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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Breaking down strategies for the expansion draft

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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Breaking down strategies for the expansion draft

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 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.

John Fleming writes: The Nationals’ run was amazing. I believe the bromance with the Caps - and the energy they saw from the Caps Cup run in 2018 - provided some intangible mojo to our baseball team. Real or are we romanticizing the story a bit?

I do think the Caps’ success had an effect on the Nationals. That’s part of the reason I think the Nationals were pulling so hard for them during the Cup run.

Sometimes good teams lose in the playoffs. When you have as much talent as the Nationals have and you lose in the NLDS four times in six years, there’s a mental block there. Seeing the Caps overcome their mental block helped give the Nationals confidence that they could overcome theirs.

The Caps are not faceless athletes to the Nationals. They know these guys. The Cup was at Nationals Park. There was energy at the park that day and legitimately more Caps’ gear in the stands than Nats’ gear. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the Nationals managed to overcome their mental hurdle and win the World Series one year after the Caps won the Cup.

Micah Reed writes: Do you think John Carlson's insane October could hurt his Norris bid in the long run? If/When he comes back to normal level, critics will say that October was just an anomaly and he is too inconsistent or was it enough to actually make people sit up and notice the skill he has night in and night out?

Oh, I think Carlson's October definitely helps. He is not a self-promoter and does not have a big personality. As good as he has been the last two seasons, there really was not much buzz around him because he is not someone who really puts himself out there. He did not even make the All-Star game in 2018.

What Carlson did in October was force people to take notice of him. He was the talk of every hockey analyst across the continent. He did numerous interviews for both local and national outlets. He’s in the consciousness of the hockey community now and that will matter when it comes time to vote on the Norris.

Dan Graninger writes: MacLellan has said he wants to keep Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby; what are the chances that he will? Is it possible (or likely) that other high-paid players (Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson or even Holtby and Backstrom) would take pay cuts to keep them? If they didn't use pay cuts, then is it possible to structure Holtby and Backstrom's contracts to a low base salary, but then give each of them a 'performance bonus' that is easily attainable to get the rest of their money?  How much of a financial penalty would they carry going into 2021-2022 if they went over the cap in this way?

Jerry Palauskas writes: What are the chances of retaining Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby in the next 2 years?

Considering I think the team is not going to re-sign Holtby, I would put the chances somewhere between slim and none.

First off, taking less money is not an option for players already under contract. The CBA does not allow for players to renegotiate their contracts like they do in the NFL so that option is off the table.

Second, the NHL is not stupid. If you give Holtby a low salary with easily attainable bonuses, the league is going to come after the Caps like they did with New Jersey when they signed Ilya Kovalchuk to a ridiculous 17-year contract.

Even if the NHL did allow the Caps to do this, it would be dumb. If a team goes over the cap in a season, whatever amount they go over is taken from the cap ceiling the next season as a dead space cap penalty.

There is no way the team lets Ovechkin or Backstrom walk. Assuming they want to re-sign, and I have no reason to believe they wouldn’t, they will be back. Holtby on the other hand will cost too much money, his replacement is already on the NHL roster and the Seattle expansion draft in 2021 essentially makes it impossible which leads to our next question….

Alex Bruyere writes: How much does the future Seattle expansion draft play into the decisions that are made this season, especially when it comes to Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby?

As I mentioned, I think Backstrom would be back regardless so I don’t think it matters for him. For Holtby, however, Seattle means everything.

The rules of the expansion draft allow for teams to protect a certain amount of players. Every team in the NHL will only be able to protect one goalie. For the Caps, that goalie is going to be Samsonov. The Caps drafted him in the first round to be their future starter. Barring a freak injury or him being abducted by aliens, Samsonov is going to be protected.

From the team perspective, it makes no sense to re-sign Holtby to a long-term contract knowing he is going to be exposed in the expansion draft. From Holtby’s perspective, you are a free agent. Why would you give up all the power you have as a free agent to sign a deal with Washington knowing you are going to be exposed which would almost certainly mean getting selected and going to Seattle?

If I’m Holtby, I am not interested in talking with any team unless they are willing to add a no-movement clause as part of the deal. Per expansion draft rules, players with no-movement clauses must be protected from the draft. With Samsonov in tow, that option simply will not be on the table in Washington.

Megan Hewitt writes: Which Caps player(s) are most at risk of being drafted by the expansion team?

Nathan Bozak writes: Do you think the Caps will protect Jonas Siegenthaler in the Seattle expansion draft? If so which defenseman will be left for Seattle to take?

Lia Riris writes: With the upcoming team in Seattle, a couple of the Caps will have to leave the organization. Who would you give up if you have to and who would be their replacement? Who would you never give up?

The expansion draft will take place June 2021. Here are the players who will still be under contract at that point: Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson, Lars Eller, Carl Hagelin, Richard Panik, Garnet Hathaway, Nic Dowd, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Michal Kempny and Nick Jensen. I am going to assume Backstrom is re-signed. Ovechkin’s contract expires at the end of the 2020-21 season. My feeling is that he is either going to be renewed in the summer of 2020, the earliest the team can renew him.

Players like Chandler Stephenson, Brendan Leipsic and Radko Gudas who will see their contracts end at the end of this season are irrelevant for this discussion. Even if all three are re-signed, none of them are worth being protected. Jakub Vrana, Jonas Siegenthaler and Ilya Samsonov will be RFAs whether in 2020 or 2021. I expect all three to be re-signed.

I think it is safe to assume the Caps will choose the option of protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie. The goalie is easy, you protect Samsonov. On defense you protect Carlson for sure. For Siegenthaler it depends on what he has developed to be. If he is just a bottom pair defenseman, you leave him exposed. By that point the team will know what they have in him. If he is a top-four guy, then you protect him. If Siegenthaler is protected the team will then have to decide between protecting Orlov or Kempny. At this point, I would lean Kempny but a lot can happen between now and 2021.

On offense, you protect Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Wilson, Vrana and Eller. That’s six forwards. They can use the seventh on Oshie, but at that point he will be 34 and still be under contract for four more years with a cap hit of $5.75 million. It may make sense at that time to leave him exposed and use that seventh spot on someone else.

Micah Reed writes: Before Carl Hagelin's injury I thought he was actually playing very well. How much or how little weight does a coaching staff put on point production? Or do they see what he is doing and are happy with the process even if results aren't quite there?

It depends on the player. Each player has their own role and skillset. Vrana’s production, for example, will be judged differently than Hagelin’s because Vrana’s main function is to produce points. That’s not why the Caps traded for and re-signed Hagelin.

In the offseason the Caps had a choice of re-signing Hagelin -- the speedy, penalty kill specialist -- or sniper Brett Connolly. They went with Hagelin. There is zero chance Hagelin produces what Connolly did last year, but MacLellan still valued Hagelin’s skillset enough to bring him back.

Does that mean the Caps are thrilled he has only five points and no goals? No, but the team’s improvement on the penalty kill, for which Hagelin plays a major role, helps make up for that.

Joshua Brock writes: Was signing Nick Jensen for such a long contract a good idea?

I certainly found it odd that he was given a four-year extension, sight unseen when he was acquired. Obviously the extension was part of the deal. The Caps gave up a second-round draft pick and defenseman Madison Bowey to acquire Jensen (and a fifth-round pick as part of the deal) who was on the final year of his contract. That is a high price tag for a rental. In that sense, it was smart as it made sure the Caps did not give up those assets for a player who was going to leave after a month.

Giving a player an extension who has not yet played for you is a risk, but teams do it literally every year. We just don’t think of it that way because we call it “free agency.” Four years is a lengthy deal but a $2.5 million cap hit is not an overpay for a third-pair defenseman. What makes this deal look bad is the fact that many, including myself, assumed that if he was playing a top-pair role in Detroit, coming into Washington to be in the top-four should be no issue.

Clearly he has struggled to adjust to the Caps’ system more than anyone anticipated, but he seems to have found chemistry with Siegenthaler.

So to answer your question yes and no. The Caps thought they were getting a top-four, right-shot defenseman for a bargain contract which would allow the team to move Matt Niskanen in the offseason. Instead, it looks like they acquired a third-pair defenseman for a fair value contract. I’m not sure I would call that a bad idea so much as I would label it not quite the steal they anticipated.

Alex G. writes: Everyone keeps saying the Caps power play is lacking -- I feel like it's been better the past few games, but definitely room for improvement. How can the Caps get a better powerplay? One thing I keep noticing is that on the first PP unit, T.J. Oshie almost always gets put in the deep slot position; but (no disrespect) he's not the most physical/hard-hitting player out there and compared to most other players. Would it be better to move Oshie to the wing on the PP and put someone more physical/bigger (i.e. Tom Wilson) in the deep slot?

To be fair, Alex wrote this question before Wednesday’s game when the power play looked atrocious.

The biggest issue last year was the breakout and zone entry. The team has multiple different breakout plays in its system, but they seemed to rely almost exclusively on the drop pass (which is more commonly and incorrectly referred to as the “slingshot”). They definitely have used multiple different breakout techniques this year and suddenly getting the puck in the offensive zone has not been as much of a problem.

The power play currently ranks 9th in the NHL at 22.9-percent. Though it has appeared inconsistent at times, that's not terrible.

As for your specific question, I think Oshie plays the slot well. Oshie’s job is to give the power play the shooting option from a high-danger area, not really to muscle his way in front of the goalie. That’s really not the way the Caps’ power play works. It drove me nuts for years because I always thought having an extra player than your opponent meant you should park that extra player right in front of the goalie to screen him. That's not what the Caps do and the power play’s success over several years speaks for itself.

No one else can get that quick slot shot off quite the way Oshie does. I would only add Wilson if the power play becomes more reliant on the dump in. With his speed and size, Wilson is ideal for the dump-and-chase. But your choice isn’t to move Oshie to the wing to add Wilson, really the choice is Oshie or Wilson. Moving Oshie would mean taking out either Kuznetsov or Backstrom and I’m not taking either of them off. Basically your idea would mean replacing Kuznetsov or Backstrom with a worse puck distributor in Oshie and replacing Oshie with a worse slot player in Wilson. No thanks.

Nathan Sprenger writes: Your view on the state of the Metro Division so far? Best division in NHL?

I would still lean towards the Central. The Metro is very competitive, but there is only one, arguably two great teams in the division with the Caps and Islanders. The Central has St. Louis, Colorado, Nashville and, once they get their acts together, Winnipeg and Dallas.

For the most part, the division is going the way I thought, namely it is the Caps up top and a jumbled mess through the middle. The New Jersey Devils are a huge disappointment and I expected them to be better. Columbus is right where I thought they would be. I don’t care who you are, you can’t lose your two best players in the offseason and not take a step back. Pittsburgh is going to hang around all season and either barely squeak in or barely miss the playoffs. Jim Rutherford will make an aggressive trade and overpay for someone.

I always thought Philadelphia would be a good regular-season team, but they are playoff frauds who I have zero faith in as a postseason competitor so they're right on track.

I’m not quite sure what to make of the Islanders or Hurricanes yet. I thought New York was fool’s gold all year last year and I didn’t know what to think when they swept Pittsburgh and then got swept by Carolina. Now they are again a team playing far better than their talent says they should be. Will this be another collapse or are they just better than we give them credit for?

Carolina’s roster is better, but I don’t trust that goaltending. Petr Mrazek is not going to string together two great seasons in a row, he is going to regress to the means and we are starting to see that.

Keith Crone: Will they ever retire the jersey of Peter Bondra?

From what I have heard, there are no known plans to retire Bondra’s number at this time. I know that is not what many fans want to hear, but in my mind I’m OK with it.

I am very, very strict when it comes to retiring numbers. Retiring a player's number is one of highest honors a team can bestow and you cheapen it when you give it away to too many players. To me being a good player and a fan favorite are not enough to warrant having a number retired. It has to transcend that. To that end, there is only one player who I believe should currently have his number retired and that’s Rod Langway. You can save a spot for 8 and 19 beside him and that’s it. That’s the list.

Yes, that does not include some players who already have their numbers retired, nor does it include Bondra or Olie Kolzig.

I love Bondra and Kolzig. Those were the players I grew up watching. Bondra, in fact, was my favorite player. I do not see why being a really good player who spent most of his career in Washington should warrant either player getting their numbers retired. I’m sorry, I just don’t.

Langway coming to Washington quite literally saved the franchise, plus he was an incredible defenseman. Ovechkin is one of the greatest players of all time and led the Caps to their first Stanley Cup. His legacy will live on in the interest he sparked in hockey in the area. Backstrom is a Hall-of-Fame player whose career and accomplishments will forever be entwined with Ovechkin’s. To separate the two would be an inaccurate depiction of what this era was for the Capitals.

The bottom line is that what Langway, Ovechkin and Backstrom did for the Caps goes far beyond just on-ice play and popularity and I don't think any other player in the organization's history has had an impact anywhere close to those three.

If you disagree with me, as most people seem to, that’s OK. I’d love to hear from you and why you think I’m wrong. I’m always up for a good hockey discussion (so long as your argument is not just “I disagree with you therefore you don’t know anything about the Caps, hockey or life in general).

Micah Reed writes: Does anyone track any advanced stats for finding the Chick-fil-A cow in the arena. Found vs Not Found %. Average time it takes to find, how certain sections help the locator in all situations. Maybe we call the stats: COWSEE For? or FINDWICK? ....I will see myself out.

If anyone does, it’s Ben Raby of Capitals Radio. He’s a Spot the Cow fanatic and a regular a-cow-tant.

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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4 things to know for Capitals-Lightning: A battle of top offenses

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4 things to know for Capitals-Lightning: A battle of top offenses

Coming off a big win on Wednesday against the Boston Bruins, the Capitals (23-5-5) will look to stay in the win column as they visit the Tampa Bay Lightning (16-11-3). Tune in to NBC Sports Washington for pregame coverage with Caps FaceOff Live kicking things off at 6 p.m. followed by Caps Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. bringing you up to the 7 p.m. puck drop. Be sure to stick with NBC Sports Washington after the game for all your postgame coverage with Caps Postgame Live and Caps Overtime Live.

Here’s what you need to know for Saturday’s game.

Samsonov gets the start

When you are coming off a big win over the second-best team in the NHL, it's not a surprise to see the Caps stick with the same lines at Saturday's morning skate.

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

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

The one surprise is that Ilya Samsonov will start for Washington against a very potent Tampa Bay offense.

One thing to note, since it is the dad's trip it is traditional for every player to get into the lineup for one of the two games. It was expected that Samsonov would start Monday in Columbus, but it looks like that will now go to Braden Holtby. You should also expect to see Travis Boyd on Monday as well.

When last we met

The Caps and Lightning last met on Nov. 29 in a thrilling game that saw Washington rally from a 3-1 deficit with two goals in the third period before winning in overtime. Ovechkin tied the game with a shot from the office on the power play and Dmitry Orlov would go on to record the overtime winner.

As a refresher, you can check out the recap from this game here.

These are two teams that know how to score

Tampa Bay is not obliterating the NHL like it was last year and people are scratching their heads wondering how a team this talented isn’t even currently sitting in a wildcard spot in the standings. One aspect of their game you can’t blame for their struggles this season is the offense as the Lightning rank second in the NHL with 3.57 goals per game. Washington sits just behind them at No. 3 with 3.55.

This year, Tampa Bay’s offense is much more spread out. Nikita Kucherov leads the team with 33 points, tied for 15th in the NHL. That’s a far cry from the 128 points he put up lace season. Behind him there are six Lightning players with over 20 points. Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Brayden Point should come as no surprise. The other two, however, are Alex Killorn and Kevin Shattenkirk.

The power play has also been hot for both teams. Tampa Bay is second in the NHL with a 29.6 power play percentage while the Caps are fifth at 24.0.

The Caps hold the advantage on defense

Braden Holtby and Andrei Vasilevskiy’s numbers are remarkably similar this season. Holtby has a .911 save percentage and 2.80 GAA while Vasilevskiy has managed a .910 save percentage and 2.78 GAA.

That’s pretty close until you move on to their records this season. Holtby boasts a 16-3-4 record in 24 starts this season. His 16 wins leads the NHL. Vasilevskiy, meanwhile, is 3-8-1 and that says a lot about how much better Washington is playing defensively.

The Caps defense is currently allowing 2.82 goals per game as compared to Tampa Bay’s 3.17. Likewise while there is not much that separates these two teams on the power play, Washington has the superior penalty kill. With Carl Hagelin back in the lineup, the Caps have climbed all the way to third in the NHL at 85.3-percent. The Lightning’s penalty kill is only at 79.8 percent.

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Capitals service dog Captain wins Sports Dog of the Year

Capitals service dog Captain wins Sports Dog of the Year

As if any other candidate would even come close, Captain was named Sports Dog of the Year on Friday afternoon.

The four-legged phenom has been everywhere this fall, making his presence felt all over the DMV, and his popularity has extended nationwide.

Captain doesn't take days off and is always ready to have some fun.

He was there to maintain the peace during the biggest shopping day of the year and he made sure your Cyber Monday gifts arrived on time. 

He inspires greatness and has been a driving force behind the Mystics' WNBA Title as well as the Nationals' World Series victory.

He knows when its time to put in the work as well. He's always on time for meetings, and he has never missed a practice.

He's preparing to assist a Veteran or First Responder one day, and he's already making progress.

And he's always ready to celebrate.

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