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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: What should the Caps do with Holtby and Kuznetsov?

Capitals Mailbag Part 1: What should the Caps do with Holtby and Kuznetsov?

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.

Dan Hornbaker writes: My question is regarding Nicklas Backstrom, but just regarding term...what do you think he is asking for in terms of number of years and what would you like to see him get? Bonus, same question regarding #8 the following year.

For Backstrom, I am guessing he gets five years, around $46 million and they keep his cap hit to something like $9.2 million.

That's just a guess though.

Obviously Dan's email came before the news on Tuesday. As for Ovechkin, I am thinking we may see three or four years. Remember, that he is 34 now. He will be 35 by the start of next season and 36 by the time his next contract starts. Unless he gets really close to Wayne Gretzky's record, I don't see him wanting to stick around just to score 10-15 goals on the third line. When he stops being a top-line player, I think he goes back to Russia where he will still be a star. That's a total guess and Gretzky's record is a wild card. He may get close enough that he decides to stay longer, but right now I am thinking a three or four-year deal.

As for the money, I really don't anticipate him breaking the bank. Washington has been good to him and I think he wants the Caps to be as competitive as possible for as long as possible so I think he falls somewhere between $9.5-11 million. A nice size salary, but not crippling as the cap continues to rise.

Mecca Vai writes: Would it be in the Capitals' best interest to trade Holtby by the deadline to receive the best deal? I believe they could get a veteran goalie to be 1A, 1B with Samsonov and possibly a top 4 defenseman.

No, no, a thousand times no.

First off, you are greatly overvaluing what they could get in return. You think they are going to get a starting goalie plus a top-four defenseman for a 30-year-old goalie with a sub .900 save percentage on the last year of his contract? No way.

Second, no, it is not in the Caps' best interest anyway.

We have literally seen this before, less than two years ago. Do people really not remember this? Holtby struggled in the regular season, was surpassed by Philipp Grubauer, stepped in and was key to winning the Stanley Cup.

Samsonov is 22 and has 17 games of NHL experience, none of them in the playoffs. You have no idea how he is going to play in the playoffs. You may think you do, but you don't. I don't. Goalie coach Scott Murray doesn't. Nobody does.

Plus, what are the odds if the Caps go on a deep run that they will play both goalies at some point? Probably pretty high. Would you feel more comfortable with a Samsonov/Holtby tandem or a Samsonov/Pheonix Copley tandem? If this team is one injury away from having to rest their Cup hopes on the shoulders of Copley or Vitek Vanecek, do you think they are winning the Cup?

I get it. Defense is a need and you think the Caps have an extra goalie, but in reality they don't.

No one wants to lose Holtby for nothing and if the Caps were not in a position where they thought they could compete for the Cup, he absolutely would be on the trading block. But they have their sites set on the Cup so they are going to ride this out, keep both goalies and then they can feel comfortable switching if either one of them struggles or gets injured.

So to summarize, the Caps are not going to trade Holtby and they are not going to re-sign him.

Are we good? Can we move past all the Holtby questions now?

Jason Woodside writes: I think we should cut our losses and trade Evgeny Kuznetsov for a 2nd pair right D. Is there a team/player out there that would work here? There has to be a team that thinks they can get more out of this guy.

Craig Boden writes: With not much cap space and a few needs before the playoffs, would there be any interest in trading Kuznetsov? Could you get a 2nd/third line centre who can play with some grit and win some important draws and maybe some help on defence?

Wow, how is this a thing?

There is no skater more important in hockey than center. You want to sacrifice center depth, one of the top two centers on the team, for a second pair defenseman or flip him for more of a two-way center? There is no realistic scenario in which this makes the team better. 

Just like Holtby, we are less than two years removed from Kuznetsov scoring 32 points in 24 playoff games to lead the team to the Cup.

I think the problem here is expectation. Kuznetsov has the talent to be a 100-point producer. We don't see that consistently and that is disappointing.

But that doesn't mean he's bad.

"Cut our losses?" Really? He is on pace for 75 points. He's third on the team.

So what's the plan, move Lars Eller to the second line and then what? Travis Boyd on the third? No, there is no way the team gets better by doing that.

Fred W. writes: If you were coach & GM for a day, what is one trade and one non-goalie line change you would make today, if any?

In terms of lines, here is what I would go with:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - Richard Panik
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - T.J. Oshie
Brendan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Yes, I would switch Panik with Oshie, just to try it. The third line has improved the last few weeks, at least defensively, but I think it is clear the offensive production is not going to come close to what many had hoped. Oshie has chemistry with Eller, try it and see how it looks and see if more minutes can spark some offense from Panik. If it doesn't work, you can always switch things back.

The Caps won a Cup with that top line and they have barely used it since. I think that speaks to the inconsistency we see from Kuznetsov at times which is fair, but this is a trio that I feel has been under-utilized.

As for trades, the salary cap handcuffs this so I would do something different and recall Martin Fehervary. He is a lefty, but he has been playing on the right in Hershey. This team needs a top-four right defenseman, let's see if he can handle it. If he can't, better to know now and if he can, give him as much time as possible to settle in and adjust to the NHL. Otherwise, you know you need to make a trade before the deadline because I don't think the defense is good enough as currently constructed to win a Cup.

Eddy Drg writes: Is Alex Ovechkin playing hurt?

It's always hard to tell with him. Remember the Nazem Kadri hit? My leg would have fallen off. Ovechkin returned the next period. Then after the playoffs it was revealed (by his wife) that Ovechkin was actually hurt and played through it.

There have been stretches this season where has not looked nearly as dominant as in the past. The goals are still up there, but I get what you're saying,

To my knowledge, there is no injury. There could be, hockey players are very secretive about these things, but nothing that I am aware of and nothing that he cited when saying he would not play in the All-Star Game. We may just be starting to see the first signs of age on the seemingly ageless Ovechkin. If "old" Ovechkin means he still finishes in the top five in goals and has a slow December, that's still pretty darn good.

Rodney Oldham writes: What NHL team has had the most African American players play for its organization? When did the NHL officially start recognizing the contributions that black players have made in the game of hockey?

Well, assuming you mean black players (since most of them are actually Afro-Canadian and not African American) the Edmonton Oilers have had the most with 13. The Caps are close behind them with 11. They have had Madison Bowey, Donald Brashear, Anson Carter, Jason Doig, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, Mike Grier, Mike Marson, Bill Riley, Reggie Savage, Devante Smith-Pelly and Joel Ward.

The NHL has made a serious push in recent years to recognize the contributions of minority players and that's why Willie O'Ree, the NHL's first black player, has become a familiar face for hockey fans. He was named the NHL's Diversity Ambassador in 1998 and has been traveling around North America ever since.

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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Caps GM Brian MacLellan is not worried about any disadvantage from the bye week, says the Cup is 'up for grabs'

Caps GM Brian MacLellan is not worried about any disadvantage from the bye week, says the Cup is 'up for grabs'

With a round-robin tournament to determine the top four seeds in each conference heading into the playoffs, it is fair to wonder what was the point of the regular season? Considering those top teams will get a bye and then go on to play a team that just won a series in the play-in round, one could certainly argue that the 24-team format the NHL will use when it returns to play actually puts the top teams at a disadvantage.

But you're not going to hear any complaining from Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan.

"I don't think there's a perfect solution here on the playoff," MacLellan said Friday in a video conference. "I think the league has done a reasonable good job of just trying to include all of the issues they can, and make it as competitive and compelling as possible. And I think it's very interesting how it could play out. It could be great to watch on TV."

Over the course of an 82-game regular season, there is incentive to finish high in the standings. The system is set up to try to give the top seeds a clear advantage in the playoffs in order to add meaning to the regular season. But that's not the system we have in 2020.

Each of the top four seeds in each conference receives a bye through the play-in round. Considering we don't know what teams are going to look like or how difficult it will be to get back up to game speed, that is a definite advantage. Even in a normal year, we see several upsets in the playoffs so the fact a team like the Caps are exempt from that is a definite boon. The problem is what happens after.

When the Caps take the ice in the round of 16, they will have played some exhibition games, three round-robin games to determine seeding and that's it. Their opponent will be coming off a playoff series. We may be calling it a play-in round, but that's just semantics. It's a do-or-die playoff series. It does not seem likely that Washington will be at the same intensity level or game speed as their opponent in that first round after three round-robin games.

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While MacLellan acknowledged the set up may provide the lower seeds with an advantage entering the round of 16, he thought the idea that it was unfair to the top seeds was overblown.

"[It] could be a slight disadvantage," he said. "You're going to play a few exhibition games and then you play a round-robin tournament. But I still think those games are going to be competitive against good teams. I mean you're playing Tampa, you're playing Boston, you're playing Philly - all real good teams. I don't know that it's going to be that big a deal for the next round, and they'll be playing competitive games. So I think it's a fairly level playing field. It's not perfect, but I think reasonably it's good."

Even if MacLellan is not buying the play-in teams getting a competitive advantage, he did acknowledge that there is not nearly as much incentive to earn the top seed considering there will be no home-ice advantage.

While being the "home team" will still earn teams a few slight advantages like getting the second line change, obviously with all the games being played in hub cities with no fans, the round-robin series won't be for "home ice."

“I don’t know, you’re in a hub city, what is home-ice advantage," MacLellan said. "You get last shift, you get your last change. I’m assuming that is a competitive advantage so seeding could become important. You would want that advantage throughout the playoffs. You look at Boston and Boston has probably earned to be a home ice, last change team throughout the playoffs, but they have to go through a mini-series to determine their seed. It’s important to a certain extent, but the fact that you are playing in a hub city lessens it a little bit.”

MacLellan is not going to come out and say this system puts Washington at a disadvantage, but there is no question there is a lot less on the line in the round-robin tournament than there is in the play-in rounds considering there is no home ice. But that fact is that we don't know what any of this is going to look like. All of this is unprecedented and anything can happen. For MacLellan, he's not going to worry about what advantages the Caps do or do not have because to him, the Cup is on the line and that's all he's focused on.

"I think the championship's up for grabs with the format is the way it is right now," MacLellan said. "A lot of teams could upset other teams and anything could happen, basically. And I think it would be entertaining, it would be compelling, and it'd be fun to watch. If you're one of the teams that gets upset, it might not be as fun. But it could be wildly entertaining."

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Alex Ovechkin's message amid George Floyd protests: 'Respect and love each other'

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Alex Ovechkin's message amid George Floyd protests: 'Respect and love each other'

While we all miss hockey and sports, there are things a heck of a lot more important than sports going on in our country right now and Alex Ovechkin added his voice on Monday with a hopeful Twitter message.

Washington, D.C., like much of the country, is experiencing massive protests in the wake of the senseless death of George Floyd. While Ovechkin may not be American, he certainly has become a public figure in Washington and he tweeted out a message asking everyone to "respect and love each other."

Stay safe out there everyone.

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