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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Why money alone won't fix the Caps' goalie conundrum

Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Why money alone won't fix the Caps' goalie conundrum

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

Have a Caps question you want 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.

Phillip M. writes: On Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby, if they accept $8 and $9.2 million dollar deals respectively and we trade Richard Panik and don’t re-sign anyone else on our third line or defense for much more than they made this year filling any holes with players from Hershey, can you see that as possible and if so could we move Holtby with a $9.2 million a year 5 or 6 year contract if we needed to?

We’ll get to Panik a bit later, but the dude has played eight games. You’re already trading him? It’s far too early to come to that conclusion and even if you have, talk about selling low. Trading him away for peanuts based on eight games and an injury is horrible asset management.

On to Holtby.

The mistake you are making is that you’re assuming the only obstacle to re-signing Holtby is money. It is a factor, but not the only factor.

I’m going to tell you why your proposal isn’t going to work, anticipate your first two rebuttals and tell you why it still won’t work.

The problem with signing Holtby to a long-term contract is that you already have his replacement playing in the NHL. You are committing a whole lot of money to one position when you don’t have to, plus both players want to be starters. Holtby is not going to want to sign on to be Samsonov's backup and Samsonov is not going to want to be a backup for the length of whatever Holtby's new contract may be. The only possible reason I can foresee why the Caps would do this is that they have chosen to stick with Holtby and sell on Samsonov. One month into the season, I cannot imagine any possibility that they end up making that choice.

I’m assuming your first rebuttal is that the Caps should keep Holtby anyway because they could have a Holtby-Samsonov tandem. More teams are using goalie tandems in today's NHL, right? Having two starting-caliber goalies splitting time would be really good! It would be, but the Seattle expansion draft makes this impossible.

Whether the Caps choose to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight skaters and one goalie, you still can only protect one goalie from being selected in the expansion draft. The Caps are not going to re-sign Holtby just to lose him for nothing to Seattle. If you lose him for nothing at the end of this season because you went all-in on a Cup run and wanted insurance on an unproven rookie fine, but it would be foolish to intentionally put the team in that position again in 2021.

At this point, I’m guessing based on the last part of your question that your second rebuttal is that the Caps should re-sign Holtby anyway and trade him before the expansion draft. That way you get a Holtby-Samsonov goalie tandem next season, then trade Holtby before the expansion draft.

Hotly knows the situation in Washington, he knows Samsonov is seen as the next starter and he knows about Seattle. More importantly, I guarantee you Holtby’s agent knows these things too.

If I’m Holtby or his agent, I’m not signing any long-term deal with Washington without a no-movement clause. Remember, any player with a no-movement clause must be protected in the expansion draft. If the Caps give him that, it would mean they could not protect Samsonov.

Holtby wants to play and he wants to stay in Washington. Neither of those things are likely to happen if the Caps are prepared for Samsonov to take over as the No. 1. Knowing that and knowing there is an expansion draft coming, it will take more than just a long-term contract offer from the Caps to show that they are committed to him long-term because, as you said, they could easily just try to flip him the following year.

OK, so you definitely aren’t going to let Seattle take me or try to trade me before the expansion draft? Prove it.

I have not spoken to Holtby on this so I don’t know what he is thinking, but consider this: As a free agent starting goalie, Holtby will have earned the right to choose the best fit for him and his family from among all the offers he gets. Why would he give up that power to be trade bait next year?

Phillip M.writes: You make some very good points that a playoff-contending team cannot afford to turn over the goal to a netminder who has such limited NHL experience. But using that logic, will 30 or so games as a backup this year provide Ilya Samsonov the confidence and needed time to develop into that reliable backstop?

Coming into this season, the most games Samsonov had played at any level in a single season was 37 and it came last year in the AHL. For that reason, thinking he would step into this season and simply ascend to No. 1 and play between 50 and 60 NHL games was crazy. If you aren’t convinced that giving too much responsibility to an inexperienced goalie can have a negative effect on his development or performance, just go ask Carter Hart and the Philadelphia Flyers how their season is going.

Now, you are right in that at some point the Caps will have to take off the training wheels, but going straight from 37 AHL games to 55 is a much bigger jump than going from 30 or 40 NHL games to 55 There is an adjustment that has to be made in terms of managing more playing time, but at least he would be used to playing against that level of competition.

Greg C. writes: Now that Samsonov has seemingly established himself as our NHL backup goalie and heir-apparent to the top spot, do you think Pheonix Copley will request a trade? How do you think the salary cap and expansion draft play into the goaltender situation?

I don’t think Copley will request a trade because I asked him if he had and he got annoyed at the question.

I was in Hershey last week while the Caps were out west and I spoke with both Copley and Christian Djoos about this very subject. You can read the article about it here.

Copley told me “I want to be in the NHL no matter where that’s at, but hopefully it’s D.C. in the future.”

You may tell yourself he’s just saying what he has to say, but my next question was if he had considered asking for a trade and he scoffed at the question before answering no.

I have no doubt that he would jump at the opportunity to go to the NHL even if it meant leaving the Caps, but for now he has not and is not considering asking for a trade.

Whether or not the team will pursue one depends on whether they think Vitek Vanecek can be the backup next season and if the team would be comfortable with a Samsonov/Vanecek combo. I've been on record saying the salary cap and expansion draft is going to force Holtby out which means if Copley is still on the team next season, I have to believe he would be the front-runner to be the backup.

The only other thing to keep in mind in terms of the expansion draft is that each team will be required to expose at least one goalie with term remaining. Both Copley and Vanecek fulfill that requirement so the team would be fine there if it traded one of those two away.

@MichaelJBenelli on Twitter writes: Will we see a Christian Djoos or Pheonix Copley trade before January 2019? What happens with Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby’s contracts? Would the Caps for Dman?

We will only see a Djoos or Copley trade if someone blows MacLellan away with an offer. Djoos will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season so the Caps will still retain his rights while Copley remains under contract. There is no reason for MacLellan to try to force a trade. The Caps have a boatload of left-shot defensemen which seemingly makes Djoos even more expendable, but he almost always played on the right while in Washington and is even playing on the right now in Hershey with Martin Fehervary on the left. Maybe you keep him then as insurance in case of an injury to John Carlson, Radko Gudas or Nick Jensen.

I am doubtful we see either Holtby or Backstrom re-signed this season. Holtby because I don’t think the team will re-sign him at all and Backstrom because if you are of the belief the Caps can only afford to sign one, maybe you don’t sign him during the season and tell your starting goalie, you’re on your way out, but go get ‘em in the playoffs! We believe in you!

I am not sure what you mean by the last part of your question. I am going to assume you are asking if the team would trade for a Dman and the answer is a resounding maybe.

Depending on how Gudas plays with Dmitry Orlov on the second pair, top-four right-shot defenseman could be a need for Washington. Even if Gudas is OK during the regular season, the playoffs have a way of exposing a team’s weaknesses so I would not be surprised if the Caps start kicking the tires on right-shot D. The problem is those players won’t come cheap so what are the Caps willing to give up and how on Earth could they possibly fit a top-four defenseman under the salary cap?

Phillip M. writes: If we bring up some of our Hershey players in 2020-21 to play regularly will they then be eligible for Seattle to draft them?

Eligibility for the expansion draft is based on years as a professional so playing in the AHL still counts. Recalling a player from the AHL has no effect on their eligibility for Seattle because they are still considered professionals while in the AHL. I believe this only applies to North American pro leagues like the AHL and ECHL and not European ones like the SHL or KHL, but I am not 100-percent sure about that.

But to answer your question, bringing up Hershey players doesn’t matter because they are still considered pros at that level.

Micah R. writes: I believe once the LTIR tag comes off Richard Panik the Caps will not be able to afford two extra forwards that are currently on the roster. How do you see the team handling personnel decisions once Panik returns? Who is waiver exempt? Do you think any of the non-waiver exempt 4th line skaters clear waivers the way they are playing right now? Does Brian MacLellan try to sell high on one of these guys instead of risking waivers despite the return still being less than optimal?

You are right in that when Panik returns from LTIR, the team will be over the cap again. Assuming Liam O’Brien is sent back to Hershey, the Caps will still need to send another player down to get under the cap. At this point I am not sure how the team can afford to keep Chandler Stephenson and his $1.05 million cap hit around and even then, it is going to depend on how much space they have been able to bank thus far. If that’s still not enough room, we may see Jonas Siegenthaler sent to the AHL as he is wavier exempt, just until the team has banked enough money to bring him back. Siegenthaler and Samsonov are the only two players on the roster who are waiver exempt so obviously Siegenthaler is the only possible choice.

It is going to be very tight.

@sports_god1 on Twitter writes: Does Richard Panik slide right back in or must he earn his job back?

Panik will almost certainly step back into the lineup when he returns for two reasons. First, the players who will have to be sent to the AHL to fit Panik's cap hit will essentially necessitate Panik gets back into the lineup. Second, he has sat and watched long enough. He is not going to suddenly fit into Reirden's system by not playing. He is under contract for four years. You have to give him a few months to get his legs underneath him and figure things out. He’s going to do that on the ice, not in the press box.

Benjamin C. writes: When Panik is finally healthy how is he going to fit into this lineup? He was supposed to replace Connolly but the first 8 or so games he did absolutely nothing.

Initially, I would not be surprised if Panik starts on the fourth line, but the goal will be to get him up to the third. Garnet Hathaway is there now and it is not as if that line has taken off offensively. Hathaway is a great fourth-line player and the team will be better if Panik can produce on the third and Hathaway can move down to the fourth.

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 GM Brian MacLellan does not see why the 2020 Stanley Cup deserves an asterisk

Capitals GM Brian MacLellan does not see why the 2020 Stanley Cup deserves an asterisk

The 2020 season is unlike any other and because of that, it has brought up debates that we typically do not see in a season. From year to years, no one really questions whether the winner of the Stanley Cup was somehow invalid. If you win four best-of-seven series, clearly you deserve to be the last team standing. But now that the NHL has a playoff format for when the league resumes play, there are those who believe this year's Stanley Cup deserves an asterisk.

That notion is ridiculous., but don't take my word for it. Listen to someone who has won the Cup twice.

Brian MacLellan won the Cup in 2018 as the Capitals general manager, but he also won it as a player in 1989 with the Calgary Flames. Obviously the way in which a winner will be determined this postseason is different than a normal year, but to MacLellan, he feels winning the Cup would mean just as much as in 2020 as it would any other year.

"It's going to be different, it's going to be unique," MacLellan said Friday in a video conference. "The format's unique, but I still think players are competitive. You get in that environment, you're going to want to win. Organizations want to win."

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You may be thinking to yourself, "what is he supposed to say?" but really, he had an opportunity to voice a dissenting opinion throughout the process. When the league voted on the 24-team playoff proposal, only two out of 31 teams voted against it and the Caps were not among them. MacLellan could have said this year is different or that it won't feel the same and, as someone who has won the Cup both as a player and a general manager, his opinion would certainly carry some weight.

But that's just not how MacLellan feels about it.

"Once we get into it and it gets competitive, I don't think players are going to sit there [and think] this is not the same," he said.

MacLellan added, "I don't know that it lessens it because we've had a break, we've had a situation that's come into society, come into sports."

Considering the winner of the 2020 Cup will have had to wait through a season pause of several months, played through a training camp, most likely live in seclusion in a hub city for several weeks throughout the postseason, won at least four rounds of playoff hockey (five if a play-in team goes all the way) and do all of it in the midst of a global pandemic, why would anyone think to win the Cup this year could somehow be less difficult or satisfying?

"It'll be different," MacLellan said, "But I think the satisfaction of winning a championship, playing with your team, playing with your teammates, getting through hurdles that you have to go through in the playoffs, I think that's all going to be very satisfying."

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With the NHL limiting teams to 28 skaters for the playoffs, what will the Caps' roster look like?

With the NHL limiting teams to 28 skaters for the playoffs, what will the Caps' roster look like?

In a typical NHL postseason, all roster limits and salary cap restrictions are lifted. This year, however, is no normal postseason and teams are going to have prepare for having a limited number of players on the road.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the NHL has advised teams to prepare for a 28-man roster plus unlimited goalies for training camp and the playoffs. Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan confirmed this in a video conference on Friday.

"We got the roster number the other day of 28 plus unlimited goalies," MacLellan said. "So we're in discussions now on how we want to use those extra players and what's the best way we can organizationally."

It should be noted that "unlimited" goalies is a bit of a misnomer because all teams will only be allowed to bring a maximum of 50 people to their hub cities for the playoffs. So sure, bring as many goalies as you want, but for each goalie you bring that's one less staff member who will be able to go.

In a typical postseason, teams will recall several players from the minors to serve as "black aces," who are depth practice players. Several practices in the postseason are optional so having black aces ensures that regardless of the NHL regulars who wish to take part in a practice, there are still enough players to work with whether it be a goalie to shoot on or maybe shooters for a goalie to face against. Black aces also provide depth which is important for the grueling Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the players themselves, it provides younger prospects a valuable learning experience for what the postseason is like and how the veteran players approach it.

With a limited roster and limited personnel, however, MacLellan likely will not be able to bring all the players he normally would want to. Here's a projection of what a 28-man roster may look like for Washington.

The regulars

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

Brenden Dillon - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Jonas Siegenthaler - Michal Kempny
Radko Gudas

When the NHL season was paused, there were 21 skaters on the roster. That number is down to 20 after Brendan Leipsic's contract was terminated. There is no reason to think any of the other 20 will not be with the team for the postseason.

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Possible Black Aces

With 20 players, that leaves just eight slots left for black aces. Here are the most likely candidates:

Shane Gersich
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby
Brett Leason
Beck Malenstyn
Connor McMichael
Liam O'Brien
Garrett Pilon
Brian Pinho
Mike Sgarbossa
Joe Snively
Daniel Sprong
Alex Alexeyev
Martin Fehervary
Lucas Johansen
Tyler Lewington
Bobby Nardella

Of those players, my best guess for the eight the team will take would be Gersich, Malenstyn, McMichael, Sgarbossa, Sprong, Alexeyev, Fehervary and Lewington.

First off, MacLellan named McMichael specifically as a player the team was considering taking. I don't think he does that if he was not fairly certain McMichael was going to be included. Malenstyn said in a video conference after the AHL season was officially canceled that he had been told by the team he was going to be a black ace. As for the rest, considering there is a fairly limited number of roster spots, I think the team would lean very largely on players who are more likely to be plugged into the lineup in case of injury. That means guys like Sgarbossa and Sprong would get nods over some prospects like Jonsson-Fjallby or Snively or, on defense, Lewington would be added over prospects like Johansen and Nardella.

Goalies

Braden Holtby
Ilya Samsonov
Pheonix Copley
Vitek Vanecek

Teams will always have a third goalie when possible in the playoffs and Copley also confirmed he will be a black ace in the video conference with Malenstyn. The only question is if the team would bring Vanecek as well just to be safe. With all the unknowns of the coronavirus, it would not be surprising to see MacLellan err on the side of caution and bring a fourth netminder. It may just depend on what other personnel the team may want to bring and if there is space in the 50-person limit for a fourth goalie.

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