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.
Ted Wagner writes: What could the Caps get for Braden Holtby before the deadline? With that salary dump, they could get a playoff defenseman, like they have done the last few years. If they still had enough wiggle room under the cap they might get a playoff-tested goalie, or call up an AHL All-Star from Hershey. The Pittsburgh Penguins have done well going into playoffs with goalies that went to the next level when the regular season ended.
Listen, I get it. The Caps need a top-four defenseman, they don't really have the money for one, Ilya Samsonov has outplayed Holtby so in the minds of many, he is now expendable. But I don't think the team is going to trade Holtby and even if they did the only thing they would get for him is cap relief.
I do not believe the Caps are going to trade Holtby for a variety of reasons. First, the team would be pinning its hopes entirely on a rookie goalie who has only 19 games of NHL experience. Second, we have literally seen this exact situation play out with Holtby struggling in the regular season. He was replaced by Philipp Grubauer in 2018 but was there when the team needed him to lead them to the Stanley Cup. Third, the only thing you are really going to get for him in a trade at this point is cap space. No one is going to sell the farm to pick up a rental goalie with a sub .900 save percentage for the season in what would be an obvious salary dump by Washington. Fourth, with all due respect to Pheonix Copley or Vitek Vanecek, if Samsonov gets injured and the team has to turn to another goalie for an extended period of time, the Caps are done if that goalie is Copley or Vanecek. Maybe Holtby won't be able to recapture that 2018 magic, but I would feel much more confident with him as the backup than either Copley or Vanecek.
Maybe MacLellan views the weaknesses on defense as so severe that he has no choice but to move Holtby in order to address it, but I really doubt it because there is no goalie tandem MacLellan can put together in-season that will be better than Samsonov, Holtby.
And the Penguins are actually not a great example to prove your point. When they won the Cup in 2016 and 2017 they did so with a tandem of Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray, the proven veteran and the heir apparent. Sound familiar? Not only did the Penguins hold onto Fleury knowing they would have to lose him for nothing to Vegas in the expansion draft, they actually traded a second-round draft pick to Vegas to make sure they would take him. And, in both playoff runs, Pittsburgh needed both goalies. You cannot compare a Fleury, Murray tandem to a Samsonov, Copley/Vanecek tandem. Washington would fall woefully short by comparison.
So if anything, Pittsburgh shows why the Caps shouldn't trade Holtby, not why they should.
Lisa Desabrais writes: I recently heard on another podcast that stated Holtby has the worst defensive environment to play in and the effects are, in their opinion, cumulative. He has to “cheat” to make up for continuous lapses in defensive play and teams have become aware of this and are able to capitalize on it. Your thoughts on this?
That's overstating it a bit. While I do think the defense is an issue for Washington, there are worse defenses in the NHL than the Caps'. If it was that bad, it would take more than just one second-pair player to fix it.
Barry Trotz was primarily a defensive coach, as is Todd Reirden. To think that the defense has just been so bad for so long that Holtby is now permanently broken by it is a pretty extreme take and I don't buy it.
Having said that, there have been plenty of instances in which Holtby was left out to dry. Both goals against Montreal, for example, came as a result of a player being alone in front of the net with the puck. For much of Holtby's career, he has made the defense look better than it was by bailing the team out with great saves after mistakes and turnovers. He has not been able to do that this year and that is probably why it seems so jarring when he is having an off night.
Nick Crawford writes: Can the Capitals improve on the power play with the players they have or is there someone available they can pick up to help improve it?
The power play can certainly improve with the current personnel. A lack of talent is not the issue. Puck movement and management have become the issue with players taking too long to distribute the puck and making poor decisions when they do. The one thing I will say about personnel is that it needs to be distributed more evenly among the top two units.
Let's face it, the "two" power play units have largely been non-existent for years. It's basically been the top unit playing for 90 seconds, then the second unit scrambling for 20-30 seconds of cleanup duty. Since moving Evgeny Kuznetsov to the second unit, it looks like the coaches are making an effort to get that second unit more time, but Kuznetsov is setting up Brendan Leipsic in the Ovechkin spot and that's just not going to cut it. Leipsic should not be the offensive focal point of the second power play unit.
As a hypothetical, I would reorganize the power plays like this in order to better distribute talent and make both power play units scoring threats:
First unit: Alex Ovechkin in the office, John Carlson on the point, Tom Wilson in the slot, Nicklas Backstrom on the half-wall, Jakub Vrana on the goal line
Second unit; Ovechkin in the office, Dmitry Orlov on the point, T.J. Oshie in the slot, Evgeny Kuznetsov on the half-wall, Lars Eller on the goal line
Micah Reed writes: Nick Jensen's play has been improving of late. If he continues to play better, does he have enough time before the trade deadline to prove to the coaching staff and general manager Brian MacLellan that they don't need to bring in another 2nd pair righty? Let's say he does change their mind. What becomes the new priority or do the Caps just stand pat at the trade deadline?
The best-case scenario for the Caps is that Jensen figures things out. Replacing him on the second pair will be difficult given the team's cap situation and would force the team into a lot of difficult questions on how to reshuffle the defense with a new addition. Who becomes the odd-man-out? What does that mean for Jensen's future and value if he ends up getting scratched?
Even if MacLellan is happy with Jensen's play, however, I would still expect a depth addition to the blue line. MacLellan has added a defenseman at the trade deadline every single year since he took over as general manager.
Don't forget, the Caps are playing with just six defensemen on the roster. They are one injury away from having to put in Tyler Lewington or a rookie like Martin Fehervary.
Lisa McKay writes: What is your evaluation of Nick Backstrom's play this year? His goals and assists numbers are basically on the same pace as the last 3 years, but something seems off. Am I crazy?
Backstrom is currently on pace for 67 points which would be about what you would expect after missing eight games. I would have agreed with you before the injury forced him to miss time in late November, early December. Something just looked off with him. Whatever forced him out I don't think happened suddenly, I think it may have been a nagging issue.
Since returning, however, he has looked fine in my eyes and has played pretty well.
John Alex Golden writes: Seattle joining the league is still a season-and-a-half away, but with all the talk about the expansion draft, the one thing we haven't heard a lot about is a new season structure. Now that we'll have four even divisions of eight teams, how often will each team play division teams? Are we still gonna see our rivals four or five times a year, or do they cut that back to keep the schedule at 82 games?
The schedule will stay 82 games. I do not get the sense that there is any appetite at all to make the season longer with the addition of Seattle. But this will require tweaking to the format.
If the Caps play every team in the Metro four times (28 games), every team in the Atlantic three times (24 games) and every team in the Western Conference twice (16 games), that comes out to a total of 84 games. I have tried to find if the new schedule format is out yet and I have not been able to find it. My guess is that those two extra games will come out of the three games per team in the opposite division within the conference, meaning that instead of playing every team in the Atlantic three times a year, the Caps will play two teams twice and the rest three times. But that's just a guess.
Phillip Martin writes: Do we need to be concerned about our top developing blue liners getting drafted by Seattle; Alexander Alexeyev, Lucas Johansen and Martin Fehervary?
Per my understanding of the expansion draft rules, Alexeyev and Fehervary will not be eligible because they will be wrapping up their second professional years. Johansen will be, but, let's be honest, Seattle will have better options available to it from Washington than him.
Phillip Martin writes: In the near future I see a third line including some combo of Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Garrett Pilon, Brian Pinho, Beck Malenstyn, Brett Leason, Connor McMichael, Alexei Protas. Do any of these young prospects look like they may develop into top 6 forwards other than McMichael and maybe Leason?
Just a very brief synopsis on these prospects:
Jonsson-Fjallby has third-line, penalty kill potential. Carl Hagelin would be about his ceiling, maybe with slightly more offensive finish. He is very inconsistent, however, so he is not a sure thing by any stretch.
Pilon's ceiling is thought to be as a middle-six forward, but I see him as a third-line center at best and that may still be a reach. I don't think he can crack the top-six.
I don't see much NHL potential in Pinho.
Malenstyn is a fourth-line player at best.
Leason is hard to read so far with a tough start to his Hershey career. He is a big guy and can't use his size to his advantage nearly as much as he could in juniors and he is learning that the hard way. He certainly is not a top-line player and probably not top-six, but it is a bit too soon to tell.
There are a lot of mixed opinions on McMichael. There are some who think he is proving to be a steal in the draft and others who are unimpressed by his numbers in the OHL where many believe the defenses are suspect and good players can wrack up the points. To me, I see him as a top-six forward without question.
Protas is also hard to read. I am not sure exactly what the ceiling is yet, but I was very impressed with him in the preseason and I continue to be impressed with the numbers he is putting up in the WHL this year. At the very least he is an NHL player and already that makes him a good deal as a third-round pick.
Lisa McKay writes: Can you share a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on in the meetings the players and coaches have before games? My sense is they have a PP meeting before every game. What do they possibly discuss? Does the PP change that much game to game? What information will the coach (and which coach) share about an opponent?
A lot of the pregame meetings center on scouting from the video staff. The video coaches watch an opponent's last three games prior to playing the Caps and analyze it to an insane degree. I don't mean, "Connor McDavid is fast" I mean, on a 4-on-3 power play with this personnel on the ice, New Jersey uses this break-in method 43-percent of the time. That's how in-depth things get on opposing teams and players.
Not being in these meetings, I do not know exactly what they are like or what is said, but I do know the scouting that is done on opposing teams is insane, which is not unique to Washington. There is even a monitor displayed in the Caps' locker room that just cycles through screens with tendencies of the opposing players and team that players can browse leading up to the game.
Jason Woodside writes: How long do you see fighting being allowed in the NHL? There’s a gentlemanly aspect of taking the helmets off, squaring up, and dueling it out. But if that’s not an image the NHL wants (justifiably) then why allow fighting at all?
Hockey is adjusting to fighting being less a part of the game and I expect it will be gone completely over the next 10 years. Sometimes hockey can be slow-moving with these things as there is a reverence to the sport that means any drastic changes are met with a lot of resistance, more so than you see in basketball or football. In that sense, it is very much like baseball. I think the NHL will ultimately let culture dictate when to get rid of fighting. As the NHL continues to move on from the old guard and today's culture gets more and more uncomfortable with fighting in hockey, it will be much easier to legislate it out of the game. We are not there yet, but I am convinced that day is coming.
Thanks for all your questions! 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.