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Key Caps questions: Which Braden Holtby will we see this season?

Key Caps questions: Which Braden Holtby will we see this season?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Which Braden Holtby are we most likely to see this season: February Holtby or playoff Holtby?

Tarik: The season ended in the best way imaginable for the Capitals as a team. It also ended in the best way imaginable for Braden Holtby as an individual.

There’s no disputing the fact that Holtby endured the toughest regular season since he broke into the NHL.

The 28-year-old posted career-worst marks in both save percentage (.907) and goals against average (2.99). He also ended up with 34 wins, his lowest total in a full season.

Holtby also lost his starting job to Philipp Grubauer entering the playoffs.

But instead of wallowing in self-pity, he quietly went about rebuilding his game so that if he were needed again, he’d be ready. And, of course, his number was called just a couple of games into the first round.

After replacing Grubauer in Game 2, Holtby was the best goalie in the playoffs—and it wasn’t all that close. Among goalies who appeared in at least 12 postseason games, Holtby’s .922 save percentage was tied for second best (with Connor Hellebuyck and ranked behind only Marc Andre Fleury’s .927). Holtby’s 2.16 goals against average, meanwhile, was tops.

And then there was ‘The Save’ in the waning moments of Game 2 of the Final. I’m not sure there’s a Stanley Cup in Washington if Holtby didn’t get his stick on that Alex Tuch layup, preserving the Caps’ 3-2 win.

Whether it was mental fatigue or physical fatigue or something else that led to Holtby’s midseason slump, we can be sure of this much: it was the first protracted rough patch of his career. More important than the struggles, though, he figured out how to ‘reset’ himself on the fly. Many top goalies who have enjoyed staying power over the years, guys like Henrik Lundqvist and Roberto Luongo, to name a couple, have all had to do that from time-to-time, and now Holtby knows he’s got that ability, too.

In the span of seven weeks, Holtby rewrote his franchise’s history and how everyone—including himself—will view his 2017-18 season.

Struggles? What struggles?

That’s a long-winded way of saying I’d be shocked if Holts doesn’t pick up right where he left off in Las Vegas.

JJ:  A shocking proportion of the Caps' fan base has completely taken Holtby for granted for much of his Capitals career, labeled him a poor playoff performer and pointed to Grubauer as a better long-term option in net. Hopefully, all of those doubters have now seen the light.

Holtby has been consistently great in both the regular season and the playoffs throughout his entire career with only a few hiccups, and last season's slump was by far his worst. Grubauer rightly got the nod heading into the playoffs as the hotter of the two netminders, but any continued doubts anyone has regarding whether or not Holtby is a great goalie were officially put to rest during last season's playoff run.

Heading into the Stanley Cup Final, Marc-Andre Fleury's name was penciled in as the Conn Smythe winner. Holtby outplayed him and outplayed him badly:

Holtby: 5 GP, 4-1 record, .916 save percentage, 2.62 GAA
Fleury: 5 GP, 1-4 record, .853 save percentage, 4.09 GAA

But JJ, what about the 2017 playoffs?

Holtby's 2017 postseason was his worst postseason and that was a major factor in the team's second-round loss to Pittsburgh. For his career, however, Holtby has a .929 save percentage in the playoffs which ranks third all-time. He also boasts a 2.04 postseason GAA, the best among all active goalies and 12th all-time.

Why am I throwing these numbers at you? Because Holtby is a great goalie who, like all goalies, is subject to slumps from time to time. For some unknown reason, there has been a tendency to define Holtby by his slumps instead of his overall body of work which is beyond reproach.

The way Holtby rebounded from last season's slump showed how strong a netminder he is mentally. I have zero doubt that he will enter the season in top form.

Fatigue is the only factor I find concerning. There's no Grubauer behind Holtby who can step in for 35 games this season. Instead, it will be Pheonix Copley as backup, a goalie with a grand total of two NHL games worth of experience. 

Limiting Holtby to about 60 games would be ideal, but I am doubtful that is going to happen this season. Otherwise, I have no doubt we will see the normally dominant Holtby once again.

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Alex Ovechkin selling ‘We Will Skate Again’ t-shirts and masks to help local community

Alex Ovechkin selling ‘We Will Skate Again’ t-shirts and masks to help local community

Alex Ovechkin will be selling custom "We Will Skate Again" t-shirts, face masks and neck gaiters with all proceeds going toward foundations in the DMV community, the Capitals announced in a press release Thursday.

The products, which can be purchased at the Ovechkin's online store, feature his signature logo. The shirts also have the phrase "We Will Skate Again" written across the front. Here's a look at some of the designs from the press release:

Money raised from t-shirt sales will be donated to the Tucker Road Ducks and The Tucker Road Parent Hockey Organization. The youth hockey team from Prince George’s County, Md., tragically lost their ice rink in 2017 due to a fire. The organization is working to rebuild it, while also striving to make hockey available for kids of any economic background. 

RELATED: OSHIE LAUNCHES AUCTION TO BENEFIT COVID-19 CRITICAL NEEDS FUND

Proceeds from the masks and neck gaiters will go to the Monumental Sports & Entertainment Foundation's “Feeding the Frontlines” fund, which was created as a way to help those in the community who are dealing with the negative impact of COVID-19.

Ovechkin and the rest of the Capitals are gearing up for the beginning of training camp on July 13 as the NHL gets closer to a return.

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How a flat cap could affect the Capitals' approach to the Seattle expansion draft

How a flat cap could affect the Capitals' approach to the Seattle expansion draft

The NHL salary cap is going to remain at $81.5 million for next two years at least. That is going to make life difficult for Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan. With the team already tight against the cap ceiling, he won't even get the annual relief of the cap rising. One way in which the team could find a modicum of relief, however, is through the 2021 expansion draft. Every team in the NHL will lose a player to Seattle which means taking a contract off the books. Given the team's cap situation, there is one player specifically to keep in mind when it comes to the expansion draft: T.J. Oshie.

For the expansion, each team will be able to protect eight skaters and a goalie or seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie. It seems safe to assume Washington will choose the latter. Here are the forwards that will still be under contract after the 2020-21 season: Nicklas Backstrom, Nic Dowd, Lars Eller, Carl Hagelin, Garnet Hathaway, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Oshie, Richard Panik and Tom Wilson. The contracts for both Alex Ovechkin and Jakub Vrana expire at the end of the 2020-21 season, but both will almost certainly be re-signed so we can add them to the list.

Of the forwards the team would want to protect, the most obvious choices are Backstrom, Eller, Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, Vrana and Wilson. Most would assume that the seventh spot should go to Oshie, but should it?

As I wrote yesterday, one of the issues for Washington is that the team has several long-term deals on the books. For a team with little room under the cap, MacLellan had to offer longer-term deals instead of big money ones to remain competitive in the gree agent market. The risk is that it ties you to a player for longer, but even if a player is not living up to his contract, the percentage of his cap hit would decrease every year with a steadily rising salary cap. Well, now the cap is no longer rising and that means players on long deals, like Oshie, are not getting better as the players age.

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Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to Oshie. First, he will be 34 at the time of the expansion draft and will only be halfway through an eight-year contract that carries a cap hit of $5.75 million. Obviously, the chances that Oshie would be living up to that cap hit when he was 37 or 38 were low when Oshie first signed the deal, but that's OK because with a steadily rising cap, the percentage would probably be low enough at that point that it would not be a significant issue. But now the salary cap is flat which means MacLellan is going to have to take a hard look at all of the team's long-term deals and project out what the team can expect from those players towards the end of their contracts.

Oshie is having a great season with 26 goals and 23 assists. He was on pace for 58 points which would have been his best in Washington. He is a leader on the team and a real boost to the locker room. No one could question his value to Washington now, but the question is what will his value be in the second half of his contract?

RELATED: WHY A FLAT SALARY CAP IS BAD NEWS FOR THE CAPS

Granted, Seattle knows all of this, but there are three reasons why Oshie would still be an attractive acquisition. First, Oshie's cap hit is essentially a non-factor for a team starting from scratch. The Caps have very little room to work with under the cap while Seattle has all of the room to work with. A cap hit of $5.75 million would hardly be a deterrent. Second, Oshie is actually from Washington state. While most fans remember Oshie taking the Cup to his hometown of Warroad, Minn., Oshie was born in Washington and lived there until moving to Minnesota in 2002. Third, when building a team, you need players like Oshie who are personable and charismatic. He is the life of the locker room and a natural leader. He would be Washington's native son, returning to lead the team in its inaugural season.

To me, it is not a stretch to think that if Oshie is indeed selected, he would be in the running to be Seattle's first captain. His departure would also provide some cap relief to a Washington team in need of the extra room. Losing Oshie would mean losing that spark in the locker room, however, and MacLellan will have to decide whether that is a fair trade-off.

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