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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Will Washington be better in 2019-20?

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Will Washington be better in 2019-20?

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.

Fernandofreire320 on Instagram writes: Are we going to do better than last year?

They certainly could. From top to bottom, the Caps’ roster remains the best in the division. It is unfortunate that they lost in the first round of the playoffs, but the benefit of that is a longer offseason to rest. Todd Reirden is no longer a rookie head coach, Alex Ovechkin looks as good as ever and the team, at least on paper, seems to have improved tremendously defensively which very quietly was a major weakness last season. Plus, the end of the championship window is more visible than ever before. There will be more of a sense of urgency this season to make a run because we honestly don’t know if there will be another run next season.

All those reasons suggest this could be a much better season. After all, the Caps looked like they were completely out of gas in the playoffs last year and still came within one goal of advancing to the second round. With the first round being the margin to compare them to, yes I believe they will make a deeper run this season.

@NathanSprenger on Twitter writes: Bad energy around the Caps with the Alex Ovechkin injury scare, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Michal Kempny still recovering from injury, second year coach coming off bad playoff performance. Is everyone taking it for granted that Caps make playoffs?

I listed all the reasons to be optimistic above. I do believe they will be better this year, but there is a caveat and that is that there are a lot more potential pitfalls that could derail the season than we have seen in recent years.

The Caps are another year older and several of their star players are over 30. We do not know what to expect from Kuznetsov. We do not know what to expect from Todd Reirden in his second year. Will playing in a contract year negatively affect Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby’s play? Will Ovechkin start to look like he’s over 30 years old? Are lingering injuries an issue? The team lost scoring depth in the offseason. Will the defense not be as good as we think and thus the team miss players like Brett Connolly more than we expect?

So while I ultimately think the Caps will do better this year, I also believe there is a greater potential for things to crater.

Bill B. writes: I get that it's unlikely the Caps will re-sign Braden Holtby, but what if Ilya Samsonov is just OK or even worse in Hershey and Holts is lights out this season and maybe wins another Cup? Do you really think Brian MacLellan will squander the team's immediate future as well as Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin’s closing window on just OK goaltending? Maybe I'm being naive, but if Holtby leads the Caps to another Cup, I just don't see how MacLellan can justify letting him go, particularly after he let Barry Trotz walk.

Nothing in sports is guaranteed and things can change very quickly. If you recall, T.J. Oshie and Karl Alzner’s contracts both expired in 2017 and there were a lot of arguments during the season among analysts as to which the team should keep. At the beginning of the season I thought that the answer was clearly Alzner. You don’t let a top-four defenseman walk for a forward who you will have to overpay to keep from going to free agency. Obviously by the end of the season I felt differently.

As of right now, I have a hard time believing a return for Holtby is realistic. I think he will be too expensive, the Seattle expansion draft complicates things and Ilya Samsonov is working his way up.

But none of that is set in stone.

Yes, if the Caps win another Cup and Holtby is brilliant, that changes the equation, but I think you are missing the lesson of the Trotz situation.The assumption many had was that Trotz would be gone when his contract expired in 2017-18. We don’t know that for sure, but it is widely believed that was the case. Then he won a Cup and it was suddenly assumed that there was no way a deal would not get done. Yet, he and the team could not come to terms and he elected to resign and go elsewhere. While you take that as an example of why they can’t let Holtby go, I take that as a sign that this team has a value they feel everyone is worth and they are not going to go over that value, period, regardless of who you are or what you’ve done.

Holtby will have to have an incredible season and Samsonov would have to struggle to the point that the team is no longer sure that he has a future as an NHL starter. Even at that point, Holtby would still probably have to be willing to take less than he is worth and I think it would be foolish to simply assume he would be willing to do that.

I maintain that it is highly unlikely Holtby is back next season, but nothing is impossible.

Morr_micah on Instagram writes: How much longer do you think Dmitry Orlov will be a part of the Caps’ organization?

I am not an Orlov basher and I believe he gets a bad rap. There is no question last season was a down year, but he did not get much help from his partner Matt Niskanen who also struggled. While I do not think there is any reason the team should be actively looking to move him, I do believe this is a big season for him.

For a team tight up against the cap, you always have to keep an eye out for places the teamf can save money. Orlov’s contract counts $5.1 million against the cap and, while the team does not have a ton of prospect depth, the one area in which they are loaded is left-shot defensemen. Another bad year for Orlov and I could easily see him head to the trade block as a way to cut salary. If not, however, I believe he will be in Washington for the long haul.

Mecca V. writes: Tom Wilson had an explosive season last year, for the amount of games he played. Since his rookie days I believed he was able to be a top 6 winger. Is that just because he is in Washington? Or would he be a top six player on another top tier team?

I actually believe Wilson would have had a season like 2018-19 much sooner had his development been handled better early on in his career. Adam Oates completely botched this.

When a player is in juniors, he cannot play in the AHL. They only have the option of playing with their junior team or in the NHL. Rather than keep him in juniors where he would have gotten a ton of playing time, Oates kept him in Washington and played him on the fourth line as a goon. While there may be people out there who believe that is all Wilson is, he was a first-round draft pick for a reason. His ceiling was so much higher than playing eight minutes a night on the fourth line to show what he could do offensively.

Does Wilson benefit from playing on the top line with players like Ovechkin and Backstrom? Sure, but how many players have we seen put in the top six who do not perform?

You hear it so much during national broadcasts that it sounds cliche now, but it is absolutely true and that is that while most teams may hate Wilson, just about all of them would love to have him on their team. Not only is a great hitter and fighter, but he has a top-six offensive skillset and he is a very underrated skater. That is a rare package in today’s NHL.

So, yes, Wilson benefits from playing with Ovechkin, but the top-six benefits from him being their too. He is a top-six NHL forward and he would be regardless of what team he played for. Had he gotten better coaching early on, he actually may have reached that potential a lot sooner.

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T.J. Oshie doesn't believe shootouts should dictate results in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

T.J. Oshie doesn't believe shootouts should dictate results in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

T.J. Oshie is no stranger to success in shootouts, especially in big games. Namely, his performance in the 2014 Sochi Olympics against Russia earned him that reputation.

If the shootout style was ever brought to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the NHL, there's a chance that Oshie's name would once again be called upon. However, the Capital isn't set on that scenario becoming a reality. 

As of now, playoff matchups head into as many overtimes as needed rather than a shootout. While that can be draining for players, Oshie believes it is a more genuine way to determine results in the postseason. Hockey is a sport that forces a team to come together as a whole, and he feels that shootouts take that away.

“Selfishly I’d love to see it. But I just look back and see some of the games that went to five overtimes and played past midnight," Oshie told NHL on NBC during a re-airing of his performance in the 2014 Olympics. “In the playoffs you need everyone on the ice, everyone doing their job. The shootout just feels a little bit more one-on-one.”

"So I don’t think it has a place in playoffs," he added.

As Oshie noted, he could see the fun and excitement in having shootouts in the playoffs due to his personal success experiences in those moments. Yet, his time in postseason runs, including Washington's 2018 championship has given him a larger perspective on the grind that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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The Capitals' Stanley Cup run was filled with grueling moments, but the success came from the team's effort altogether. Individual performances sparked big moments, but the Capitals were only as good as the sum of all their parts. To take that away in the biggest of moments is something that Oshie sees as wrong for the sport and the players who worked hard to get there.

“It’s just, after winning, I think you realize how much you need everybody playing well and so I think everyone deserves to play in those big moments," Oshie said.

So, while Oshie loves participating in late-game heroics, he'll take his chance at an overtime goal rather than a shootout. He does, however, understand that the continuation of the golden goal format could lead to more games with multiple extra periods. Though he is okay with those happening in place of a shootout, he also knows that he probably just talked himself into a lot more of those situations in the future.

“Watch I’ll go to like a five-overtime game and be dying an need an IV," Oshie joked. "And maybe change my tune.”

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T.J. Oshie had no nerves entering shootout with Russia in 2014 Sochi Olympics

T.J. Oshie had no nerves entering shootout with Russia in 2014 Sochi Olympics

As the United States and Russia entered the shootout period of the 2014 Olympic Games preliminary matchup tied 2-2, there was plenty of tension and nerves in Sochi.

T.J. Oshie, who was sent out for the first attempt, had the right to be as nervous as anyone. Skating on to the ice, he had the weight of a nation on his shoulders in a game that carried a history stemming from the Miracle on Ice. Yet, Oshie was as cool as the ground he was on. Rather than thinking about any outside noise, his only focus was on what he was going to do with the puck.

“Just my move. There probably wasn’t a time I was more confident than my first shot. I knew off the hop that I wanted to go five hole and that’s really all I had my mind made up for," Oshie told NHL on NBC during the re-airing of the infamous game on Saturday. "The first shot I was ready to go. I was excited to go out there and shoot first and put us up one.”

Oshie did just that on his first shot, giving the United States early momentum in the shootout. He would once again have his name called upon for the fourth attempt of the period. Though he was no longer setting the tone for the entire period, this is where Oshie more pressure.

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It wasn't solely because of the situation, but rather because he didn't want to lose the opportunity to shoot again down the line.

“I was most nervous for my second one because I felt if I missed I wouldn’t be going anymore," Oshie said.

He did miss the shot, but it was not the end for him. Rules allowed the U.S. to send the same player out there for each of the following rounds if they wanted, and head coach Dan Bylsma opted to stick with Oshie.

The rest is history, as in the eighth round Oshie's ability to find the back of the net ended up being the game-winner for the United States.

Despite the circumstances, Oshie never felt too nervous throughout the shootout period. Remaining calm and focusing on what he needed to do with his stick, he helped etch a spot for himself in the most memorable moments the sport of hockey has had to offer.

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