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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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Capitals vs. Canadiens: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

Capitals vs. Canadiens: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

When the Capitals welcome the Canadiens to Capital One Arena on Thursday night, there are two stretches fans hope they see come to an end. 

Alex Ovechkin has been stuck on the cusp of joining the 700-goal club for five games now. The drought is Ovechkin's longest since December 2018. As a team, Washington has lost four of its last five games and find the Penguins suddenly challenging for the top spot in the Metropolitan division. 

The Capitals will look to avoid a three-game losing streak against a Montreal team that finds itself in a rough stretch of its own. Washington hasn't suffered a three-game skid since October, when head coach Todd Reirden's squad dropped its first two games at home before a road loss. 

Montreal desperately needs a victory to get back on track and keep its waning playoff hopes alive. The Canadiens did receive good news when Shea Weber returned to practice Monday after it was initially believed an ankle injury the defenseman suffered on Feb. 4 would keep him out for at least four to six weeks.

Here's everything you need to know for the matchup. 

CAPITALS-CANADIENS GAME 60: HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. Montreal Canadiens

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington D.C.

When: Thursday, Feb. 20, 7 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Capitals-Canadiens game will be broadcast on NBC Sports. (NBC Sports Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page

Radio: Caps Radio 24/7

CAPITALS-CANADIENS TV SCHEDULE:

6:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live

6:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live

7:00 PM: Capitals vs. Canadiens (LIVE)

9:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live

10:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live

10:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live

CAPITALS-CANADIENS INJURY REPORT:

Capitals:

C Evgeny Kuznetsov, upper-body injury, day-to-day

Canadiens:

RW Paul Byron, knee injury, day-to-day

D Shea Weber, sprained ankle, day-to-day

C Nate Thompson, illness, day-to-day

RW Brendan Gallagher, lower-body injury, day-to-day

CAPITALS VS. CANADIENS PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Alex Ovechkin, LW, Capitals (40 goals, 17 assists, 57 points)

Ovechkin returns home for his quest for 700 career goals and looks to reach the milestone on home ice. Washington's captain is now on a five-game scoreless drought, his longest since December 2018 when he had six consecutive outings without finding the back of the net.

T.J. Oshie, RW, Capitals (24 goals, 20 assists, 44 points)

Oshie scored two goals in the third period of Washington's 3-2 loss to the Golden Knights on Monday when the comeback effort fell just short. In his last five games, Oshie has scored five goals and dished out one assist. 

Tomas Tatar, C, Canadiens (21 goals, 32 assists, 53 points)

Tatar has proved to be the Canadiens' top option on the offensive end as he leads Montreal in goals, assists, points and power-play goals. During his 10-year career, Tatar has also performed well against the Capitals, posting seven goals and nine assists in 19 career games against Washington. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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Great recognizes great: Phil Esposito explains why Ovechkin is such a dominant scorer

Great recognizes great: Phil Esposito explains why Ovechkin is such a dominant scorer

Phil Esposito knows a thing or two about scoring goals. He’s one of the best of all-time at it. During his 18-year NHL career, he scored 717 career goals which ranks sixth in NHL history...for now. Alex Ovechkin is two goals away from joining Esposito as a member of the 700-goal club and could end up passing him by the end of the season.

Esposito may be from a different era, but he still knows a great goal-scorer when he sees one.

“Well, let me put it this way,” Esposito said. “I don’t give a [expletive] what era it would be. Alex Ovechkin would be still scoring goals, in any era, anywhere.”

A lot of goal-scorers have come and gone without finding nearly the same amount of success as Ovechkin. We all know how great a shot he has, but Esposito recognizes the other qualities that he believes sets Ovechkin apart.

“His positioning and his ability to put the puck on the net all the time,” Esposito said. “If you go back in history through all the guys who scored 700, they usually hit the net a lot. I think that Alex is one of those guys who puts it on the net and puts the onus on the goaltender.”

“To me, it didn’t matter how hard I shot the puck, it’s where I put it,” he added. “If I put it in a location going 50 mph, the goalie couldn’t move his feet fast enough to stop it. … Ovechkin can hit those spots when he has that extra second. But if he doesn’t have that extra second, he makes sure he gets it on the net and that’s the key to scoring goals. Putting it on the net.”

One of the most impressive aspects of Ovechkin’s goal-scoring prowess is that it is coming in an era in which it has become incredibly difficult to score. Esposito noted, “Never underestimate the people who are blocking the shots nowadays, as compared to my day.”

“The way the game is played nowadays and the way the guys get in the [shooting] lanes, and they block shots, sometimes you’ve got to pass it,” Esposito said. “Man, I’d venture to say that without the blocked shots and everything else, like the way it was in the ‘70s, Alex would get more than 550 shots on net. And probably score 75 to 80 goals.”

As Ovechkin’s career has continued, his remarkable ability to stay healthy has become as much of a reason for him climbing the all-time goals list as his goals are. Despite all the talent around the league, no other player in the NHL has even reached 600 goals. Ovechkin's durability becomes all the more impressive with every passing year.

“He’s a monster and he’s very strong,” Esposito said. “Secondly, he’s played with some pain, I’ll guarantee that. And that’s another thing, he plays with the pain. He doesn’t complain about it. He’ll go out and he’ll play.”

Ovechkin has already carved a place for himself in history among the greatest goal-scorers of all-time. That’s not in doubt. But as he sits ever so close to reaching 700 at the age of 34, the answer now on everyone’s mind is can he keep it up?

While 34 is old for most hockey players, age does not seem to be much of a factor for Ovechkin who is one of just three players with 40 goals this season. Considering the rate at which Ovechkin has continued to score, this has led some to wonder if Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 goals could be in play.

For many reaching 700 will be the last great milestone of their career, but for Ovechkin, it could just be the unofficial proclamation that he is coming for Gretzky’s record.

But if he is going to beat the record, Esposito thinks he is going to need help.

“Stay with the Washington Capitals,” Esposito said. “Stay with a good team. Trust me, I went through that. When I was traded from Boston to [the New York Rangers], New York was a bad team and I certainly didn’t score like I did in Boston, which was a great team. You don’t do it alone in the NHL. You don’t. You’d better have good teammates with you if you’re going to be a good scorer.”

Ovechkin has certainly had that in his time in Washington and will continue to have it after Nicklas Backstrom signed a new five-year deal to stay with the team.

And Ovechkin is going to need all the help he can get to reach Gretzky’s record which was long thought to be untouchable.

Until he does, however, as great as he may be, he won’t be the greatest at least according to Esposito.

“I’m not going to say he’s the best of all time,” Esposito said. “Wayne is. Wayne’s No. 1. It’s simple. When I retired, I was No. 2, [Gordie Howe] was the best. And so until you beat the best, you’re not the best. Period.”

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