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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Will Nicklas Backstrom be re-signed during the season?

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Will Nicklas Backstrom be re-signed during the season?

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.

Larry T. writes: I know it's still early but Nick Jensen seems to be struggling in the Caps' system since they traded for him last season. How much longer do you think they will stick with him before trying someone like Christian Djoos - who is a left shot but was used on the right side during the Cup run?

They are going to stick with Jensen for at least as long as they can’t afford to try anyone else.

I don’t think Jensen is bad, but I am starting to believe that he may just be a bottom-pair defenseman in this defense. The issue with that is you already have a high-end bottom pair right defenseman in Radko Gudas. You need a top-four guy for that second pair, but there are no clear replacements within the organization.

Wait, what about Djoos, Alex Alexeyev, Martin Fehervary, or even Lucas Johansen? All of those guys are left shots.

Yes, Djoos was playing on the right when he in the lineup alongside Brooks Orpik, but he did it in a third-pair role. Last year teams exploited him for his size. While I do see him as an NHL caliber player, I also see him as a bottom-pair player and this team has two bottom pair righties. I don’t think taking Djoos out of the minors and throwing him into the top four on his offside is a recipe for success.

So what do the Caps do? Good question. They’re winning for now so it’s not pressing. I would keep Jensen in on the second pair and hope he continues adjusting to the system and that he soon becomes more comfortable with it. Otherwise, try Gudas. I don’t think having him on the second pair is a great strategy either but I am not sure they have a choice if Jensen doesn’t progress.

Benjamin C. writes: Richard Panik did absolutely nothing the first 10 games and now he’s injured long term. Any chance we trade him or give him another chance? I know he’s new and signed for four years but yikes.

Eight games. He has played eight games.

There is no way the team has considered trading him away nor should they. That would be a wild overreaction.

Maybe he stinks, maybe he can be great. I don't know and the reason I don't know is because I have seen him play...wait for it...eight games.

Let’s everybody chill.

Darren L. writes: I haven’t read anything lately about Nicklas Backstrom’s contract status. Do you think the team is just being patient and might work something out during the season?

The Backstrom situation is made complicated by Braden Holtby. I don't think the team can afford both players so if you sign one that's a pretty clear indication the other is on his way out. I have been very open about my prediction that this season will be Holtby’s last in Washington and I believe Backstrom will retire a Cap.

What happens if the Backstrom contract gets announced midseason? What does that do to Holtby’s mentality for the rest of the season?

For a while, I thought Backstrom getting re-signed midseason was a real possibility, but the more I think about it, the more I think they will wait for fear of completely throwing Holtby off his game with the realization that his time as Cap is all but over.

@sports_god1 on Twitter writes: Looking ahead, how would you project the Caps defense a year or two down the line with the expansion draft? 

As of now, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Michal Kempny and Jensen are the four players signed past the 2020-21 season. Djoos, Jonas Siegenthaler and Tyler Lewington will be restricted free agents by the end of this season as will some other defensemen in Hershey, but none worth discussing in terms of what may happen with the Seattle draft.

It is my understanding that Fehervary and Alexeyev will not have to be protected in the expansion draft as they will be considered second-year players. I have not gotten that confirmed, but I am pretty sure that is the case.

At this point, I have to believe the team is heading for a divorce with Djoos after he was sent off to Hershey. I could be wrong, but I can’t imagine he’s thrilled about being there are two years in the NHL. I assume Siegenthaler will be re-signed. I don’t know about Lewington, but it doesn’t really matter as he would not be protected anyway.

This is a disclaimer I have to put out there when discussing anything related to the expansion draft so bear with me: a no-movement clause and a no-trade clause are two different things. Only players with no-movement clauses have to be protected. Nobody on the Caps has a no-movement clause so the team will not be forced to protect anyone.

I assume the Caps will elect to protect seven forwards and three defensemen as opposed to just eight skaters so let’s assume Washington will only be able to protect three defensemen out of Kempny, Carlson, Orlov, Jensen and Siegenthaler, plus whoever is playing right defense on the second or third pair at that point.

Carlson will obviously be one, but I am not sure who the second and third will be. There is a lot of hockey between now and then so this is all fluid.

I think a lot of the criticism of Orlov is overblown. He’s a top-four defenseman and his contract is fair value. Anyone who doesn’t think so, go back and rewatch this defense before Kempny came back. There were only two top-four defensemen in the lineup and Orlov was clearly one of them.

Having said that, it is very plausible that the Caps could elect to expose Orlov to Seattle in 2021. Kempny is only one year older and his cap hit is less than half of Orlov’s, plus Alexeyev, Fehervary and Siegenthaler are all left-shots, like Orlov. There’s a log jam at that position so the team is going to have to leave someone significant exposed such as Orlov, Kempny or Siegenthaler. It all just depends on how each player looks between now and then.

If you want to twist my arm for what the Caps’ defensive lineup will look like after Seattle, I’ll say Orlov is left exposed and is ultimately taken and the top six heading into that season looks like this:

Kempny-Carlson
Alexeyev-Jensen
Fehervary-Siegenthaler

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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Who will the Caps play in their first playoff series? The round robin, explained.

Who will the Caps play in their first playoff series? The round robin, explained.

Before the season pause, the Caps were in danger of falling down the standings. Now they could claim the top spot in the east.
 
When the NHL paused its season on March 12, the Capitals held just a one-point lead in the Metropolitan Division and trailed the conference-leading Boston Bruins by 10 points.

The Bruins held an almost insurmountable lead atop the conference and the Philadelphia Flyers were one of the hottest teams in the league. At that point, Washington looked more likely to drop in the standings than to climb. With the NHL’s new 24-team playoff format for the 2019-20 season, however, the Caps will have three games to possibly claim the top spot in the east.
 
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced on Tuesday the league’s return to play plan including the 24-team playoff format.

Washington, as one of the top four teams in the conference, will get a bye to the first round of the playoffs and not have to play in the play-in round. Instead, the Caps will play a round-robin tournament against the other top seeds in the conference: Boston, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. The winner of that round robin will determine the seeds for the playoffs.
 
The inclusion of a round-robin has some fans a bit confused as it is not something seen in a normal season so let’s break it down.
 
First off, you can throw out the current seeding for the top four teams. The regular season records determined who the top four teams are, but that is it. They no longer matter. The round robin is a clean slate for those four teams. Washington will play each of the other teams once and regular season rules will apply. That means there will not be continuous overtime in a tie game, but instead it will go to five minutes of three-on-three followed by a shootout.

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What this means is that Boston, despite being the presumptive Presidents’ Trophy winner, could fall all the way down to the No. 4 seed in the playoffs. The Caps, meanwhile, could claim the top spot in the conference with a strong showing in the round robin.
 
Why did the NHL do this? Bettman went into this in a video conference with the media after the initial announcement. Basically, this is an acknowledgment that the top teams need to play competitive games before playing against a team that had to win a playoff series just to get there.
 
What will be the reward for earning the top seed? It is not yet clear.
 
It has not yet been determined if the teams will be reseeded after the play-in round or if the playoff will be a bracket throughout. This could be significant depending on the upsets we see in the play-in round. For example, a bracket would set up for the No. 4 team to play the winner of the series between the No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins and the No. 12 Montreal Canadiens. If Montreal pulls off the upset as the lowest seed, that would give the No. 4 seed the best matchup on paper in the next round while the No. 1 seed would be playing either the No. 8 or 9 seed.
 
As one of the top seeds, the Caps will finish no lower than No. 4 in the conference but could potentially finish No. 1.

But we are still a long way off from determining who Washington will play in their first playoff series.
 

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Alex Ovechkin shares ninth Rocket Richard Trophy, but Capitals miss some other milestones

Alex Ovechkin shares ninth Rocket Richard Trophy, but Capitals miss some other milestones

The Capitals will hopefully be back on the ice this summer for the Stanley Cup playoffs after Tuesday’s return-to-play announcement by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. 

Remember where we left off on March 12 before the ongoing coronavirus pandemic halted play? 

Alex Ovechkin had 48 goals and with 13 games to go he seemed a lock to reach 50 for the ninth time in his career. That would have tied him with Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy for the most 50-goal seasons in NHL history.

That won’t happen now. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman declared the regular season over on Tuesday as he laid out his plans for what the league hopes to do if it can get players safely back on the ice.  

But if Ovechkin will fall just shy of 50 goals, he can console himself with yet another Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal scorer. He will share that honor this year with Boston’s David Pastrnak, who also finishes with 48 goals.

It is the first time players have shared a Rocket since 2009-10 when Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos each had 51 goals. Three players tied for it in 2003-04. That trio was Rick Nash, Jarome Iginla and now-Capitals forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who was then with the Atlanta Thrashers, who now play in Winnipeg. In other words, it was a long time ago.

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Ovechkin remains two goals away from tying longtime Capitals forward Mike Gartner for No. 7 on the all-time goals list. Gartner has 708. Ovechkin sits at 706. That will have to wait until next year. Phil Esposito (717), Marcel Dionne (731) and even Brett Hull (741) could all be within reach.

Meanwhile, Ovechkin was far from the only Caps’ player pushing for a milestone only to come up short with the regular season ended prematurely. John Carlson won’t reach the hallowed 90-point mark for a defenseman. Carlson hit the break with 75 points, which was 10 more than anyone at the position. He still had a decent shot to get there with 13 games left.

Hall-of-Famer Ray Bourque was the last NHL defenseman to hit 90 points in a season 26 years ago with the Boston Bruins in 1993-94. Carlson remains a favorite for the Norris Trophy. Wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize.

The Capitals had other players posting career years, too. Tom Wilson has 44 points to set a new personal best and his 21 goals were just one short of his single-season high.

Jakub Vrana, in his age 23-24 season, hit his career-best mark with 25 goals. Lars Eller had 16 goals, which was two shy of his career best (18). He also needed just one more point to reach 40 for the first time.

Maybe the most intriguing number out there? Braden Holtby is currently tied with Olie Kolzig at 35, but he might never get another chance to make that record his own. His contract expires at the end of the season. 

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