Capitals

Capitals

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.

Garrett D. writes: I have always been a fan of the Capitals draft philosophy: Take the best player available. However, it has been clear to see that the Caps lack an offensive prospect, and have been selecting defenseman. So, should the Caps take a forward in the first round?

When it comes to the NHL Draft, you always take the best player available. It rarely makes sense to draft for need as most NHL prospects take years to develop and a team’s needs and goals can change dramatically over the course of those years.

Having said that, yes, the Caps must draft a forward in the first round this year.

I plan on writing on this more extensively when we get closer to the draft, but the years of not drafting offensive talent with high picks has caught up to Washington. The last first-round forward taken by the Caps was Jakub Vrana in 2014 and now that the team is in need of forward depth for its bottom six, there are few candidates in the pipeline who can fill those needs.

 

Washington has to start replenishing that pipeline, not so much for this year as a late first round pick will likely be a few years away from being able to make an impact at the NHL level, but for the future. This is hard to do, however, with the 25th pick in the draft. It is not impossible, many great players have been taken in the 20s or in later rounds, but the issue is if you wait for your turn to pick, you may see all the top forwards taken by that point. When you go into the draft with the philosophy of taking the best player available, that does not matter as much. When looking for a specific position, however, it matters a lot.

Brian MacLellan and Co. will do their due diligence and have grades on every prospect. This year, however, if the top forwards are getting taken quickly with the early picks, MacLellan may need to get proactive and trade up to ensure he gets a first-round caliber offensive talent. That’s why Caps fans should be watching the draft this year. If I was a betting man, I would bet on Washington moving up in the draft.

Christopher S. writes: There are those who are fond of saying that the Caps’ strength throughout the system, other than goalie, is defense.  I’m trying to figure out what that really means. What’s your take on the defensemen in the Caps system below the NHL? Who stands out to you and what is your realistic take on the defense prospects in the system?

Comparatively the Caps’ pipeline is much more stacked defensively than on offense. Does that mean they have the best future blue line sitting in the pipeline? No. Though there are some good players, saying the strength of Washington’s prospect pool is the defense is more a reflection of the lack of top-tier offensive talent in the system.

We already know about Jonas Siegenthaler and it is time to graduate him from prospect to player. He is an NHLer and that is where he is going to play next season.

Alex Alexeyev is the real deal if he can stay healthy. He can be a top-pair defenseman, but he has never played in more than 49 games in any of his three seasons in the WHL, a 68-game league. That is a concern, but his talent is not. The team is also very high on Martin Fehervary. He just competed in the World Championship tournament for Slovakia. That’s not the junior tournament, he was in the senior tournament competing against some of the best players in the world. He has definite potential as a top-four shutdown defenseman.

At 21, Lucas Johansen still has some time to develop, but I have to admit when I saw him in Hershey I expected his game to be further along by now. He is very jumpy with the puck and seemingly in a rush to get it off his stick. That has hurt his offensive production which is not what you want to see from someone who was drafted as a two-way defenseman. I look at him as more of a 4-5 at this point if he can develop his game.

 

Connor Hobbs has improved his defensive game tremendously and looks very poised in his own end. He certainly has NHL size and would not look out of place in an NHL lineup. Having said that, his offense and especially his shot were thought to be his best assets when he came into the AHL and he has not been able to find the time and space in the offensive zone to be productive at that level. The defensive improvements definitely makes him more dynamic and gives him more NHL potential, but the offensive part of his game needs to catch up. If he can break through, he could be a bottom-pair, power play specialist type.

Tyler Lewington had a great debut with the Caps, but his NHL ceiling is as a No. 7. He is not someone who should be in the lineup every day on an NHL team. You could feel comfortable using him in much the same way the team did with Taylor Chorney and plug him into the lineup for a game here and there when needed. If Lewington is playing 20+ games though, that’s not ideal.

Overall, the Caps have some solid pieces here. There are a lot of players with NHL potential and a few with top-tier potential which is more than you can say about the team’s offensive prospects. At the same time, no one is really looking at the Caps’ prospects and thinking the team is poised defensively to remain a juggernaut for the foreseeable future.

Adam W. writes: Which current or former Caps are candidates for either Hall of Fame induction OR having their numbers retired?  Besides Alex Ovechkin, of course. Relatedly, are Peter Bondra’s chances for HOF recognition hurt by the fact that he played almost his entire career in Washington at a time when it was not considered one of the league’s “glamour” franchises?

I do not think the fact that Bondra played in Washington matters and if it did those 60 games with Atlanta would really hurt. Talk about a glamour franchise.

Mike Gartner and Rod Langway both spent most of their careers with the Caps and both are in the Hall so I do not see the team being a factor.

These questions are always tough because there are no set criteria for having your number retired or making the Hall of Fame. It is just a matter of opinion.

The two players everyone always brings up when it comes to getting their numbers retired are Bondra and Olie Kolzig. With four numbers already retired, it would have been really hard for a team with no Stanley Cup to justify retiring two more. What history would Washington really be celebrating at that point? With that obstacle now clear, however, I could see momentum building for those two.

 

Admittedly, my standards for both having numbers retired and the Hall of Fame are incredibly high. If you ask me, there are only two numbers worthy of being retired by the Caps and those 5 and 8. Langway saved the franchise and 8 once Ovechkin’s career is over.

Bondra was my favorite player growing up. He was incredible and I loved watching him. Despite his career accomplishments, however, he never rose to the level of a Hall of Famer in my mind. You could make a compelling case based on his numbers. He scored 892 career points and his 503 goals ranks 43rd all-time. He is one of only nine players to score 500 goals who are not in the Hall of Fame and four of those nine players (Ovechkin, Jaromir Jagr  Patrick Marleau, Marian Hossa) are either still playing or not yet eligible.

Still, I just do not put Bondra at the same level as other Hall of Famers from his era like Mario Lemieux, Sergei Fedorov, Nicklas Lidstrom and Mike Modano just to name a few. Those are tough players to be compared to, but that’s the point. You can still be great and not rise to the level of players like that, but to me there are not tiers of Hall of Fame Players. You are either an elite, all-time great or you aren’t. That takes nothing away from what Bondra did as a player, he just does not reach that elite level for me.

In terms of other Caps players who could reach the Hall of Fame, Ovechkin is the obvious one. Anyone who argues against him should no longer have a say in who gets in. He should be unanimously selected in his first year of eligibility. I would also argue that Nicklas Backstrom deserves to be in for his incredible career (and he is still only 31) as one of the best two-way centers of his era.

Nathan S. writes: What can hockey do to be friendlier to minorities beyond the surface level initiatives such as the NHL's "Hockey is for Everyone Campaign"?

You do not have to watch hockey for very long to realize that minorities are not heavily represented in the NHL. That is not lost on the league. If you have noticed Willie O’Ree taking on a greater public role within the NHL, that is not by accident.

The first and most important thing the league must do is look to the kids. The answer to all questions regarding growing the game is growing interest at the youth level.

While the lack of minorities in today’s game may deter some people from becoming fans, if kids of all backgrounds grow up watching, playing and loving the game, that becomes less of a factor. The cost of playing hockey and ice availability, however, have long been prohibitive and are major reasons why we do not see as much minority involvement and success in the NHL as we do in the other major sports leagues. That is something the NHL must rectify.

 

If you want more people to play of any race, ethnicity or socioeconomic class, find a way to mitigate the exorbitant costs and make youth leagues more accessible to everyone. The league also must promote star minority players like P.K. Subban. That does not mean forcing players who shy away from the spotlight to be spokesmen for the league, but Subban is a player with a definite voice and a brand. That should be celebrated, not shunned.  

Thanks for all 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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