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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: What is Matt Niskanen really worth?

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: What is Matt Niskanen really worth?

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

Have a Caps question you want to be answered 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.

Erin C. writes: Do you think it’s almost certain, if not certain, that Vrana will be back next season? If so, what kind of deal do you expect him to get?

If there is one thing I am certain of this offseason, it is that Jakub Vrana will be back with the Caps. Take it to the bank. He is coming off a 24-goal season for a team in which offensive depth suddenly looks like a serious question mark. Not only that, but he is a restricted free agent with no arbitration rights. Even if he hated Washington, which he doesn’t, he would have few options but to re-sign.

Locking a player like Vrana up for the long-term seems like a smart move, but I am not sure the team will have the money to do that. To get an RFA to agree to a long-term deal, you have to really pay out some big bucks for those unrestricted free agent years you are buying. I am not sure they are in a position to dedicate that much of what little cap room they have left on a long-term deal for Vrana.

But wait, you may be saying, if they sign player x for this amount and player y for that amount then they could have enough room! Here’s the problem with that way of thinking. Vrana is an RFA, you know he will be back. If you are Brian MacLellan, you need to figure out how much cap space you have to work with to sign players this offseason and you cannot just reserve a certain amount of room in the hope you can sign Vrana long-term. He needs to be one of the top priorities. Get that deal done and out of the way so you know how much cap room he takes up.

For that reason, I see a bridge deal for Vrana. Something probably in the three-year, $4 million per year range.

Did you know that Brooks Orpik was 33 when the Caps first signed him and turned 34 before his first season in Washington? I bring this up because clearly Orpik was a defenseman who still had value as a leader and as a Cup winner even if MacLellan knew his play was going to drop off before his new five-year contract expired. For that reason the Caps were willing to sign him to a five-year deal at the age of 33.

Niskanen is coming off a bad season and is 32, but he is a high character guy and can be a leader on the blue line. His contract is only for two more years so even if his play rapidly declines, this is not a toxic contract by any means.

Will teams be lining up to trade for him to be on their top pairing? No, but just like Orpik had a lot of value for the Caps when they first signed him, Niskanen is going to have value to teams out there who need that kind of leadership.

Maybe a contender needs that steadying presence in the locker room and on the blue line or maybe a young team like the Ottawa Senators could use some leadership after trading away every good player with any veteran experience they had.

The return is not going to be great, maybe a few draft picks, but the biggest asset Washington will get in a trade is cap space and really that's the whole point.

If you are wondering what problem a Niskanen trade solves because you do not think his trade value is high enough to net the Caps much in return, I would contend you are looking at this the wrong way. The goal is to free cap space in order to make a run at re-signing a player like Carl Hagelin or Brett Connolly or at the very least have enough money to sign a quality free agent forward.

Christopher S. writes: A lot is made about the shortened length of time off in the summer for the Stanley Cup winning (and losing) team and how a short summer impacts summer training etc.  However, there are many NHL players who are still playing in the World Cup and nothing is ever really said about ‘other’ tournaments in which these players participate.  Doesn’t this sort of negate the whole ‘short summer’ argument?  I realize the World Cup may not be as grueling as the Stanley Cup in terms of hitting and compete, but still they are playing hockey games.  I also realize that it’s not the whole team participating, but still it’s the top line players.

I see your point, but you touch on one of the key differences here. If you watch the World Championship, no one could mistake that for a Stanley Cup Playoff game. The Stanley Cup Playoffs is the most grueling hockey these players will play. Think about it this way, several NHL players participate in Da Beauty League in the offseason, but no one is worried about that tournament fatiguing the players during the NHL season. Obviously the World Championships is a step above a summer league, but you get the point. The less grueling the event, the less fatigue.

Physically, the players put their bodies through a lot more punishment in the playoffs than at Worlds. Nicklas Backstrom did not participate and Lars Eller left after three games because of injuries. They both were dealing with those injuries during the playoffs, but were not willing to push through them for Worlds. Add another few rounds and you can see why those guys would need more time to recover before they even think about preparing for the next season.

Also, the tournament is over already. The Stanley Cup Final will run through mid-June and that’s just the games. The celebration will run well into the summer. All jokes about how much the Caps celebrated their Cup victory aside, the celebration for every team stretches well into the summer with the city celebrating the win and the players getting their day with the Cup. Once all of that is over, then you have to take care of all the family things you have been putting off, vacations, time with the kids, etc. A Stanley Cup victory turns the sumemr into quite the whirlwind. You do not have the same amount of time to rest, get away from hockey, ramp up your training and be ready for camp the same way you would otherwise. There are a lot of factors that make it a short summer that are not just about playing games.

Thanks for all your questions! Part 2 of the mailbag will be coming on Thursday. If you have a question you want to be read and answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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Ovechkin awarded the prestigious Wayne Gretzky International Award

Ovechkin awarded the prestigious Wayne Gretzky International Award

Alex Ovechkin has already collected almost every award in hockey imaginable, and he just won another.

USA Hockey announced on Wednesday that Ovechkin will receive the prestigious Wayne Gretzky International Award. He will be honored at the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Dec. 12.

The award recognizes international players who have had a significant impact on advancing hockey in the United States.

After the Capitals drafted him first overall in 2004, Ovi has used his prominence in hockey to make an impact on the Washington area. Ovechkin started Ovi's Crazy 8's in 2006, providing more than 5,000 tickets to help underserved children attend Caps games.

2019 marks the sixth consecutive season that he will be hosting a skating event for the American Special Hockey Association. Ovi has also worked with several foundations to grant the wishes of ill children.

Over the course of Ovechkin's NHL career, youth participation in hockey in the DMV has nearly doubled, rising from 13,923 to 22,500, according to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

“His performance on the ice and efforts off the ice have certainly translated into more kids and families wanting to be involved in our sport,” said Pat Kelleher, executive director of USA Hockey, in a press release. “He’s been a great ambassador for hockey and embodies what the Gretzky Award represents.”

Entering his fifteenth season in Washington, Ovechkin has made a habit out of winning awards.

Ovi's scoring prowess has him ranked thirteenth on the NHL's all-time goal list, and another 50 goal season would push him all the way to seventh.

Finishing his career as the top-ranked goal scorer is not out of the question, as Ovechkin continues to chase the namesake of his most recent award.

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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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