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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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How to Watch: Maple Leafs at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream

How to Watch: Maple Leafs at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream

Sitting firmly at third place in their respective divisions, the Capitals and Maple Leafs are both eager to grab another win for themselves in this classic Atlantic vs Metropolitan division matchup. 

Here is everything you need to know about the Wednesday night game, which takes place at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington.

CAPITALS vs. MAPLE LEAFS HOW TO WATCH

What: Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals, Game 8 of the 2019-20 NHL Regular Season

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: The Capitals vs Maple Leafs game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (NBC Sports Washington Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can live stream Capitals vs Maple Leafs on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.

Radio: Caps 24/7 Radio, 106.7 The Fan FM

CAPITALS VS MAPLE LEAFS TV SCHEDULE

6:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live

6:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live

7:00 PM: Capitals vs Maple Leafs

9:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live

10:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live

10:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live

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There’s no setback, but just when Michal Kempny will return remains uncertain

There’s no setback, but just when Michal Kempny will return remains uncertain

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Around the time when the Colorado Avalanche scored its fourth goal to take a 4-0 lead on Monday, the Twitter questions started rolling in. “When is Michal Kempny coming back?”

The Caps’ top-pair left defenseman has yet to play this season after tearing his hamstring in March. His loss was a major factor in the team’s first-round defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes in the playoffs and has led to inconsistent defensive play to start the season.

But the Caps’ defense is going to have to figure out how to defend against the star-studded Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday without Kempny as head coach Todd Reirden declared after practice on Tuesday that Kempny will not play.

“We're getting close,” Reirden said. “That's at least today's report on him without having spoken to our trainer or team doctor anything right now. I just know that he took another step in terms of visually from me that he is getting closer and closer to game action.”

At the start of training camp, the hope was that Kempny would be able to return for the start of the season. He was not. The team elected not to place him on long-term injured reserve which requires a player to miss 10 games. Now seven games into the season, Kempny’s timetable remains uncertain.

When asked if he was hopeful Kempny could return for Friday’s game against the New York Rangers, Reirden did not sound all that confident.

“I am, yeah. I mean, I'm hopeful every time I walk into the training room.”

For the timeline to keep getting pushed back has raised concerns over whether Kempny has suffered a setback in his recovery, but Reirden insists that is not the case.

“There's not nothing to be concerned about,” he said. “If there was a setback I would let you know. There isn't one. He's going on the path he's supposed to be going on and many other people would have this as a longer-term injury than it already has been so he's doing great.”

Kempny was cleared for contact on Oct. 2. and has been a full participant at practice ever since. Getting him back to a point where the doctors and the team can feel comfortable about getting him into the lineup, however, has proven difficult.

Even after losing four of their first seven games to start the season including all three home games, Reirden says the team is committed to remaining patient and cautious with Kempny’s recovery.

“It's making the choice that's the right thing for our organization and for Michal,” he said. “I think that we've been really happy with the development of this player since we got him and saw the strides he made last year and then we were able to realize how big of a loss he would be when we didn't have him. I think that doing anything now to set him up for anything less than success is not worth it. We have to view the risk versus reward and there won't be any risk, it will be that he is 100-percent cleared, ready to go and ready to play.”