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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: No, the Caps shouldn't trade Braden Holtby...yet

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: No, the Caps shouldn't trade Braden Holtby...yet

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.

In question No. 2, I assume you are referring to Vitek Vanecek’s new deal. We’ll get to that. For now, let’s focus on No. 1.

Here’s a look at both Bobrovsky and Holtby’s regular season stats:

Bobrovsky: 2.46 GAA, .919 save percentage, 33 shutouts, two Vezina Trophies
Holtby: 2.47 GAA, .918 save percentage, 35 shutouts, one Vezina Trophy

And here’s a look at their playoff stats:

Bobrovsky: 11-18 record, 3.14 GAA, .902 save percentage, no shutouts
Holtby: 48-41 record, 2.09 GAA, .928 save percentage, seven shutouts, one Stanley Cup

Both players are extremely comparable. In fact, Holtby is actually the more accomplished of the two when you look at the playoff stats. But don’t take my word for it. Brian MacLellan said so himself.

“It’s a comparable,” MacLellan said on a conference call Monday referring to Bobrovsky’s contract. “It’s a peer and they look like pretty similar players. They’ve had similar success and Holtby’s had a Stanley Cup on his resume.”

Holtby will be the same age next year as Bobrovsky is now. If I’m Holtby’s agent I would use Bobrovsky’s deal as a framework for Holtby and would argue that Holtby is actually worth more. The regular season stats are virtually identical, but Holtby is inarguably the better playoff performer.

The market dictates price and if no one is willing to offer Holtby a deal like Bobrovsky, then obviously he will have to take less. I have no idea why anyone would expect teams to offer less money knowing the stats, the fact that he has won a Cup and because he will be the best UFA goalie on the market next season.

If you think the Bobrovsky contract was too high and will prove to be dumb, you may well be right, but we won’t know for several years. Next year is too soon for Bobrovsky to show the league Florida made a mistake by committing that much money to him.

So yes, Bobrovsky’s contract absolutely will dictate Holtby’s new deal.

Brian R. writes: Is it true that the Caps will have to decide between Braden Holtby and Ilya Samsonov next year as to who to protect? If so, why?

Yes, it is true. To be fair to Brian, the subject of his email is “Expansion Draft” so you’re on the right track. The rules of the Seattle expansion draft state that a team can protect only one goalie. The draft, however, is in 2021. So why will the Caps have to choose between Holtby and Samsonov in 2020? Because Holtby’s contract is up in 2020.

Look at it from Holtby’s perspective. The team’s top prospect is a young goalie with NHL potential. If you are going to sign a long-term deal with a Washington, wouldn’t you need some kind of assurance that you would stay in Washington and not get moved out to an expansion team just one year into your new contract? Of course you would!

The only way to guarantee you will not be exposed in the expansion draft is to request a no-movement clause which would then require the team to protect him in the expansion draft. But if you sign Holtby for seven or eight years, you do so at the expense of Samsonov. That’s too long to expect him to wait to take over. So either the Caps re-sign Holtby long-term next season, thus committing to him long-term, or he goes in favor of Samsonov. 

While on the subject of the expansion draft, let’s get back to Daniel’s second question above. Vanecek signed a new three-year contract with the Caps that turns into a one-way deal in the last two seasons, meaning that he will earn the same salary regardless of whether he plays in the NHL or AHL.

As we established, the team is going to be forced into making a decision on Holtby next year, not three years from now. So no, I don’t think Vanecek’s new deal means that the team is going to move on from Holtby in three years. Either they are going to do it next year or commit to a long-term deal.

My sense is that the team is higher on Samsonov’s potential than Vanecek’s. The reason you are seeing goalies like Vanecek and Pheonix Copley, as well as several backups around the league, get extended through the 2021-22 season is because the expansion draft also has rules about players teams must leave exposed. Every team must leave one goalie exposed who is signed through the 2021-22 season. Now the Caps will have two possible options in case they lose one for whatever reason, be it a trade or via waivers.

Phillip M. writes: Do you see Brian MacLellan trading Holby and if so is there a low-cost goalie we might obtain to hold us over until Ilya Samsonov moves up next year?

Fred P. writes: Would it make sense for the Caps to trade Holtby now while he has value and we have a solid replacement AND we could get a lot of cap relief?

Charles D. writes: Should the Capitals consider trading Holtby before losing him in free agency next year?

I sense a theme here….

I understand why people would think this. No one likes seeing a team lose a big-time asset for nothing, but the fact is that the team still has Stanley Cup aspirations. You still have the ageless Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Evgeny Kuznetsov at least has the potential to be a superstar again, and T.J. Oshie and Michal Kempny are expected to be healthy for the start of the season. That’s a good roster and the team is going to go for it. If you’re going to go for the Cup, you don’t move an established, veteran goalie who is only 29 and who led the team to the Cup just last year in favor of an unproven goalie who has not played a single game in the NHL.

Next year is different. MacLellan may feel he has no choice but to move on from Holtby because he can’t afford his contract and he doesn’t want to move on from Samsonov. He does not have to make that decision now, however, and so he’s not going to because he still thinks the team has a chance to compete for the Cup.

But that can change, and that leads us to the next question….

While it may not make sense to move Holtby now, that changes if the team craters. What if things go south this season? Let’s face it, Ovechkin cannot score 50 goals forever. What if he is on pace for 30, Oshie can’t stay healthy, Nick Jensen can’t handle a top-four role, Jonas Siegenthaler and Christain Djoos struggle as full-time NHLers and Todd Reirden struggles to keep the ship afloat during the season? All of a sudden, the Caps are six points out of a playoff spot in what looks to be a hyper-competitive Metropolitan Division next year with the trade deadline rapidly approaching. At that point, the equation changes.

So long as the Caps are good enough to compete for the Cup in 2019-20, or as long as MacLellan believes they are good enough to compete for the Cup, it makes no sense to trade Holtby. As soon as that changes, however, then I could absolutely see MacLellan exploring what he could get in a trade, especially if he has already decided he is going to let Holtby walk at the end of the season.

In case you haven’t figured it out from some of my answers above, I do anticipate this ultimately being Holtby’s last season in Washington. A lot can happen in a year and he could be lights out and Samsonov could look terrible in Hershey. If that happens, then things can change. For now, however, I do not believe Holtby will be back. Because of that, yes, the team will be less cash strapped next season. Holtby’s $6.1 million cap hit will be off the books and replaced by Samsonov’s $925,000. Backstrom most likely will get a raise after playing on a team-friendly deal, but not to the tune of an extra $4 or 5 million, so that should leave the team with a bit more wiggle room under the ceiling.

If MacLellan decides he wants to keep both Backstrom and Holtby, then the cap will be a huge issue next season. The only other UFA on the team will be Radko Gudas and getting his $2.345 million off the books will not be enough to re-sign both Backstrom and Holtby. That will mean another offseason of moving salary.

Vincent F. writes: Do you think having so many European players on the team will help them win the Cup and can they do it again?

Wait...a non Holtby question? Weird….

Where a player is from is irrelevant to me. I honestly do not believe having more Canadiens, more Americans or more Europeans gives a team any sort of advantage whatsoever. Don Cherry spouted off about the Toronto Maple Leafs not drafting enough Canadian players and it is among his most idiotic opinions. The Caps won the Cup because their Canadian goalie was lights out, the Canadian Tom Wilson was in the heads of every team they played against, the Russian and all-time great player Alex Ovechkin was at his absolute best, the Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov produced over a point per game, the American John Carlson played like one of the best defensemen in the NHL, the Danish Lars Eller scored two of the most critical goals in franchise history, the Australian Nathan Walker set up the Canadian Alex Chiasson for a crucial goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins, etc., etc.

Where the players are from does not matter. What matters is the chemistry and makeup of the team.

Can the Caps do it again? Yes, they can, but it will require every player on the team play a role. There are no passengers on a championship team. Who was the hero for the St. Louis Blues in their first Stanley Cup Final win? Carl Gunnarsson, a third-pairing defenseman who scored an overtime winner.

Holtby has to be lights out in the net, he has to get support from the blue line, Ovechkin still has to play like a superstar, Kuznetsov has to return to his 2018 form, and the team has to get contributions from all four lines. Can it still happen? Yes, I believe it can. But make no mistake, a lot of those core players are over 30 years old and the clock is ticking. The window may be open, but it will not be for much longer.

 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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The 2 biggest questions the Caps still need answered after 10 games

The 2 biggest questions the Caps still need answered after 10 games

The Capitals are 10 games into the 2019-20 season. For the most part, things have gone well. The team is 6-2-2 and sits atop the Metropolitan Division. John Carlson leads the entire NHL with 18 points which puts him in some pretty elite company. Ilya Samsonov looks as good as advertised while Braden Holtby looks like his old self after a brief reset. Alex Ovechkin has six goals already and T.J. Oshie leads the team with seven. Plus, both special teams units look improved.

That’s a pretty solid start.

But there remain two important questions that still need answers.

Who should play on the right on the second defensive pair?

Michal Kempny finally returned after missing the first eight games of the season. He started the last two on the third pair, but is working his way back up to the top pairing. Once he gets there, the defense will finally be at full strength.

That gives Washington a pretty solid top three of Kempny and Carlson, plus Dmitry Orlov. But who should play on the right with Orlov?

Jensen had the first crack at it to start the season, but after some up-and-down play, Radko Gudas was bumped up for a few games. Since Kempny returned, Gudas moved back down to third to play with him and Jensen moved back with Orlov.

So far Gudas has been as good as advertised, but playing well on the third pair does not necessarily mean he should be on the second.

Jensen was one of Detroit’s top defensemen when he was acquired by the Caps. The team is still waiting for that player to emerge. It has been a tough transition for him to Washington's system and, while he has shown flashes of strong play, he remains largely inconsistent. His Corsi-For percentage at 5-on-5 is the second-worst on the team at 46.82-percent. He is one of only three Caps below 50-percent with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tyler Lewington being the other two.

The issue for the Caps may be that they have two high-quality third pair right defensemen in Jensen and Gudas and only one top-four right defenseman in Carlson which leaves a hole on that second pair.

When it comes to the defense, we should reserve all judgment until Kempny is back to playing on the top-pair full-time so we can see this defense at full strength. Until then, however, the second pair remains a question mark.

Can the Caps get enough production from the third line?

There wasn’t much offense to speak of from the Carl Hagelin, Lars Eller, Richard Panik trio and it didn’t take Todd Reirden long to split them up. Hagelin is the Swiss Army knife of the Caps’ offense, but his offensive production is limited. Panik meanwhile has had a tough start to his Caps’ tenure with zero points and is on long-term injured reserve.

As always, the top six for this team remains lethal and the additions of Brendan Leipsic and Garnet Hathaway to the fourth line have been home runs. The third line is the only one that remains a question and it may need a boost from a player like Jakub Vrana, who has been playing there the last few games with Eller and Hathaway, to help spark some production. Ultimately, however, you would like to see Vrana back in the top six and Hathaway back on the fourth. Hagelin, Eller and Panik are the best fit for the third, but if they can’t produce together it may mean weakening the top six or the fourth line by moving players around to find a combination that produces on that third line.

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John Carlson's seven assists nabs him the NHL's second star of the week

John Carlson's seven assists nabs him the NHL's second star of the week

John Carlson has opened this season with monster numbers, putting up three goals and 15 assists in 10 games. He currently leads the league in points with 18. 

The NHL has noticed and named Carlson their second star of the week. Boston's David Pastrnak got the first star, while Buffalo's Carter Hutton was named the third star.

In four games last week, Carlson notched one goal and seven assists for eight points. He currently leads the league in assists with 15.

Carlson is also in historic company. The only other two defensemen to score as many or more points than Carlson in the first 10 games of a season are Bobby Orr (2‑16—18 in 1969-70 and 5-13—18 in 1973-74, w/ Boston) and Paul Coffey (3-17—20 in 1988-89, w/ Pittsburgh).

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