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Caps Mailbag Part 2: Does Holtby's season make him more likely to return?

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Caps Mailbag Part 2: Does Holtby's season make him more likely to return?

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: Do you see any possible scenario where Braden Holtby plays himself out of a potential big-money deal and comes back to the Caps next season?

You have to remember that there are two sides to this, the team and the player.

Do I think Holtby is going to get $10 million per year? No, probably not. Sergei Bobrovsky’s deal already looks suspect and I think Holtby’s current season is going to affect his next offer. I think the Caps would love to have Holtby back as a tandem with Ilya Samsonov and a tough season for him makes this more realistic if still unlikely.

The problem is, explain to me why this works for Holtby?

Yes, he likes it in Washington, but I would not project him to be the No. 1 heading into next season, that affects what he would be worth to the Caps and the team can’t offer him any protection from the Seattle expansion draft because it would have to come at Samsonov’s expense.

Look at some of the goalie tandems across the league. I guarantee you there is a team out there that would be willing to bring in Holtby as a No. 1 and pay him like one. Staying with the Caps would mean a reduced role as early as next season and being a downright backup sooner rather than later. I don’t think he is ready to accept that kind of a role knowing that he likes to play as much as possible and knowing there would be other teams willing to offer him a bigger role.

This is supposed to be his last big deal. Why would he accept a deal to be a backup because that's essentially what he would be in Washington.

Matt Silberman writes: Do goalies treat each other as teammates or competition? In a situation like the Caps have this year with Braden Holtby’s expiring contract, how does that play into his relationship with Ilya Samsonov?

I have always been fascinated by this dynamic. Goalies are teammates but also competing with each other for more playing time. Sometimes there is a clear No. 1 and a backup and other times, like with the Caps this season, there is an incumbent and a future starter.

Goalies seem to handle this relationship a lot better than say, NFL quarterbacks. Compare Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers to Holtby’s reaction when Philipp Grubauer was named the playoff starter in 2018.

I would expect more controversies, but really it seems most goalies treat each other as teammates and understand why one goalie is starting over the other. In terms of the Caps specifically, a lot of players credit Holtby with helping to mentor Samsonov so they seem to be handling what could be an awkward relationship just fine.

Justin Cade writes: Assuming Holtby takes the money and walks in the offseason, who do you see as Samsonov’s backup in 2020-21?

Not Pheonix Copley or Vitek Vanecek. That’s not a knock on them, the fact is, even if you are sold on Samsonov, it is still a risk turning the crease over to a goalie who will likely only have 30-40 games of NHL experience under his belt. I think the team will want someone a bit more established than that to come in and go with more of a goalie tandem than a No. 1, No. 2. So that means looking at free agents.

Looking at some of the potential free agents, I would think Jaroslav Halak would be a perfect fit in terms of cost and being the exact kind of player they would be looking for. Some other potential names: Jimmy Howard, Cam Talbot, Anton Khudobin, Brian Elliott.

Hana H. writes: For the All-Star Game / Weekend, do the players have to take care of their own bags, equipment, etc?

I spoke with Holtby about this. In terms of equipment, the players are responsible for getting their equipment to the game. I am sure they don’t have to pay for it themselves, but they have to bring their equipment with them when they fly to wherever the game is being held.

Jennifer McCall writes: Do you think 700+ goals is an achievable goal for our Captain this season? If so, what will his final tally for this season?

Ovechkin is only 16 goals away from 700 for his career with 36 games left to play (the team has 37, but remember Ovechkin will have to sit out a game as a suspension for skipping the All-Star Game).

I’m going to be honest, I thought Ovechkin was starting to show his age with only four goals since the start of December...until Tuesday. The shot he unleashed to beat Craig Anderson was absolutely filthy.

Yes, Ovechkin absolutely can (and I believe will) reach 700 this season.

John Fleming writes: If this season really is the last season of the current Cup "window," when does the next window open? When will the Ilya Samsonov, Connor McMichael and Alex Alexeyev lead Caps to contend for real? And could Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom still be on the team by then?

This is really hard to project. I believe they have their starting goalie in Samsonov and the team is very high on Martin Fehervary and Alex Alexeyev. We are one or two years away from a Jakub Vrana, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson top line which is good to build around. After that, there are a lot of question marks.

I think there is enough talent in the organization to bridge the gap for a few years once the Ovechkin era truly begins to decline, but after that it depends on just how good the prospects are.

I like Connor McMichael a lot, but there are a lot of mixed opinions on him. I see him as a top-six center, but I have heard some who are of the opinion that he is a bottom-six winger. Aliaksei Protas is catching everyone off guard and is far exceeding expectations, but doing that in the WHL and the NHL are two different things. What is his ceiling? I have not read many experts who see both Alexeyev or Fehervary as top pair defensemen.

The problem for me is that, yes the Caps could find a steal here and there, the team seems to draft fairly well and there could be some players who beat out all the expectations of the experts, but do you honestly believe all the team’s prospects are bonafide NHLers who will prove all the experts wrong? I don’t. There are going to be some busts in the mix.

After years of mid to late-round draft picks as well as trading a lot of picks away for championship runs, that is eventually going to catch up with the team. When Ovechkin begins to decline the team is going to find that it has a lot of young depth players, but may lack superstar talent. The most likely to acquire that is in the lottery which you get into by missing the playoffs.

Justin Cade writes: Who among the young Caps do you see as the next face of the franchise? Do you see Jakub Vrána sticking around for years to come?

Wilson and Alexeyev. I would be stunned if Wilson is not the next captain of the team. He is well-spoken, the fans already love him and he is a top-line player. Vrana and Kuznetsov are more skilled, but both are a little too goofy to really carry the mantle of “face of the franchise.”

It is impossible to talk to Alexeyev and not come away impressed. The combination of confidence, swagger and maturity he possesses makes him an incredible quote. He is always smiling and has an infectious personality. If he is a top-four defenseman like he is projected to be, he is someone you are going to be seeing a lot of.

Micah Reed writes: Do you think the NHL would ever consider a "backcourt violation" type rule to implement during 3v3? For instance: If a team carries the puck into their offensive zone, they are not allowed to carry it back across center ice. They could maintain possession in between the blue line and center, but if they backtrack farther than that, it results in a faceoff in their D-zone on the dot of the opposition choosing.

I do not get the sense there is much appetite to mess with the 3-on-3.

Honestly, I would not change a thing about it other than to make it 10 minutes long instead of five minutes. Otherwise, don’t touch it. It’s perfect the way it is.

John Massey writes: Are there any Capitals players that do not have the face/eye guard/mask? Washington or Hershey? I thought it was required, but noticed Jamie Benn and Ryan O'Reily (STL) do not have one. I also noticed a game last week when a Caps player broke a stick and equipment manager Brock Myles reached out to try to give it to the player on the ice. What's the rule on how a player can get a new stick? Can a player carry two and give one away? Throw it to them?

Beginning in 2013-14, all players with fewer than 25 gams of NHL experience were required to wear a visor. Every player with more experience at that point is “grandfathered in” and has the option of not wearing a visor. All other players must wear one including all new players so this will eventually be phased out altogether. Until then, there are a handful of holdouts. There are no Caps players who currently do not wear a visor and the AHL made visors mandatory back in 2006.

The last Caps player I can recall who did not have a visor was Daniel Winnik, but that’s all I can think of off the top of my head.

Rule 10.3 deals with broken sticks. Players are allowed to receive a new stick from the bench or by a teammate on the ice, but sticks cannot be thrown slid or shot to a teammate or it is a penalty.

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.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: What does the future hold for Ovechkin?

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: What does the future hold for Ovechkin?

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.

Paul Trubits writes: I have a theory that the Caps picked up Ilya Kovalchuk to make Alex Ovechkin happy and to be a big brother to Evgeny Kuznetsov and the other Russians. Any thoughts?

I am sure that was a factor, but that is not why the Capitals ultimately brought him in. While the third line has played better of late, it just has not been able to provide enough offense this season. What's more, when the top-six has struggled, there really is no player for Todd Reirden to plug on the wings in order to shake things up like they had with Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky in the past. The addition of Kovalchuk gives this team a much deeper top-nine in terms of scoring depth. He steps in and has more goals (nine) than both Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik (seven each).

Kovalchuk's relationship with the team's Russians likely played a factor in terms of Brian MacLellan feeling confident he would be able to fit into the locker room well, but that ultimately is not why he was brought in.

Captain Obvious writes: With an obvious lack of team speed compared to others, why don't we mirror our most successful campaigns by playing "heavy" and taking away the fluidity of other teams?

That's exactly what they have been getting back to the last few games.

There is a portion of the Caps' fanbase that seems to believe the Caps are "soft." They're not. This is a very heavy team that likes to play a physical style of game. The problem is that it is very hard to do that for 82 games, which is why it's not all that surprising to see the team struggle in January and February. The fact that their "slump" went on for as long as it did was surprising, but I always expected the team to take a step back at some point from the blistering pace it set at the start of the season. It's a lot easier to make those physical plays at the start of the season than it is for a Monday game in February. Because you can't play physically for 82 games, people will watch a random game in which they just don't bring the body that night and declare the team as being soft despite the fact that five of the top 22 hitters in the NHL play for Washington. Watch the two games the Caps have played against the Pittsburgh Penguins. There was clearly an emphasis on physical play, and as a result, the Caps outscored Pittsburgh 6-2 in the third period.

Granted, you have to take "hits" as a stat with a grain of salt because the way hits are measured from arena to arena varies wildly, but make no mistake, this team is a big-bodied team that considers physical play a big part of its identity.

Tim K. writes: How much of the Capitals' faceoff problems come from the centers and how much from the support guys? Philadelphia has strong and quick centers, but it seems that the wings are also really good at collapsing and helping to capture the puck. Is this fixable or a reality the Caps have learned to live with?

This is a great point and something Reirden has talked about before. Winning faceoffs is not just about the centers, it is about the wingers coming in to support. When the faceoff is coming on the left side of the offensive zone, for example, the Caps routinely run a play in which Alex Ovechkin immediately cuts off the wall for the center. If the puck is loose behind the center, he picks it up and shoots. In that sense, it works to the Caps' favor. But there are a lot of losses in the offensive zone, especially when the team is focused on running a play and not coming in to support the center. Overall, I think this contributes to the problem because I don't think the Caps' wingers do enough to support on the faceoffs.

Brett Eppley writes: In the previous mailbag, you brought up Evgeny Kuznetsov's faceoff percentage as 43% this year. Do you think switching him to a winger, a position which would free him of defensive and faceoff responsibilities of being a center, would help get his point production up?

There's more to being a center than faceoffs and defense. Kuznetsov's skating and playmaking ability are ideal for the center position. He is also very good on zone entry. Putting him on the wing would mean involving him in more board battles and the forecheck which would not suit his game well. I get the defensive deficiencies can be frustrating, but Kuznetsov is one of the top offensive centers in the NHL and his skillset dictates that's where he should be. Also, it's a lot harder to find a top-six center than it is a top-six winger. You move Kuznetsov and you've created a gigantic hole in Washington's lineup.

Craig Boden writes: Alex Ovechkin has 700 now, he's 35 in September. What does his next contract look like? And can he get close to 894 goals?

After Ovechkin scored 700 I wrote on whether he could catch Wayne Gretzky's record. I don't know if he will ultimately get there, but the thing fans should be excited about is that the math is becoming more and more realistic.

As for his next contract, my guess is that he goes no more than four years. His next contract will not begin until he is 36 years old. He is going to stay in the NHL as long as he continues playing at a high level, but I can't see him being content as a third-line player scoring 10-15 goals a year. Even when his play eventually drops off -- which, as unbelievable as it may seem, it will at some point -- he can still walk into the KHL and be a top player. I think he re-signs for three or four years and then re-evaluates when that contract ends how close he is to the record and whether he thinks he can get it. As for the price, I don't see him trying to break the bank. Nicklas Backstrom's new deal gives him a cap hit just under what Ovechkin makes now. I think he signs somewhere in the $9.5 to 10.5 million range, but no higher than that.

Justin Cade writes: How would you rank Brian MacLellan’s offseason priorities? Do you see the Caps making an effort to retain Brenden Dillon among trying to secure Jakub Vrána and working out a new deal for Alex Ovechkin?

In terms of priority and not what I think will happen first, Alex Ovechkin's new deal is No. 1, 2 and 3. He can't re-sign until July 1, but I would be shocked if it does not get done by then. The decision on Braden Holtby would be second, though I think the decision is pretty much made at this point. It does not make sense for either side for him to stay in Washington. Assuming he does not re-sign, signing a replacement to be the backup quickly becomes high on the list of priorities as I do not think we are going to see an Ilya Samsonov and either Vitek Vanecek or Pheonix Copley tandem next season unless there are no other viable options.

The blue line will also be a high priority for MacLellan. Dillon just got here but I could see the team trying to re-sign him depending on the level of concern over Michal Kempny's play. Dillon fits the mold of the type of player Brian MacLellan covets, a big physical player who is also mobile and opponents hate to play against. With a glut of left defensemen in the pipeline, however, I believe MacLellan is going to have to make a choice between Dillon and Dmitry Orlov. If Dillon is interested in returning, I am not sure it makes sense to have both signed for long-term because that will make it very difficult for Jonas Siegenthaler, Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary to work their way in.

The mess on the right also has to be figured out. This team needs a second-pair right defenseman and I cannot fathom any way in which they head into next season convincing themselves that Nick Jensen or Orlov can do it. I don't know how much more evidence you need at this point.

As for other players in need of new deals, the team will have to re-sign Jonas Siegenthaler and, as you noted, I would not be surprised if there is some movement to re-sign Vrana. He will have one year left on his contract, but his next deal is not going to get any cheaper. With 24 even-strength goals, he is tied for seventh in the NHL with Jack Eichel and Leon Draisaitl.

John Massey writes: During Ovechkin's five-game goal drought, every time a whistle stopped play and Alex went to the bench, the camera showed him tearing the tape off his stick and re-tapping. It just seemed like he was doing it way more than in the past. I don't understand that dynamic of doing it frequently during stoppages instead of intermissions. Can you explain?

This is a matter of preference. Ovechkin always does this very frequently. Some players are so particular about the tape that if it gets scuffed for rips a little, they take it off and do it all over. Like I said, it's a matter of preference.

Tape affects the sticks' grip of the puck when stickhandling and shooting. For a sniper like Ovechkin, he wants the tape to be just right or he feels his shot will be off. When you are one of only eight players to score 700 goals, you let him tape that stick as often as he wants.

Micah Reed writes: I saw that former Capitals prospect Chase Priskie was dealt by the Carolina Hurricanes to the Florida Panthers in a package for Vincent Trochek. With the way the right side of the Caps’ defense has played out this year and Priskie's decent performance in the AHL, do you think Priskie would have been given a shot with the Caps had he chose to sign here?

Knowing the state of the right side of the defense, I believe Priskie would have been watched carefully in training camp and in Hershey. I do not doubt he would have had a chance in Washington this year. After all, there's a reason the team recalled Martin Fehervary and plugged him into the top four for three games. Priskie would have had a decent shot at being that call-up.

Priskie's decision not to sign with the Caps continues to puzzle me. He left the Caps' organization for a team with a more crowded blue line and was traded away in less than a year. He had every right to do what he did, the rules allowed for him to become a free agent, but I have yet to hear an explanation that makes sense. I tried to interview while he was with Charlotte, but he declined.

Mike Doyle writes: I was born in the DC area but now live in Connecticut so everything I get to see with the Caps is on TV. It seems to me like the arena is not as loud as it used to be. Do you think our fans are not as into the regular season games as other team’s fans or is my TV just not picking it up?

If you are going off of recent games, the arena has been full of trepidation during the team's recent skid. The Caps' fanbase is nothing if not pessimistic. Otherwise, the arena has been just as boisterous as ever.

Cory Goodwin writes: I come from a country where hockey is not so prevalent which makes it hard to learn. So, I was wondering how the players know to change lines? Is it just instinct, or the coaches, or something else?

The coaches will tell the players when to change lines or players on the ice will head over for a change. When teams change on the fly, players will always go in for their corresponding position to avoid too many players going on too soon and getting a too-many men penalty. Also, during a stoppage in play, teams have to wait for the referee to say they can change. The visiting team always has to change first during a stoppage. This gives the home team an advantage of seeing who is on the ice and matching up accordingly.

By all means, feel free to send in your hockey 101 question! It can be a complicated sport sometimes and there are plenty of games where I find myself looking through the rule book.

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.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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Capitals meet Jets for second time in two days after shootout win

Capitals meet Jets for second time in two days after shootout win

Just two days after the Capitals (39-18-6) beat the Winnipeg Jets (32-27-6) in a shootout in Washington, the teams play again with the rematch in Winnipeg. Catch the game broadcast and the pre and postgame coverage on NBC Sports Washington. Pregame coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Caps FaceOff Live followed by Caps Pregame Live at 7:30 p.m. bringing you up to the 8 p.m. puck drop. Stick with NBC Sports Washington after the game for postgame coverage with Caps Postgame Live and Caps Overtime Live.

Here's what you need to know for Thursday's game.

The rematch

On Tuesday, the Caps jumped out to a 3-0 lead and looked like they were going to bury the Jets. Winnipeg rebounded to tie the game at 3, but Washington held on for the shootout win. The Jets will be looking for a better start to this game, while the Caps will be hoping for a better finish.

This game will be the final meeting between these two teams this season.

Goalie switch

Because of the home-and-home matchup, both teams will be switching up their starters in net. For Washington, Ilya Samsonov will start. He suffered the first road loss of his career on Saturday against the New Jersey Devils, bringing his road record to 10-1-0 with a .916 save percentage and 2.28 GAA.

For Winnipeg, starter Connor Hellebuyck will step in. Hellebuyck has had a Vezina caliber season with a 2.72 GAA and .918 save percentage, backstopping a team with major defensive issues heading into the season. Despite his strong play, he enters the game with two straight losses and four losses in his past six starts.

Lather, rinse, repeat

After finding some success the past two games, Todd Reirden will stick with the same lineup. Here are the lines from Thursday's morning skate:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Ilya Kovalchuk
Richard Panik - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Brenden Dillon - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Michal Kempny - Radko Gudas

Standings watch

The Caps are slowly working their way out of their recent slump and come into Thursday's game with two straight wins. The Pittsburgh Penguins, meanwhile, have hit a skid. With their loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday, the Penguins have now lost four straight. They still hold a game in hand over Washington, but the Caps hold a four-point lead over Pittsburgh for first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Philadelphia Flyers are also lurking with 79 points, five back of Washington's 84.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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