Capitals

Capitals

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.

Joshua Cohen writes: How will the Caps keep our best players after their contracts expire after this year?

Justin Cade writes: At this point, what do you think the chances are the Nicklas Backstrom will be in a Caps sweater next season and beyond?

Charles Gabriel writes: With Alex Ovechkin and Jakub Vrana needing new contracts in two years, and Evgeny Kuznetsov showing he can be the same kind of center needed to play with Ovechkin, do the caps consider not signing Backstrom or Holtby this season?

William Dunlap writes: Do you think the Caps will move on from Holtby after this season?

Samuel Resnick writes: How much do you think it will cost to resign Holtby or Backstrom?

Clearly the contract situations for Backstrom and Holtby is on everyone's mind. I do not see the team letting Backstrom walk. It may cost the team more money than perhaps Brian MacLellan would otherwise want to spend on a 32-year-old forward because, at $6.7 million per year, Backstrom has been a steal for a long time now. The Caps will have to pay up. But so long as Backstrom wants to be back, I think the team will do everything it can to get this done.

 

Holtby, on the other hand, is more complicated. He is due a raise from his $6.1 million per year cap hit. That is too much money considering the team is so tight against the cap, his replacement is already in the NHL and the Seattle expansion draft essentially makes it impossible to keep both Holtby and Samsonov together since the team will only be able to protect one from Seattle.

Craig Boden writes: With the Braden Holtby contract up next year and 3 young goalies in the system, (Ilya Samsonov, Pheonix Copley, and Vitek Vanecek) what does the Capitals Goalie tandem look like for the 2020/21 season?

As noted above, I believe Holtby is gone and Samsonov will take over as the No. 1. As for who his backup will be, I actually would not be surprised to see the team look outside the organization to find a high-end backup given Samsonov's inexperience. Someone like a Thomas Greiss or...ahem...Jaroslav Halak who will come in as the backup, but will still be expected to play heavy minutes. I am not sure the team will have enough confidence in a Samsonov/Copley or Samsonov/Vanecek tandem given  the inexperience there.

Alex Graninger writes: Why was Ilya Samsonov chosen over Vitek Vanecek?

Because Samsonov is better. The Caps have thought so for a long time. Why else would they draft Samsonov in the first round of the 2015 draft just one year after drafting Vanecek in the second round?

Dan Graninger writes: What happens if the Capitals move Ilya Samsonov down to the AHL for the expansion draft and bring up Vitek Vanecek instead, protect Holtby and leave Vanecek unprotected? Also, what are the chances that, if the Caps keep Holtby and Samsonov and only protect Holtby that Seattle would even pick Samsonov? Granted a lot could happen in Samsonov’s play between now and the draft, but surely there’s bound to be other goalies that aren’t protected by other teams who have more experience and are better than Samsonov, right?

Whether Samsonov is in the NHL or AHL is irrelevant. The Caps could send him to the ECHL and he would still be available in the expansion draft. The rules leave all first and second-year players exempt, but this is based on their professional contracts. The AHL is a professional league and playing there counts towards a player's eligibility.

As for the second part of your question, if Samsonov is left exposed I would put the chances he is taken near 100-percent. Barring some sort of catastrophic injury or precipitous fall-off in play, an expansion team is not going to pass on the chance to take a young starting goalie. Granted, we all thought Vegas would take Philipp Grubauer in the 2017 expansion draft and they took Nate Schmidt instead, but not everyone was sold on Grubauer as a No. 1 NHL goalie. I don't think there is much question as to Samsonov's potential.

 

Trenten Stemple writes: Will we see Phoenix Copley back in the lineup this season?

It's very doubtful. Between Copley, Vanecek and Samsonov, Copley has the largest cap hit at $1.1 million which is a major obstacle for the team this year. In addition, he is the only one of the three who is not waiver exempt. He had to clear waivers to get to the AHL at the start of the season so that means he can only be in the NHL for 10 games and 30 days before having to clear again.

Getting Samsonov playing time is more important than trying to squeeze Copley back into the roster. This would only happen if there was an injury.

Kaitlyn Carter writes: Who do you think is the most underrated and under talked about player on the team?

Michal Kempny. John Carlson is the best defenseman on the team, there is no doubt about that. But when Kempny was lost for the playoffs and the start of this season, he left a gaping hole on the defense that they just could not figure out how to plug. Kempny is the team's top defensive defenseman and it is fair to say the Caps don't win the Stanley Cup without him in 2018.

Kert Shipway writes: Why is the power play not working? It appears to me they are not moving as much as other successful teams.

The Caps' power play currently ranks 5th in the NHL at 24.3-percent. Seems to be working just fine to me.

Matt Greffen writes: Who do you think is the most valuable player we have acquired during the off season? Either through trade or a prospect we recently brought up to the Caps?

Radko Gudas. He has proven himself to be a very capable defenseman and is now playing in the top four with Dmitry Orlov. Considering the struggles Nick Jensen has had, where would this team be had they just traded Matt Niskanen for draft picks and not acquired the right-shot Gudas in the deal?

Ultimately, I like Gudas on the third pair and not in the top four. I think that could get exposed in the playoffs. For now, however, it works and the team is fortunate to have him.

Alex Graninger writes: The Caps penalty kill is on fire right now -- what are they doing right? How can they keep this up for the rest of the season once other teams start figuring out how to adjust their power play units to score against the caps PK?

The penalty kill has found the right mix of speed, skill and defense. The team just could not get that formula right last season and tried players ill-suited for the job such as Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky. The team is showing great situational awareness by getting into passing lanes, knowing when to block shots and knowing when to carry the puck and when to clear it.

 

Jonas Siegenthaler has been a huge boost for the defense and has more short-handed ice time than any player on the team. He deserves a lot of credit for the team's improvement there.

Also of note, and this goes to the second part of your question, no team in the NHL has blocked more shots than the Caps to this point. Because of that, I think you may see the penalty kill regress midway through the season when those shot blocks really start to wear a team down. Maybe Tom Wilson won't be as eager to throw himself in front of a shot on a Monday night in January as he is now.

Having players like Wilson, Hagelin and Lars Eller up top, however, always keeps the threat of a counter in the minds of the power play. That prevents teams from being as aggressive as they would otherwise hope. I think the penalty kill is in good shape to remain in the top 10 for much of the season.

Nick C. writes: With all the upgrades to the Caps’ PK and defense, do you see Brian MacLellan making a move before the deadline if needed?

Jake Livermon writes: Being so tight against the cap, my general line of thought is that the Caps will be silent in the trade market around the deadline. What if any moves do you think Brian MacLellan will make around the deadline?

I touched on this a bit above, but the biggest need this team has is a top-four right-shot defenseman. Gudas is fine for now, but the playoffs always expose a team's weaknesses and that second pair looks like the biggest hole in the lineup for me. The third pair has also been a bit inconsistent, but moving Gudas down to that pair should help solidify it if the team can find someone to plug on the right next to Dmitry Orlov.

The question is where the heck will they find the cap space?

That's a tough question to answer. They couldn't even find the cap space on Friday to skate four full forward lines. Forgetting the fact that top-four defensemen are hard to find, especially righties, figuring out how to fit one under the cap could be tough. The team may have to make another Kempny swing-for-the-fences type of deal and trade for a cheap defenseman that MacLellan thinks has a high upside.

Alex Graninger writes: The Bruins played awesome hockey in October, but now seem to be lacking. Will the Caps’ play decline after having such a great October? Why? How can the Caps prevent a decline from happening?

Every team in the league will have peaks and valleys over 82 games. It's inevitable. Very rarely do you see a team like Tampa Bay last year that was the best in the league pretty much from start to finish. Some would argue that was actually bad for them and that you need that adversity to prepare you for the playoffs, so be careful what you wish for.

 

I do not anticipate that the Caps will be able to keep this pace up the entire season. It is hard for players to go 100-percent every single game with their hits, their board battles, their shot blocks, etc. It takes a toll. They play too physical a brand of hockey to keep that up through June. In December I anticipate things to drop off a bit heading into January before starting to pick back up again in mid to late February.

Jim Bartlett writes: When will they get rid of fighting in hockey?

Not a fan of what happened on Monday, huh?  When I was young I thought fighting would be a part of hockey forever. Now, I believe we will see an end to fighting in the next 10-15 years. The culture is shifting. We have already seen the effect it has had on the NFL. There was a point where the NFL looked untouchable in terms of its popularity and hold over America. While it still remains the top sports league by far, it has certainly fallen a notablycloser to the pack in recent years as America just does not have the same appetite for big hits as it once did. That  is true in hockey as well where the game has become much faster and more-skilled than it was 10 years ago.

With what we know about concussions and head injuries, the end to fighting is, in my mind, inevitable. Everything the NHL does to promote player safety is undermined by the fact that this is a league in which punches thrown could earn you a stern talking to from the refs and nothing more. That's not true in any other sprot. It is fro hockey. You can say phsycial play has always been a part of hockey culture, but at some point you have to realize the culture is changing.

I'd give it 10-15 years, long enough for the younger generation to take more control of the game from the older generation that will never give up hockey fights unless they are forced.

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.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: