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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Are the Caps good enough to go on another deep run?

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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Are the Caps good enough to go on another deep run?

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! You can read Wednesday’s Part 1 here.

Check out Part 2 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.

I don’t know why Wilson and Gudas’ relationship would be any different from anyone else on the team. From what I have heard, Gudas is a very nice guy off the ice and there are few players, if anyone, who is as nice as Wilson. If you are asking because they fought once before, that does not matter. It was years ago, back when Gudas was in Tampa Bay. It is not like either player has been holding a grudge ever since. Don’t forget, Dmitrij Jaskin’s last fight was against Wilson in 2017 and he was still welcomed into Washington. This won’t be an issue.

As for their relationship on the ice, let’s just say there are a lot of teams that are going to be looking over their shoulders for 60 minutes every single game when they play the Caps.

Mike K. writes: Dmitrij Jaskin hasn’t point produced but he’s strong on the puck and tough on the boards and has been able to create his own shot in tight spaces. I’m puzzled by the shunning when he’s been a difference maker on the ice. Brian MacLellan clearly sees talent which is why they kept him. Does he have a chance to earn a bottom 6 role? Do you have a projected top 9? Can we make a deep run with this roster?

When it comes to Jaskin they have to sign him first.

Like you, I was puzzled with how Jaskin was used over the season. He seemed to play well every time he got into the lineup, but for whatever reason, Todd Reirden did not appear to be a fan. Now as a restricted free agent, his future with the team is up in the air.

For most restricted free agents, it is an easy decision to bring them back. With Washington tight up against the salary cap, however, they may not be enough cap space to commit to him if he is not going to have a more regular role in the lineup.

It is clear the fourth line needs an upgrade. Is Jaskin good enough that he represents an upgrade or is the team better off letting him walk and saving as much cap space as possible to pursue more productive options? If he does sign, his role would be on the fourth line.

My projected top-nine as of now:

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin – Lars Eller – free agent or trade

I ultimately do not think Connolly or Andre Burakovsky end up back with the team so they will need to find someone to plug into that third line who is not yet on the roster. This is where the salary cap not being determined yet or potentially being lower than that projected $83 million really hurts.

Can they make a deep run? It depends on who they get. I am not going to overreact to last season. The roster is roughly the same as the one that won the Cup and there was no reason to dismantle it just because they ran out of gas in the playoffs. Having said that, it is a fair question to ask when you could potentially lose Connolly, Burakovsky, Devante Smith-Pelly, Matt NIskanen and Brooks Orpik and replace them with Radko Gudas whoever they can afford through trades and free agency.

I will say yes, the team can still go on a deep run with the caveat that I want to see what the roster looks like after free agency. If they completely whiff and fail to address their need for depth offense, then I will change my opinion.

Nathan S. writes: Why is NHL behind the trend set by MLB and NFL where managing and coaching trends are toward younger and more innovative leaders (Alex Cora and Sean McVay come to mind)?

Be careful what you wish for. The trend for younger managers in the MLB largely stems from the analytics movement that, in my opinion, completely undervalues managers. If you are managing just based on analytics, you can go cheaper and younger and it won’t matter. But those managers do not know how to manage players and personalities. I am not a dinosaur, I recognize the value of analytics and I am not arguing for the antiquated notion that numbers can’t tell us anything because the game is played on the field and not on the spreadsheet. But you cannot pretend that managing players and a team is just about the numbers.

Having said that, I see what you’re saying. Hockey very much as an “old guard” problem. Whenever a head coaching vacancy opens up, it always seems like the same candidates and coaches are recycled over and over again. There is just a different mentality in hockey that says you have to have the experienced coach in order to succeed. In the NFL and MLB, however, a lot of teams are starting to take the exact opposite approach believing that you have to find someone willing to be different in order to succeed.

This is changing a bit in the NHL as we have seen a few more general managers venture into the college ranks to find head coaches. Hopefully that will lead to other general managers looking outside the box to find their next bench boss. Really all it takes is for one coach to find success, then everyone will follow.

Rodney O. writes: Has a team ever won a Stanley Cup and their affiliate (ECHL, AHL) won the league championship as well in the same year?

The Stanley Cup winners have seen their AHL affiliates go on the win the Calder Cup in the same year three times. Both the Montreal Canadiens and affiliate Nova Scotia Voyageurs won in 1976 and 1977 as did the New Jersey Devils and Albany River Rats in 1995. Those two Montreal wins came before the ECHL was founded and the 1995 winner of the Kelly Cup was the Richmond Renegades who, at the time, was the affiliate of the Hartford Whalers so no, it does not appear an organization has ever been able to pull off the triple NHL, AHL, ECHL championship.

Nathan S. writes: How much of the fact that no Canadian team has won the SC since 93 and many Canadian teams struggle to even make the playoffs consistently because so many players are reluctant to play in Canada (even Canadians) because of taxes, media/fan pressure, weather, and lack of endorsement opportunities?

Taxes are something analysts love to talk about, but I truly believe that is more of a talking point than a factor in players not going to Canada. I am not saying it doesn’t matter, I’m just saying I do not believe it matters as much as we think it does. There are still big-money players in Canada and let’s not forget that Toronto won the John Tavares sweepstakes, the biggest free agency extravaganza in years. Before you say, Tavares doesn’t count because he grew up a Toronto fan, that is exactly my point. Of all the factors that went into his decision, the positives outweighed the negatives such as taxes.

Also, it’s not as if every team in the U.S. is tax-free. Only four states with NHL teams -- Florida, Texas, Nevada and Tennessee -- do not have any income tax while California has the highest income tax in the country. And yet both Anaheim and Los Angeles have won the Cup since 1993 and San Jose is seemingly always in contention.

I would also quibble with your idea that there are limited endorsement opportunities. I think there are plenty of those in Canadian markets especially Toronto and Montreal.

As for your other factors, media and fan pressure is real and I think definitely a factor. You hear a lot of relief from players who leave Toronto and are able to walk down the street without getting harassed by fans and media. Weather can be a factor and you hear a lot of players list Winnipeg and Edmonton on their no trade lists because of this and because there is a perception that there is nothing to do there. Then again, the weather is nice in Arizona and you do not exactly see players lining up to be a Coyote.

For me, the two biggest factors are the league’s efforts to expand to more American markets and the salary cap. Since 1990, the NHL has added 10 teams, 11 if you count Seattle in 2021. Only two of those new teams were in Canada, eventually three when the Atlanta Thrashers eventually moved to Winnipeg. In 1990, seven of 21 teams were in Canada, or one-third of the league. As of 2021, seven out of 32 teams will be in Canada. That’s less than a quarter. Simple math says those teams will not win as much.

Second, while the salary cap was not instituted until 2005, it mitigated one of the biggest advantages teams like Montreal and Toronto had. Those teams are held in high regard because of history and tradition, but in terms of money they are just like everyone else, beholden to the same salary cap.

Thanks for all of your questions!. 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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The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if Vrana had a top power play role all season?

The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if Vrana had a top power play role all season?

We are looking at some of the biggest “what ifs” for the Capitals for the 2019-20 season.

Today’s what if: What if Jakub Vrana had a top power-play role all season?

Jakub Vrana may be having the best season that no one is talking about. When you are teammates with one of the best goal scorers of all-time and a bonafide superstar, other players tend to get overshadowed. Just ask Nicklas Backstrom.

Vrana scored 24 even-strength goals in the 2019-20 season, tied for 11th in the NHL. It’s only four behind David Pastrnak, three behind Leon Draisaitl, one behind Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin, tied with Jack Eichel and more goals than players like Mika Zibanejad (23), Nathan MacKinnon (23), Connor McDavid (23) and Brad Marchand. So why isn’t Vrana viewed as the same caliber offensive player as those others? The answer is the power play.

While Vrana ranks 11th in even-strength goals, he ranks tied for 35th overall with 25 goals. That’s right, he has one single power-play goal this season. The 10 players ahead of him in the even-strength goals list averaged just over 10 power-play goals for the season. An extra 10 goals would have tied Vrana with McDavid for 10th in the NHL.

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Vrana did not start the season on the top player play unit. He was actually only moved there late in the season as Washington’s power play struggled. Relegated to the forgotten and rarely used second unit, Vrana only recently started to see more opportunity on the power play resulting in just one goal which came on Jan. 11.

But what if Vrana had been on the top power-play unit all season? Would he have racked up enough goals to garner national attention?

RELATED: 2003 NHL REDRAFT

Probably not as much as you may think.

First, let’s remember that the power play has been terrible this season. It ranks 17th in the NHL overall, but is actually 24th since Dec. 23. Second, there is not a natural spot where Vrana fits on the top power play. He is a sniper, his best asset is shooting and he is not going to replace the player tasked with taking the one-timer from the far faceoff dot, Alex Ovechkin. Vrana was playing the goal line in place of Evgeny Kuznetsov. Based on how Washington's power play has worked the last few years, this spot is primarily for setting up the slot or bouncing it back to the half-wall. Vrana is a better set-up player than many give him credit, but this role really does not put him in the best position to use his shot. More time on the power play should increase his goal total just as a result of him being on the ice more, but based on how the power play has played and how he is used, it probably would not have boosted his totals into being one of the top 10-15 scorers in the NHL this season.

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Redrafting the 2003 draft: Patrice Bergeron could have been a Penguin

Redrafting the 2003 draft: Patrice Bergeron could have been a Penguin

It takes years to determine who the best players in any given draft are. How would past NHL drafts look if they were redrafted today? Let's look back at the 2003 draft and see how it shaped today's NHL.

Here's a look at the first round of 2003 redrafted.

The draft was a total bust for Washington

In the real draft, the Caps took Eric Fehr 18th overall. He played in 652 NHL games. The remaining five players the team drafted combined for one single NHL game. Yikes.

Phaneuf to the Caps?

In the redraft, I had defenseman Dion Phaneuf going to Washington. Before you groan, let's not forget that he played in over 1,000 NHL games and, while he was with Calgary, he looked absolutely dominant. I don't think there are any questions that he struggled handling the pressure as captain of Toronto. Almost every stat takes a precipitous decline when you compare his Calgary numbers to when he was with the Maple Leafs. I don't think that would have been a problem in Washington as just one year after this draft, the Caps selected a guy by the name of Alex Ovechkin who took all the attention. If Phaneuf had been in a city where he could just play, he would have been a top-pair defenseman for most of his career.

This also would have affected the 2004 draft for Washington. The Caps had three first-round picks. They used one on Ovechkin then took Jeff Schultz and Mike Green late in the round. Do they go both defense at that point if they had taken Phaneuf the year before? I'm not so sure.

Would Bergeron have helped Pittsburgh?

Patrice Bergeron was the best player in the 2003 draft. He went with the 45th overall pick to the Boston Bruins. The Pittsburgh Penguins had the No.1 overall pick that year and selected goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. That is not a bad pick by any stretch, but with one of the best two-way forwards of all-time available to them, would Pittsburgh have been able to pass him up knowing how good he really was?

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The interesting thing about this is that if Pittsburgh had taken arguably the better player in Bergeron, it may have cost them in the long run. Fleury was the backstop of three Stanley Cup runs for the Penguins. OK, so he only played in two playoff games in 2016 and yielded the crease to Matt Murray, but he retook the No. 1 job in 2017 when again Pittsburgh won the Cup. Also, just two years after the 2003 draft, the Penguins ended up with a pretty decent two-way center by the name of Sidney Crosby. The idea of a team with both Crosby and Bergeron on it is daunting, but its two players of the same position and they would have still needed a goalie.

The Penguins may not have ended up with the better player overall, but they did get exactly the player they needed in Fleury.

Fleury to Columbus?

In the redraft, Fleury dops from first to fourth and is snagged by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Would Fleury have been able to get Columbus over the playoff hump sooner? That's a tough question to answer.

Goaltending has not been a major weakness for Columbus. Yes, he could have given the team a boost, but the roster was awful there for several years after the expansion draft. When the team did finally make the playoffs for the first time in 2009, it was off the back of an incredible rookie season from goalie Steve Mason. They also had a pretty good netminder in Sergei Bobrovsky from 2013 to 2019, or at least he was pretty good in the regular season.

Correction: regular season goaltending has not been a major weakness for Columbus. Actually, Bobrovsky was terrible in the playoffs for much of his career. Perhaps there is some validity to the argument that better netminding from Fleury -- who is a strong postseason performer -- could have potentially changed the trajectory of the franchise.

See the first round of 2003 redrafted here.

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