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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Is there any way for the Caps to keep Holtby?

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Is there any way for the Caps to keep Holtby?

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? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

I have talked and written a lot about Holtby recently and the challenges of keeping him. As of now, I believe this will be his last season in Washington because he will be too expensive and it will mean selling prospect Ilya Samsonov because of the looming expansion draft.

That is what I believe as of today, but a lot can happen in a year and yes, I do believe there is a scenario in which Holtby could return.

The first thing that would have to happen is Samsonov would have to struggle this season to the point that internally the Caps would have to reevaluate where his ceiling is. It is going to be very hard to justify giving a long-term contract to a 30-year-old goalie if you have a 23-year-old who you believe can be a decent NHL starter. If you no longer believe that is the case, however, then you can start to evaluate what you believe Holtby’s future may be.

Holtby will also have to be lights out this season. After registering a save percentage of over .920 for three straight seasons from 2014-2017, his numbers have been down the past two years with a percentage of .907 and .911. Brian MacLellan committed to making this team better defensively in free agency so the expectation is that Holtby’s numbers should improve.

Ok, so Holtby had a great season and there are internal questions over whether Samsonov is as good as originally thought. Now what? First, Holtby is going to have to accept less money than he is worth. Sergei Bobrovsky’s contract with a $10 million cap hit set the market this year. Holtby has similar regular season numbers, but he blows Bobrovsky out of the water when it comes to the playoffs, so he could reasonably demand over $10 million per year. With Nicklas Backstrom in need of a new deal and Alex Ovechkin’s contract expiring in 2021, I do not see any way the team can commit that much money to their netminder.

If he stays with Washington, Holtby could sign an eight-year deal, which is one year more than Bobrovsky got by going to a new team. If the Caps offered Holtby the same total amount of $70 million but spread it out over eight years, that would bring his total cap hit down to $8.75 million. That may still be too much, but it at least is a starting point where you can potentially negotiate from. Holtby and Backstrom’s deals will dictate how much space the team will need to free up, so once you get an idea of what Holtby is looking for, then it may be necessary to clear cap space. Who could be available will depend on how everyone plays this season, but with a pipeline full of defensive prospects I look at Dmitry Orlov as a possibility if he has another down year, as he carries a cap hit of $5.1 million through 2022-23.

The next step after that would be to trade away Samsonov. If you re-sign Holtby, you are committing to him long-term and have to protect him in the expansion draft. You cannot lose Samsonov for nothing, so you trade him.

Aaron A. writes: With all the talk about Braden Holtby probably going elsewhere for money and Ilya Samsonov being the next prospect, why is nobody talking about Pheonix Copley? Did everybody but me just forget about him? Copley has won us regular season games and is clearly already ready to go.

When it comes to planning out Washington’s future in net, no one is talking about Copley because he is not a starting-caliber goalie at the NHL level. He is 27 years old, and what we saw from him last season is about where his ceiling is. He won 16 games, which is great, but he also did so with a .905 save percentage. This is not a Philipp Grubauer situation where Copley is seen as a future NHL starter.

Copley can be a decent NHL backup, but I do not see him being anything beyond that, so he won’t have a major impact on the team’s decision between Holtby and Samsonov.

Douglas F. writes: Does the Pheonix Copley two-year, one-way extension mean that Samsonov is further behind in his development than we thought originally and that he won’t be ready to play in the 2019-20 season or maybe even the 2020-21 season?

No, what it means is MacLellan is acutely aware of the Seattle expansion draft rules and wants to make sure he has a goalie he can expose under contract.

While most people are focused on who the team can protect from the expansion draft, you should also be aware of who will have to be exposed. According to the rules, every team in the league will have to leave exposed a goalie who is under contract through the 2021-22 season or will be a restricted free agent in 2021. The Caps now have two goalies who fit that criteria in Copley and Vitek Vanecek. More on why that’s significant later.

Since Copley is an NHL backup, his deal has no real bearing on what the team thinks of Samsonov.

Phil M. writes: Could the Capitals bring up one of their Hershey goalies off and on during the year to develop and determine if they could perform come playoff time? If they gain confidence in them, might they trade Braden Holtby and go into the playoffs with a rookie goalie?

Yes and no.

With the Caps facing a Holtby or Samsonov choice in 2020, I think at some point we will see Samsonov get a few NHL games this season. If you are considering letting Holtby walk, I do not know how you make that decision without getting at least a few looks at Samsonov at the NHL level.

So let’s say Samsonov gets a few games and looks awesome. Great! Now what? Holding three goalies on the roster for an extended period of time is always a disaster, as no one gets enough practice time. Plus, given how close Washington will be against the salary cap, they may not even be able to afford to carry three goalies. At that point, they would have to send Copley to Hershey, which would require him passing through waivers. If he is claimed, then suddenly you have lost that goalie you were planning on exposing to Seattle. So it’s a good thing the Caps have another goalie in Vanecek who they can leave exposed for who fits the criteria laid out by the NHL.

Even if Samsonov takes the NHL by storm and supplants Holtby as the team’s starter, there is no way they trade Holtby before the playoffs. In 2018, Grubauer started the first two games of the playoffs before getting replaced by Holtby. Grubauer was the better goalie down the stretch, but Holtby was the guy who led the team to the Cup. If the Caps are all-in on a Cup run in 2020, you do not trade Holtby even if he has been relegated as the backup and even if it means losing him for nothing at the end of the year. You just do not know how a rookie goalie is going to perform in a situation like that. Having Holtby as the back-up in that situation is a luxury, but if it is one the team can afford, you hold on to it and see where it takes you in the playoffs.

The only way I see trading Holtby during the season as even a remote possibility is if the team is bottoming out and knows it is not going to make the playoffs.

Typically you usually see at least one defenseman and one forward get a letter. With Orpik gone and with Alex Ovechkin wearing the C, I have to think they look on defense to replace Orpik’s A. The obvious candidate in that situation would be Carlson. He’s the guy I would have my money on.

In addition to the ones you mentioned, Martin Fehervary, Kody Clark, Riley Sutter, and Joe Snively are all expected to join Hershey next season. That is in addition to other prospects like Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Garrett Pilon, Beck Malenstyn, Brian Pinho and Shane Gersich who will be returning to the Bears.

Mary B. writes: I used to think I understood icing, but now I’m wondering if something changed I don’t know about. If the puck is touched by or touches a player from either team on the way down the ice, is it no longer icing?

Icing occurs when both teams are at even strength and a player sends the puck from his own half of the ice past the goal line of the opposing team. When it is deflected or touches anyone past the center red line, there is no icing. When it touches a player from the opposing team prior to going past the center red line, there is no icing.

Where it can sometimes get tricky is when the linesmen decide to wash out icing. According to the rules, if a linesman believes a player from the opposing team can play the puck before it crossed the goal line but he chooses not to, it negates the icing. So even if no one touches the puck and it is heading down past the goal line, if the linesman thinks a player could have played it but lets it go looking for the icing, he can still negate the call.

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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Caps coach Todd Reirden calls Evgeny Kuznetsov suspension 'a career-defining time'

Caps coach Todd Reirden calls Evgeny Kuznetsov suspension 'a career-defining time'

Capitals coach Todd Reirden was blunt when the NHL suspended Evgeny Kuznetsov for the first three games of the regular season.

“It’s a career-defining time in his life,” Reirden said.

Circumspect on Thursday before the NHL announced the suspension for what was deemed “inappropriate conduct” – i.e. lying to his club and NHL investigators during an investigation into Kuznetsov’s drug use – Reirden did not hold back Saturday when the news became official.

“Him and my relationship is one that it’s important that I am there for him,” Reirden said. “But I also make sure that I understand that he’s accountable for what’s happened and realizing that how he reacts to this adversity is what’s important to me.”

Thursday was a day his Washington teammates expressed support for Kuznetsov, who failed a drug test on May 26 at the World Championships in Slovakia playing for Russia. The day after a video surfaced on social media that showed Kuznetsov in a hotel room in Las Vegas with a white powdery substance on the table in front of him.

It was all a bit reckless and Kuznetsov expressed remorse on Saturday to his teammates, coaches, management and fans. He will pay the price with a four-year suspension in international play by the International Ice Hockey Federation and missing the first three games of the NHL season. No one is happy about it.

Reirden said he and Kuznetsov have had multiple conversations since the IIHF announced the suspension on Aug. 23. So far, Kuznetsov has taken the advice to heart. He takes part in an NHLPA drug treatment and education program. He showed up much earlier than normal for on-ice workouts in Washington before training camp.

In many ways, he is the same old Kuznetsov. A happy-go-lucky personality, a world-class center, who never takes anything too seriously: From competing for Hart Trophies to winning faceoffs to looking ahead to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Expect him to change all of that at age 27 is unrealistic. He’s an adult.

But the suspension, the drug use, has chastened him some. He embarrassed his family. He has worried his teammates. They know the level Kuznetsov can reach. We all saw it during the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs when he was arguably the best player in the world for two months.

Kuznetsov has reached a fork in the road in his career. He has Hall-of-Fame talent. But he can coast to 70 points for the next few years and maybe get a pass. But he’ll never be as good as he should be. It is the dilemma of any brilliant talent. It is the one Kuznetsov faces now: How good do you want to be?

“It’s a difficult thing that he’s going through. But it’s absolutely an amazing opportunity to really change the course of how things will be for him the rest of his life,” Reirden said. “That’s where we’re at right now. Understanding that he’s going to be an example. How he reacts will be how people speak about this a year from now, five years from now and 15 years from now. This is a life-changing event.”

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Projecting the Caps opening night roster after the first day of training camp

Projecting the Caps opening night roster after the first day of training camp

Training camp for the 2019-20 season has officially opened for the Capitals who first took to the ice on Friday.

There has been a lot of talk through the offseason and a lot of people working the “Armchair GM” tool on CapFriendly trying to figure out what the roster will look like. After hearing Todd Reirden and Brian MacLellan speak, plus seeing the team take the ice on Friday, we have at least a rough idea of what the team may be thinking in terms of lines. The news of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s suspension, plus the fact that his cap hit will not count during his suspension, also dramatically changes the roster plans for the start of the season.

There is still an entire preseason to play and a lot of questions that need to be answered, but here is an early projection for the opening night roster for the Caps based on the first few days of training camp.

Offense

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson Jakub Vrana - Lars Eller - T.J. Oshie Carl Hagelin - Travis Boyd - Richard Panik Breandan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway Chandler Stephenson

Suspended: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Kuznetsov’s suspension frees up a significant chunk of cap space for opening night. That creates a lot of possibilities for some players who otherwise would not have made the team to stick around through the first week of the season. If there is a prospect who impresses throughout the preseason, however, this can change. A solid performance for Connor McMichael, for example, and perhaps it is not farfetched to think he could play a few games before getting sent back to juniors. As a junior player, he could play up to nine NHL games in a season without burning a year of his entry-level contract.

For now, I am going pretty vanilla with my projection and including Boyd and Stephenson

Training camp lines should always be taken with a grain of salt, but this is how the top nine has looked on the wings. At center, Kuznetsov has been skating on the second line with Vrana and Oshie with Eller on the third with Hagelin and Panik. No doubt Eller will move up to the second line in Kuznetsov’s absence.

As for the fourth line, there were two different lines skating with the likely candidates. Leipsic and Boyd were with Brett Leason -- which I would not read into, I don’t think there is any chance Leason is a serious candidate to make the team this year -- while Dowd and Hathaway were with Stephenson.

Both Stephenson and Boyd enter camp with something to prove. Frankly, if the team had faith in them to play a fourth line and penalty kill role, they would not have gone out and signed Leipsic and Hathaway.

"It's a competition,” Reirden said Thursday of Stephenson and Boyd. “They know it's a competition. They're well-informed. It's a very clear message. No one in situations where there's competition are wondering what's going on.”

The Kuznetsov suspension puts Boyd on the third line for now and gives Stephenson a second chance to prove he belongs to stay. I see Boyd primarily being an extra this season and Stephenson most likely headed to Hershey once Kuznetsov returns.

Defense

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

It seems doubtful that Kempny will play in the preseason, but the goal is for him to be ready for the start of the season. He has yet to skate with the team in practice, but he seems far enough along that he looks to be on pace for Oct. 2.

The Caps will eventually need to make a tough decision somewhere to shed salary and I believe that will mean moving Christian Djoos. If a team suffers an injury in training camp and wants to make a deal, I could see that happening. For now, like with many of the forwards, Kuznetsov’s suspension means the Caps have an extra week to make that decision. For now, I will keep him in the lineup, but I would not be surprised if he is playing for a different team by the start of the season.

The team is excited about prospects Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary. Alexeyev, however, is dealing with an upper-body injury and there is no timetable for when he may return to the ice. Fehervary, meanwhile, has received nothing by rave reviews. Like with the forwards, the Kuznetsov suspension could open the door for a player like Fehervary to get a game or two.

Goalies

Braden Holtby Pheonix Copley

I’m not ready to predict this yet, but with Kuznetsov’s salary off the books for the first week of the season do the Caps consider keeping Samsonov and starting him against the New York Islanders in the second game of the season?

The Caps face a back-to-back with the Islanders and the Carolina Hurricanes. I assume Holtby gets Carolina since it is the home opener, but what about the Islanders? Washington has to get their young goalies starts this season and Kuznetsov’s suspension gives them the ability to do so without putting Copley on waivers.

But is it too early? It’s worth watching to see how Samsonov and Vanecek play in the preseason to see if either may be ready for a quick start at the start of the season.

“We’re not going to force it,” MacLellan said. “Based on performance, we’ll evaluate it. … I’ll go with Scott Murray and we’ll see how they do in camp. We like all four of our goalies. We have four good goalies, we feel. We have a lot of depth. Vanecek played well – he was an all-star at the AHL level last year, and I’d like to see him get games. I’d like to see Samsonov get games. Copley has continued to improve, so it’s going to be a competitive situation.”

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