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No, Braden Holtby will not and should not be traded before the season

No, Braden Holtby will not and should not be traded before the season

Braden Holtby may still be under contract with the Capitals, but as he enters the last year of his deal his future has been a major topic of conversation throughout the offseason.

In 2018, the Columbus Blue Jackets held onto goalie Sergei Bobrovsky as he entered the final year of his contract only to watch him walk in free agency. Now Washington finds itself in a similar situation. Like Bobrovsky, Holtby is one of the top goalies in the league and he will be the same age, 30, when his contract expires as Bobrovsky was this year.

So why not be proactive and trade Holtby now?

There are always teams desperate to upgrade their goaltending and they will pay a pretty penny for one of the top netminders in the league. Plus, the team already has a prospect widely considered to be its future starter in Ilya Samsonov.

Trade Holtby, cash in, turn the reins over to Samsonov and call it a day.

Let’s be clear, the only reason you have this conversation is if you think the team will not be able to keep Holtby next season. I happen to be in that camp. The type of money he will command will be too much for the team to afford, the term he will want will make no sense with Samsonov already in Hershey and there is no way to keep both goalies because the 2021 expansion draft will only allow the team to protect one goalie.

But does that mean the Caps should trade Holtby now? No. Absolutely not.

What is the ultimate goal of the Caps? It is the same goal as every other franchise in the NHL and that is to win the Stanley Cup. This is not the stock market where the goal is to sell high. Every decision a team makes should be done with an eye towards winning the Cup. Yes, sometimes that does mean trading away your top players to recoup value, but only when your team is not in a position to win now.

If the Caps believe they have a chance to win the Cup this year, they have to keep their Vezina-winning staring goalie and cannot rely on an unproven prospect and assume he will be fine despite never playing in a single NHL game before.

But wait... isn't that what happened to the Blue Jackets? They totally got burned for trying to win the Cup!

Yes, but there is a major difference between the two teams. Prior to last season, Columbus had never won a single playoff series. Not ever. It did not spend the 2018 offseason making any dramatic changes to its core, there was no coaching change. It was largely the same team and yet, somehow general manager Jarmo Kekalainen decided it made sense to keep Bobrovsky, and fellow pending UFA Artemi Panarin, for one more run.

Run at what?

Yes, the NHL has shown us time and again that when a team gets into the playoffs, anything can happen, but it is a general manager’s job to assess what his team’s ceiling is. I do not see how anyone could conclude that somehow a team that had never won a series was going to compete for a Stanley Cup. And yet, that is exactly the conclusion Kekalainen reached. Why? Because the team signed Riley Nash and Anthony Duclair in the offseason? Because they had beaten the Caps two games in their playoff series -- two games the Caps dominated by the way -- and then watched Washington go all the way? Two wins were enough to convince them they were a Cup contender?

Sorry, but that's not enough.

If you want to say it was worth it for that franchise to finally get over the hump and win a playoff series to give the fans something to cheer about, that’s a different conversation. In terms of being able to go all the way, it was ludicrous to think the Blue Jackets were contenders.

The Caps are in a completely different situation.

In 2018, just one year ago, Washington was celebrating winning the Stanley Cup. They did so with a core they have largely been able to keep intact. Holtby, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, Jakub Vrana, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, John Carlson, Michal Kempny are all back next season. The team is coming off a disappointing first-round exit, but fatigue from a lengthy playoff run the prior year inarguably was a factor. Also, despite losing key players like Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky this offseason, it is not a stretch to believe the team actually got better  -- particularly on defense -- with the additions of Radko Gudas, Richard Panik, Garnet Hathaway and with the re-signing of Carl Hagelin.

No one is going to look at the Caps’ roster and conclude that they are the best team in the league, but it is absolutely reasonable to believe this team could compete for the Cup next season. That certainly seems to be what general manager Brian MacLellan thinks or he would not have made the offseason moves that he did, adding to the roster while still dealing with a serious cap crunch. If that’s the case, how could he think of trading Holtby?

If the goal for this season is to compete for a Stanley Cup and MacLellan believes he has the roster to do it, you cannot trade your starting goalie even if it means losing him for nothing in the offseason.

The future appears bright for Samsonov, but he is 22 and still developing. He has never played an NHL game and you just do not know what he could do if given the chance. This does not mean you can't trust him or that you never give him that chance, it just means you cannot make a championship push on the assumption that he is ready to be an NHL starter.

Plus, how do you sell that to the team? “Hey guys, I totally think we can win this year, but I am going to trade away our top goalie and let Samsonov take over. Fingers crossed he is ready, am I right? Totally not a rebuild though. Now let’s go win the Cup!”

That’s a tough sell.

What would the Blue Jackets have lost last season had they traded away Bobrovsky? They would not have pulled off an improbable upset over Tampa Bay, but ultimately a team that was not going to win the Cup anyway...still would not have won the Cup. For the Caps, trading away Holtby could cost them a legitimate shot at the Cup in 2020.

Granted, this expectation can change. Injuries happen, players underperform, coaches don’t work out or sometimes a team just flat out is not as good as anticipated. If the Caps struggle there may come a point where MacLellan has to acknowledge this team’s window has closed and it is closer to a rebuild than a championship. At that point, the conversation changes and they should absolutely look into moving Holtby. Until then, however, you keep him.

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Watch: Sergei Ovechkin dancing is the cutest thing you'll see all day

Watch: Sergei Ovechkin dancing is the cutest thing you'll see all day

Welcome to Club Ovechkin hosted by yours truly, Sergei!

Wednesday afternoon Nastya Ovechkin posted the cutest video of her son Sergei, now 19-months-old and showing off his dance moves.

Sergei was getting down to Зацепила (“Hooked”) by musician and family friend Arthur Pirozhkov.

He's got some moves for a one-year-old so who knows what other skills he'll get from momma and papa Ovechkin. 

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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With NHL season paused, a ranking of Capitals' best wins of 2019-20: No. 3

With NHL season paused, a ranking of Capitals' best wins of 2019-20: No. 3

While we wait for the NHL to hopefully resume its season, NBC Sports Washington is looking back at the 20 best wins of the Capitals' season so far. Mark Zaner, producer for Caps Faceoff Live and Caps Overtime Live, has watched every game. His rankings continue with No. 3, a 5-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Nov. 9 that featured a complete effort from the Capitals, a first for Jonas Siegenthaler and some pregame espionage from Brent Johnson. 

You can re-watch the game tonight on NBC Sports Washington at 8pm. 

WHAT HAPPENED 

In a 2018 Stanley Cup Finals rematch, and perhaps a matchup you could see in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, Washington came out flying. Dmitry Orlov feathered a perfect two-line pass past three Golden Knights defenders and right to Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov had no problem beating Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury 58 seconds into the game 

 

The Capitals make it 2-0 just minutes later. Amid a line change, the Knights coughed up the puck in their own end. Tom Wilson, who was about to go off the ice, jumped back into the attack and beat Fleury with a wrist shot. 

 

Two Vegas goals sandwiched a Siegenthaler tally to make it 3-2 Capitals entering the third period. Enter Nicklas Backstrom. His first goal came on the power play. With all the Knights attention focused on Ovechkin, Backstrom threw a wrister on Fleury from the right faceoff circle. Fleury got a piece of it, but let it trickle through for the score.  

 

Backstrom scored a rare empty-net goal late in the period instead of deferring to Ovechkin. The Capitals owned the third period on their way to an impressive 5-2 win. 

MEMORABLE MOMENTS 

Siegenthaler made his NHL debut on Nov. 9 in 2018. Exactly one year later he scored his first career goal. Travis Boyd and Nic Dowd executed a picture-perfect dump-and-chase. Boyd waited in the corner for a line change and fed Siegenthaler, who was streaking to the net without anyone marking him. 

  

WHY IT WAS SIGNIFICANT 

If you look at the rest of my Top 10 Caps wins, most of the games are exciting comebacks or see-saw affairs. Games that were generally exciting to watch or something crazy happened. This game makes the list because it’s peak Washington Capitals. This team was playing almost flawless hockey from the middle of October through the end of November. This was Washington’s sixth straight win. In this game, the Caps got more shots, earned more power plays, won more faceoffs, blocked more shots and out-hit their opponent. And they weren’t playing the Ducks (entry #9) or the Kings (#7). The Vegas Golden Knights were - and are - a legitimate Western Conference contender. I would argue that the Capitals win over Vegas was their best 60-minute effort against a quality opponent all season long.  
 
WHAT WE WERE TALKING ABOUT 

Backstrom was an assist short of a Gordie Howe hat trick. Backstrom and T.J. Oshie started a bit of a fight towards the end of the second period. Not a shock to see the Caps and Knights chirp at each other, but it was unusual to see those two at the center of it. 

 

If Fleury looked a little sluggish, he might have had a good excuse. NBC Sports Washington’s Brent Johnson, who played with Fleury in Pittsburgh, took his good friend out to a big steak dinner the night before the game. That’s how you work the long con. Good job, Johnny. 

 

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