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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: What can we expect from the special teams?

Capitals Mailbag Part 1: What can we expect from the special teams?

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.

Luka K. writes: What will the power play and penalty kill units look like in 2019-20? Do you think the Caps need to make adjustments to the PP considering last year? Should Jakub Vrana and Christian Djoos play on the second power play unit? What about the penalty kill without Chandler Stephenson? Better or worse? Do you see the PP in the top 5 and PK in the top 10?

A lot of special teams questions to unpack. Let’s start with the power play.

Do I think the power play needs to adjust? Yes, in one very specific area.

*Pulls out bullhorn*

GET. RID. OF. THE. SLINGSHOT.

The power play was fine last year. When it actually got the puck in the offensive zone, it looked just as lethal as ever. The problem was on the zone entries, which were atrocious. If the penalty kill cleared the puck once, the power play was essentially over. The Caps use a technique called the slingshot in which a defenseman, usually John Carlson, skates the puck to the neutral zone, then turns around and passes it back to a trailing forward who takes it in stride. The point is to maintain possession heading into the offensive zone and the puck carrier can either use his speed to take it himself or pass it to teammates left open by the penalty killers who are defending against the speedy puck carrier. That is how it is supposed to work. In reality, it is garbage and should be burned with fire.

Lots of teams use the slingshot, some of them successfully. The issue is that the Caps are bad at it. They need to either get better or scrap it altogether and I would prefer the latter. If they can figure out how to get the puck into the offensive zone, the power play will return to the potent offensive threat it has been in the past.

Jakub Vrana should absolutely play on the second unit. He was a power play specialist in Hershey and his speed makes him an ideal candidate to attack the offensive zone in the way I described. For now, I would give the nod to Dmitry Orlov over Djoos. I feel Orlov has the higher offensive upside, plus you also have to consider what happens if the puck is turned over and the PK counters. I would rather have Orlov as my only defenseman on the ice defending a rush than Djoos.

With all due respect to Stephenson, the penalty kill should be just fine without him with the additions of Garnet Hathaway, Richard Panik and a full season of Carl Hagelin. I did not see him as the penalty kill specialist that Todd Reirden seemed to last season and I fully expect he is going to spend most if not all of next season in Hershey.

I believe Reirden wanted the penalty kill to look like what Arizona had last season; a strong defensive unit with a counter potential that opponents have to account for. That is why we saw him experiment with players like Evgeny Kuznetsov on the PK.

A strong penalty kill is not built with three good defensive players plus one offensive threat. You need four players who know what they are doing in the defensive zone who can also transition the puck into a counter-attack. What makes Hagelin so effective is that he is incredibly smart in his own zone and also has dangerous speed that can lead to offense.

With more options for the penalty kill and personnel more suited to what Reirden envisioned last season, I expect a much-improved PK. Top ten may be a stretch, but if they can fall somewhere in the 8-15 range, Washington will be good.

Phillip M. writes: T.J. Oshie may end up with more time on the third line to rest him this year and reserve him for use in both power play and penalty kill teams. Do you see that as a likely scenario?

I wrote about this very topic early in the offseason and agree with you. It would certainly benefit Oshie for the reasons you listed. Keep him on the power play and the penalty kill, but reduce his minutes. He has great chemistry with Lars Eller and it makes the third line very dangerous.

Is it likely? Probably not.

This was something the team could do more easily when it had Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky who you could move to the second line. I am not sure they have that option now with Hagelin or Panik.

Hagelin can absolutely play on the second line if you need him to, but I would not put him there for an extended period of time. He scored five goals and 19 points last season. Part of that was playing in Los Angeles which was a bad fit for him, but I do not think he can give you the offense you need from a top-six forward.

Just like all free agents, Panik is a wildcard. He cracked 20 goals once in his career, but he did that while playing on a line with Jonathan Toews. I just do not think Reirden is going to look at the players he has available and elect to play Hagelin or Panik on the second line over a guy like Oshie, even if it would ultimately benefit Oshie over the course of the season.

Douglas F. writes: Everyone knows this is a big season for Lucas Johansen who has shown lots of bright spots every now and then but hasn't shown a lot of consistency. What do you see in the future in the former first-round pick?

I wrote on this earlier this month. You can check out the article here.

When talking about Johansen, we have to remember that he suffered an upper-body injury last year that essentially cost him half the season. The issue for him is that the team is very high on Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary. You can be patient with a sixth-round pick, but when a first-round pick falls behind in the organization depth chart, it is not long before he becomes more valuable to you as a trade asset than as a player.

The knock on Johansen when he was drafted was that he was too skinny and needed to put on weight. When I spoke with him last season, he said he managed to get up to 190 pounds and keep that weight on. When I watched him play, however, it is clear that his puck-moving skills still lag behind where you would expect them to be at this point for a puck-moving defenseman. He is always quick to get the puck off his stick which is good in the defensive zone, but he is too reactionary which leads to turnovers. It seems almost instinctive at this point that whenever the puck is on his stick, his primary goal is to pass it away as quickly as possible. This limits his offensive effectiveness. It is hard to score or set up plays when you instinctively fling the puck off your stick every time it gets close.

If you want my prediction, I think he will ultimately be traded and I would be surprised if he is still in the Caps’ organization a year from now.

Phillip M. writes: I’m all about the Caps but I have a soft spot for our former coach Barry Trotz. Everyone is projecting the New York Islanders being at the bottom of the Metro this year. What are your feelings about the islanders? Could they be the Capitals toughest competition in the Metro again?

The Metro is really hard to predict this season. The knock on the Islanders is that they essentially did nothing in the offseason and replaced their Vezina-winning goalie with Semyon Varlamov. It is dangerous to stand pat in a division that improved as much as the Metro did.

I do believe the Islanders will take a step back, but I could see them reaching the postseason again. Trotz is a tremendous coach so you can expect the same type of defensive performance. Plus, goalie coach Mitch Korn is a wizard. It is probably unreasonable to expect Varlamov to replicate Lehner’s season, but he will undoubtedly improve under Korn.

I do not think New York will challenge the Caps, but I do not seem the falling into the division basement which I have squarely reserved for Columbus.

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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Alex Ovechkin selling ‘We Will Skate Again’ t-shirts and masks to help local community

Alex Ovechkin selling ‘We Will Skate Again’ t-shirts and masks to help local community

Alex Ovechkin will be selling custom "We Will Skate Again" t-shirts, face masks and neck gaiters with all proceeds going toward foundations in the DMV community, the Capitals announced in a press release Thursday.

The products, which can be purchased at the Ovechkin's online store, feature his signature logo. The shirts also have the phrase "We Will Skate Again" written across the front. Here's a look at some of the designs from the press release:

Money raised from t-shirt sales will be donated to the Tucker Road Ducks and The Tucker Road Parent Hockey Organization. The youth hockey team from Prince George’s County, Md., tragically lost their ice rink in 2017 due to a fire. The organization is working to rebuild it, while also striving to make hockey available for kids of any economic background. 

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Proceeds from the masks and neck gaiters will go to the Monumental Sports & Entertainment Foundation's “Feeding the Frontlines” fund, which was created as a way to help those in the community who are dealing with the negative impact of COVID-19.

Ovechkin and the rest of the Capitals are gearing up for the beginning of training camp on July 13 as the NHL gets closer to a return.

Stay connected to the Capitals with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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How a flat cap could affect the Capitals' approach to the Seattle expansion draft

How a flat cap could affect the Capitals' approach to the Seattle expansion draft

The NHL salary cap is going to remain at $81.5 million for next two years at least. That is going to make life difficult for Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan. With the team already tight against the cap ceiling, he won't even get the annual relief of the cap rising. One way in which the team could find a modicum of relief, however, is through the 2021 expansion draft. Every team in the NHL will lose a player to Seattle which means taking a contract off the books. Given the team's cap situation, there is one player specifically to keep in mind when it comes to the expansion draft: T.J. Oshie.

For the expansion, each team will be able to protect eight skaters and a goalie or seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie. It seems safe to assume Washington will choose the latter. Here are the forwards that will still be under contract after the 2020-21 season: Nicklas Backstrom, Nic Dowd, Lars Eller, Carl Hagelin, Garnet Hathaway, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Oshie, Richard Panik and Tom Wilson. The contracts for both Alex Ovechkin and Jakub Vrana expire at the end of the 2020-21 season, but both will almost certainly be re-signed so we can add them to the list.

Of the forwards the team would want to protect, the most obvious choices are Backstrom, Eller, Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, Vrana and Wilson. Most would assume that the seventh spot should go to Oshie, but should it?

As I wrote yesterday, one of the issues for Washington is that the team has several long-term deals on the books. For a team with little room under the cap, MacLellan had to offer longer-term deals instead of big money ones to remain competitive in the gree agent market. The risk is that it ties you to a player for longer, but even if a player is not living up to his contract, the percentage of his cap hit would decrease every year with a steadily rising salary cap. Well, now the cap is no longer rising and that means players on long deals, like Oshie, are not getting better as the players age.

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Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to Oshie. First, he will be 34 at the time of the expansion draft and will only be halfway through an eight-year contract that carries a cap hit of $5.75 million. Obviously, the chances that Oshie would be living up to that cap hit when he was 37 or 38 were low when Oshie first signed the deal, but that's OK because with a steadily rising cap, the percentage would probably be low enough at that point that it would not be a significant issue. But now the salary cap is flat which means MacLellan is going to have to take a hard look at all of the team's long-term deals and project out what the team can expect from those players towards the end of their contracts.

Oshie is having a great season with 26 goals and 23 assists. He was on pace for 58 points which would have been his best in Washington. He is a leader on the team and a real boost to the locker room. No one could question his value to Washington now, but the question is what will his value be in the second half of his contract?

RELATED: WHY A FLAT SALARY CAP IS BAD NEWS FOR THE CAPS

Granted, Seattle knows all of this, but there are three reasons why Oshie would still be an attractive acquisition. First, Oshie's cap hit is essentially a non-factor for a team starting from scratch. The Caps have very little room to work with under the cap while Seattle has all of the room to work with. A cap hit of $5.75 million would hardly be a deterrent. Second, Oshie is actually from Washington state. While most fans remember Oshie taking the Cup to his hometown of Warroad, Minn., Oshie was born in Washington and lived there until moving to Minnesota in 2002. Third, when building a team, you need players like Oshie who are personable and charismatic. He is the life of the locker room and a natural leader. He would be Washington's native son, returning to lead the team in its inaugural season.

To me, it is not a stretch to think that if Oshie is indeed selected, he would be in the running to be Seattle's first captain. His departure would also provide some cap relief to a Washington team in need of the extra room. Losing Oshie would mean losing that spark in the locker room, however, and MacLellan will have to decide whether that is a fair trade-off.

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