without significant cuts to the rest of the roster.

Look, never say never. I thought there was no way the team could afford to re-sign T.J. Oshie. I thought there was no money for the team to make any offseason additions this year. If Brian MacLellan wants to sign all three and all three want to come back, then he will find a way to get it done.

My point through all of this is that I don't think Holtby will be re-signed because I don't think it makes sense. You can only protect one goalie in the Seattle draft, Holtby is going to command a gigantic cap hit and keeping him means making a lot of cuts elsewhere on the roster and selling the 22-year-old Ilya Sasmonov because you can't keep both. Does it really make sense to do that for a 30-year-old Holtby?

Can the Caps re-sign all three? If they really want to, sure. Will they? I highly, highly doubt it.

Craig Boden writes: Alex Ovechkin is now 34 years old, he's got to start slowing down soon. Does the big man get to 50 goals again this year and what's the chances of him getting even close to Gretzky's record?

Ovechkin very well could get 50 goals again this season. I have been consistent in my belief that he will fall just short of 50 this year, but it is not because I see him as slowing down. Getting 50 goals is hard to do consistently and I just think he falls short this year. He is currently on pace for about 54 so we will see.

Catching Gretzky's record remains a long shot.

Let's say Ovechkin stays on this pace all season and finishes with 54 goals. That will give him 712 in his career. He would still have to score 185 more goals to pass Gretzky. If he plays five more seasons, he would have to average 37 goals per year to get there. Yes, that sounds low for Ovechkin but at some point he is going to slow down and I don't see a 38, 39-year-old Ovechkin scoring 40 goals.

Ovechkin will probably have to have another big season -- 50 goals or close to it -- after this year to really make a run at it.

Even if he doesn't get there though, the fact that we are even talking about this is remarkable. Gretzky's goal record is one of those records I thought to be untouchable. Ovechkin has made this record impossible to beat to improbable which is a mammoth achievement.

Emily Fon-Kats: What are some pre-game rituals?

Hockey superstitions can be bizarre. Some players guard them very closely while others are more open about it. I wrote about this in January, check out the story here.

Andre Burakovsky was the weirdest. And of course, there's also the Oshie butt taps

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg, by the way. There are so many more that we never see or hear about.

Richard Strickland writes: Does Braden Holtby get bored during a slow game?

Bored is not the right word. Going "cold" is a real thing for goalies and Holtby is someone who prefers to be busy. He definitely feels like he does better against more shots. Even if he knows he is not playing that night, he will take more shots in practice.

I would not say bored. Perhaps antsy would be a better way to describe it. It is is just how he is wired.

Jason Woodside writes: I don’t see why a team that scores on a delayed penalty doesn’t still get awarded a power play. Any chance the league ever looks into changing this?

Actually yes. You are not the first person I have heard suggest this. In the league's endless pursuit of more offense, awarding a power play after a goal is scored is a pretty simple change that would not dramatically change the game. I am not sure how much it would actually impact goal-scoring league-wide as it does not happen very often, but this would be a minor change in the grand scheme of things.

I would not at all be surprised if we see a change like this to the rules.

I recently read an article about hockey dentists. How many behind the scenes coaches/staff are present for games vs the amount that would be there for a practice day? Are these roles only there for home games or do they travel?

If you are referring to the ESPN article on hockey dentists, I saw that too. It was a great read.

This is not a subject I am too familiar with, but I will tell you what little I do know about it. First, the Caps list eight team doctors as members of its medical staff. There is a head team physician/orthopedic surgeon, another orthopedic surgeon, two internists, an emergency physician, an emergency medicine physician and internist, an ophthalmologist and a dentist. These "team" doctors are all full-time doctors who just have a relationship with the team. The only medical personnel who are full-time employees of a team are the athletic trainers. In fact, most team doctors around the league don't get paid. They get to say they are the official doctor, dentist surgeon, etc. of whatever team they work with and go to the games, but most are not paid. I do not know the specific relationship between the Caps and their medical personnel so I couldn't tell you if they are paid or not.

Because of that, unless there is a reason they need to be there they are not on hand for practice. They have their own jobs they need to tend to. The same goes for travel. It is not as if every road trip the Caps pack the plane with a dentist, a physician, a surgeon and other personnel. That's not really how it works. If there is a medical emergency on the road, they would rely on whatever medical personnel are at the arena they are visiting.

Thanks for all your questions! 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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Capitals at Ducks Game 31: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, how to watch

Capitals at Ducks Game 31: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, how to watch

These teams faced off just two weeks ago, and things got a little crazy. Fists flew, punches were thrown, and tensions were high. 

The Washington Capitals are eager to seal this road trip with what would be their sixth consecutive victory (and ultimately staying 1.00 on this trip westward). 

Atop the league standings and sitting seventh-to-last respectively, the Capitals and Ducks are at very different points nearly two months in to the 2019-2020 NHL season.

Anaheim is 12-12-4 after beating the LA Kings 4-2 Monday night, the only team they are doing better than in the Pacific Division. The Ducks face a crucial point to spur some upward momentum, but will be met by swift Capitals offense (+26 differential so far this season) as well as Norris contender John Carlson, who scored his 100th and 101st career goals in Los Angeles Wednesday night against the Kings. 

CAPITALS-DUCKS GAME 31: HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. Anaheim Ducks

Where: The Honda Center, Anaheim, CA

When: Friday, December 6, 2019 at 10 PM ET

TV Channel: Capitals-Ducks will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington Plus. (NBC Sports Washington channel finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Ducks game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

Radio: Caps Radio 24/7

CAPITALS-DUCKS TV SCHEDULE:

9:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live (LIVE)
9:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live (LIVE)
10:00 PM: NHL: Capitals @ Anaheim Ducks (LIVE) [NBC Sports Washington Plus]
12:30 AM: Caps Postgame Live (LIVE) [NBC Sports Washington Plus]

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