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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Who is the most underrated Caps player of all-time?

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Who is the most underrated Caps player of all-time?

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.

Justin Cade writes: Who do you think is the most underrated/underappreciated player in Caps history?

So I have a  few candidates for this, but when I first read this question one name instantly came to mind. It is a current player so I went back and scoured through a list of all the players in franchise history to make sure this was not just a product of recency bias. In the end, I am having a hard time finding a better option. The most underrated player in the Caps' history is Braden Holtby.

There, I said it.

Holtby is the best goalie in franchise history and was one of the key pieces in a Stanley Cup run and every time he lets in a questionable goal, I get inundated with people telling me that he is terrible, has always been terrible and he should be traded immediately.

Now, let's be clear. I am not talking about the people who think the team should move on from Holtby this season when his contract expires -- heck, I'm in that camp. I am talking about the people who are unceasingly critical and disparaging not only of Holtby's recent play, but of the entire career of, let me repeat myself, the best goalie in franchise history.

Holtby became the undisputed No. 1 goalie in 2013-14. Since that time, no goalie in the NHL has played more games than Holtby and no goalie has more wins. Holtby has a whopping 20 more victories than Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask who is second in that stretch despite playing only 13 more games, so don't tell me his win total is just a product of the number of games he has played. Before the Cup win, he was criticized as being a poor playoff performer which is ridiculous. Holtby has the fifth-best playoff save percentage of all time. Of all time!

But JJ, what about Olie Kolzig?

Kolzig was great. I loved him when I was growing up. Holtby has a better career GAA and save percentage, both players have a Vezina Trophy to their name and, oh yeah, Holtby has a freakin' Cup. And yet, Kolzig is revered by the fanbase while I am left constantly having to defend Holtby.

Do I think he is past his prime? Sure, but the way in which people downplay how important a player Holtby has been to this franchise is staggering. To think he has not been a key factor in the team's success including the Cup run is just plain wrong.

Maybe this is a product of the fact that probable replacement, Ilya Samsonov, is younger, cheaper and already on the roster. Maybe 10 years from now, people will feel differently about Holtby, but for now it is stunning to me how many people undercut what he has accomplished.

There are two other names I wanted to bring up. First, Mike Ridley. Ridley has the fifth-most goals in franchise history with 218, but for some reason he has seemingly faded into history in the minds of Caps fans. If I told you to list the greatest players in franchise history, how far down the list would you have to go before you thought of Ridley? A guy who scored 218 goals and 329 assists in 588 games for Washington probably deserves more recognition.

The other name is another recent player: Alex Semin. I am not saying he is underappreciated. He did not take full advantage of his skills during his NHL career. That is not debatable. I guess this is just more of a quibble I have with the word "bust."

Sasha Pokulok was the Caps' first-round draft pick in 2005. He never played a single game in the NHL. That's a bust. Semin played 650 NHL games with 239 goals and 517 total points. That's not a bust.

Was he disappointing considering his talent level? Sure, but he still produced a heck of a lot of points while wearing a Caps sweater.

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John Schecter writes: Could you discuss and explain some of the various "systems" that teams use in hockey?

There are a lot of people who could explain this better than me, but I can give you the basics. A hockey system is basically the tactics of how a team plays. Hockey is a very fluid game and, as a result, it can look as if the players are largely winging it. You try to keep the puck out of the net and when you get it, you head down the ice as quickly as possible, pass to a teammate and shoot. Done. In reality, just about every aspect of what the players do on the ice is meticulously planned, coached and practiced.

How aggressive is the forecheck? Who's responsible for the forecheck? How do you defend the neutral zone? Do you try to trap? How do you defend the blue line? How does the defense defend in any given situation? How do you break the puck out of the defensive zone? How do you transition on offense? How aggressive are the forwards on the breakout looking for odd-man rushes? How do you break the puck in? How much does the team dump and chase? How does the team set up offensively? What type of shot is the offense looking for?

I think it is a little easier to grasp the different systems in football where it can be largely and easily defined such as a spread offense, a 4-3 defense, etc. Hockey is more nuanced because the game is free-flowing and everyone has different responsibilities depending on where the puck is, who is on the ice and the situations. To really understand a hockey system in the NHL requires an insane level of knowledge and understanding of the game that is beyond most of us, including me. I can give you the basics, but believe me, it gets very complicated very quickly.

Austen Bundy writes: Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are obviously going to have their numbers retired together but I've always wondered why Scott Stevens, Peter Bondra and Olie Kolzig never had theirs retired. Any historical or practical insight you can provide on this, JJ?

This is something that I have argued about for years. First off, my guess with Stevens is that it is because he spent the majority of his career and had the most success in New Jersey. He had eight good seasons with Washington and what the team ultimately had to show for it was the five first-round draft picks the team received to compensate them for the offer sheet Stevens signed with St. Louis. I don't know why the Caps have not retired Bondra or Kolzig's numbers but if it were up to me, I wouldn't. I know that gets a lot of people riled up, but I have an extremely high standard for retired numbers.

There are only three numbers that should be retired by the franchise: 5, 8 and 19. That's it. That's the list.

Being a good player for a team is not a good enough reason to get your number retired. Believe me, it pains me to say this. I grew up watching Bondra and Kolzig play, I loved both of them. Bondra was my favorite player. But that's not good enough for no one else to ever wear No. 12 again.

Rod Langway, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom not only played hockey at an elite level for the team, but their impact on the franchise went well beyond good play. You have to have a greater impact on the franchise than just being good at hockey. To me, that's what it should take and those are the only three who meet that standard.

Jules A. writes: How would you rank each version of the Caps’ jerseys from start of the franchise to now?

  1. Original red
  2. Blue Stadium Series
  3. Current white
  4. Current red
  5. Black
  6. White eagle
  7. Original white
  8. Maroon Winter Classic
  9. Blue eagle

The hatred of the old red jerseys stems largely from the team's abysmal record while wearing them this season, but if you step back and actually look at them, you will recognize the undeniable beauty. That and the blue Stadium Series jerseys are far and away the two best jerseys this team has worn. It's a shame we only got to see the Stadium Series jersey twice.

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.

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How to watch Evgeny Kuznetsov's best games with the Capitals

How to watch Evgeny Kuznetsov's best games with the Capitals

Over the past six seasons, forward Evgeny Kuznetsov has been one of the biggest reasons for the Capitals' success.

Kuzy has been extremely durable for the Capitals, playing in at least 76 games over the past six seasons, excluding the 2019-20 shortened season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The winger has been one of Washington's best attacking players during that span, splitting time between both Washington's first and second lines. 

No. 92 has also found a knack for playing his best hockey on the sport's biggest stages. Kuznetsov netted arguably the most important goal in Capitals history, scoring the game-winning goal in Game 6 of the 2018 Eastern Conference semi-finals in overtime to eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins, "exorcising the demons" for a franchise that previously could not get past the second round. We all know how that story ends, with the Capitals hoisting the Stanley Cup just over a month later.

On Sunday, NBC Sports Washington is airing four of Kuznetsov's best regular-season performances. At 9 a.m., tune in to watch the Caps 6-5 overtime thriller over the Tampa Bay Maple Leafs from January 3, 2017. In that contest, Kuzy totaled four points, netting one goal and notching three assists, including one that set up Alex Ovechkin's game-winning goal.

Following that, we travel back to October of 2018, when Kuznetsov turned in another four-point performance in a 5-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in a rematch of the 2018 Stanley Cup. Kuzy started the scoring in the first period with a power-play goal and would tally three assists later on in the match as the Caps cruised to a dominating win.

At 2 p.m., the Caps 6-4 victory over the Los Angeles Kings from February 11, 2019, will re-air. In this matchup, Kuznetsov finished with four points once again, this time finding the back of the net twice to go along with a pair of assists. To close out the day, tune in to see Kuznetsov net two goals in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Arizona Coyotes at 4:30 p.m.

A trip down memory lane that highlights Kuznetsov's greatest games is the perfect way to spend a Sunday.

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When:

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Where:

Broadcast Schedule:

9:00 a.m.: Toronto Maple Leafs @ Capitals from January 3, 2017

11:30 a.m.: Vegas Golden Knights @ Capitals from October 10, 2018

2:00 p.m.: Los Angeles Kings @ Capitals from February 11, 2019

4:30 p.m.: Arizona Coyotes @ Capitals from November 11, 2019 

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Ever Wonder: Why the Capitals' jerseys have three stars on them

Ever Wonder: Why the Capitals' jerseys have three stars on them

The current Washington Capitals jersey design — the red home sweaters with the white away ones — has been the defining look for the team throughout much of the Alex Ovechkin era.

During the summer of the 2007 season, the Caps rebranded. The franchise changed its colors from black and blue back to the organization's original design scheme of red, white, and blue. The jerseys that followed were similar to Washington's old-school look, having plenty of similarities with the uniform they wore from 1974-1994.

However, when the Caps unveiled their new look in 2007, there was one big difference from their old uniforms. The new-look had three stars on the front, compared to the six stars that had been across the top of the old sweaters.

Capitals assistant general manager Don Fishman spoke with NBC Sports Washington and explained why the franchise chose to go with just three stars, and it's because each star has a specific meaning.

"The three stars on our current Capitals jersey represent the three jurisdictions: Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.," Fishman said.

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While cutting the number of stars from six to three on the front of the sweater was a big change, Fishman explained that the new uniform was designed to be a modernized version of the franchise's original look.

"It was sort of meant to update and modernize the original Caps jersey, beautiful, old-school, 1970's work hard," Fishman said. "That jersey had six stars and was even on the jerseys in the 90s with the blue and black jersey. So we wanted to keep that concept of the stars, but we didn't want to keep that exact same look. So instead, we redid three stars right on the wordmark. The three stars seemed perfect."

The uniform change also marked the beginning of an incredible postseason run the Capitals have gone on since.

In 2007, the team's first year with the new look, the franchise made the playoffs for the first time in the Ovechkin era. Since then, they've made the postseason 11 of the past 12 seasons and won their first Stanley Cup in 2018.

For Fishman and many Caps fans, the red and white uniforms will always remind them of Washington's first championship and the franchise's biggest star.

"I think it's neat how this redesign will always be linked to Ovechkin and the Capitals' first Stanley Cup," Fishman said.

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