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Should Caps' Braden Holtby, other soon-to be free agents consider skipping NHL restart?

Should Caps' Braden Holtby, other soon-to be free agents consider skipping NHL restart?

When the 2019-20 NHL season does come to a conclusion, whenever that may be, Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby will become a free agent shortly after. Holtby, one of the league's better netminders, is expected to earn a lucrative contract this offseason.

With all the moving parts to the resumption of the NHL season -- the league and NHLPA have yet to come to an agreement on a hub city (or cities)-- and the rising cases in coronavirus cases nationwide, it's unclear when the league will return. Training camps open on July 10, yet the NHL and NHLPA are in the midst of finalizing a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that has raised questions about when the games will resume.

But, when hockey does return, it's worth wondering if Holtby should consider skipping the remainder of the season. NBC Sports Washington analyst Craig Laughlin explained on The Sports Junkies Wednesday why Holtby and other soon-to-be free agents could consider opting out of the restart.

"What happens to Braden Holtby?" Laughlin said. "Does he want to risk the opportunity to play rather than risk health, even getting injured during this time when he's up for a very lucrative long-term deal? Those are the players that may have to think about the return."

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In both the MLB and NBA, several players have decided to forgo the rest of the season due to concerns about the coronavirus. Wizards sharpshooter Davis Bertans, who is a free agent after this season, opted-out of the restart to preserve his health with a large payday looming. Several other NBA players have decided to skip out on Orlando, too. Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross have both declined to participate in the 2020 MLB season for the Nationals.

Yet, in hockey, it may be different. The league is resuming its season with a modified 24-team playoff, meaning there are no regular-season games remaining. With the season so close to finishing, the decision for Holtby to leave his team as they begin a Stanley Cup run could be a difficult one.

While Holtby does have personal reasons to skip out on the season's resumption, Laughlin doesn't envision him, or any other hockey players, voluntarily choosing to sit out.

RELATED: WHAT IF THE SEASON NEVER PAUSED?

"I don't think so," Laughlin said on players opting out. "I don't think that's going to happen. I think the players generally want to play. I really do think, when it's all said and done, they will all be back and participating for the Stanley Cup."

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Capitals could sit Lars Eller even if he is cleared in time for Game 1 against the Islanders

Capitals could sit Lars Eller even if he is cleared in time for Game 1 against the Islanders

The Capitals may be without forward Lars Eller in Wednesday's Game 1 against the New York Islanders even if he is cleared by the NHL in time to play. That was the thought of head coach Todd Reirden on Monday who expressed he would have to make a decision to avoid any possible injury that could keep him out longer.

Eller left the bubble in Toronto for the birth of his second child. He is now back in Toronto under quarantine in his room and cannot leave until he tests negative four times over a four-day period, per NHL protocols. It is unclear when Eller took his first test. If it was Monday, he will not be ready in time for Wednesday's game. If it was on Sunday, there's a chance he could be cleared to play by Wednesday.

"The NHL will be the ones that decide that, have the overall final call on it," Reirden said.

But even if Eller just manages to clear before the 3 p.m. game time on Wednesday, there's a chance he still may not play.

While under quarantine, Eller is not allowed to leave his hotel room at all.

"He’s not allowed to leave his hotel room, so he hasn’t been doing any exercise outside of his room and until we’re told differently that will be how it is," Reirden said.

That could be a problem.

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Eller first left the bubble on Aug. 5. By Wednesday, he will have gone a week without being on the ice or being able to exercise, beyond whatever he can do in his room. Typically in these situations, players get a practice in before getting back into the game lineup and Reirden made it clear on Monday that he may have to consider sitting Eller for Game 1 to prevent any sort of injury after missing a week.

“I think it’s something you have to consider is the player hasn’t been on the ice," Reirden said. "He obviously plays a huge role on our team and if you remember a few years ago the success and kind of the X factor that he was for our team when we won against Vegas. So I think it’s important that we handle this situation and make the proper the decision to give this player the best chance to be able to, if it’s not Game 1, then he’s ready to go for Game 2 and he’s as close to healthy in terms of conditioning-wise, he’s ready to go on the ice and be able to add the things he can add and do it safely so that we can have him for an extended time here in this playoffs because he is definitely a big factor in our team success.”

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If Eller is out, Travis Boyd will likely play in his place. Boyd centered the third line in Eller's absence in the last two round robin games.

Luckily, that is the only real question mark down the middle for Washington. Nicklas Backstrom, who missed a practice last week but played against the Boston Bruins on Sunday, said Monday that he had "no concerns" in terms of his status heading into the playoffs.

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New initiatives allow Capitals fans to stay connected to the team virtually

New initiatives allow Capitals fans to stay connected to the team virtually

Even though Caps fans cannot be in person to support their team on the road to the Stanley Cup this season, the Capitals organization and NHL found creative ways to keep the fan base involved in the team’s playoff run.

Through a number of virtual initiatives, Caps fans are now able to stay connected to their team and show their support from a distance while Washington competes at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. 

The team first encouraged fans to share personalized good luck messages and cheers for the players, which can be submitted at WashCaps.com/RallyCaps. A Capitals theme will be applied to the video, and fans will receive the video for personal use. They will also be featured on Caps’ social media channels.  

Next, it’s not Capitals hockey without Unleashing the Fury. Capitals fans can record themselves doing their best reenactment of the Unleash the Fury montage showed during games, and the videos will be used during playoff games and on social media. Videos can be submitted at WashingtonCaps.com/FanFury

The NHL also hopes to keep the tradition alive of fans showing their support with signs during warmups, so if Capitals fans make a handmade sign and tweet a photo with the hashtag #NHLWarmups with @Capitals tagged, the photo may be shown in the arena during warmups. 

In addition to these initiatives, there will also be a virtual gameday pregame show, behind the scenes footage and special digital content on the team’s social media channels, a virtual pep rally with radio play-by-play broadcaster John Walton, hockey ambassador Haley Skarupa and anthem singer Sgt. Major Bob McDonald, a Stanely Cup Playoff Bracket Challenge, special offers at the team stores at Capital One Arena and Medstar Capitals Iceplex, the chance for Club 365 members to submit photos of how they represent #ALLCAPS and matchup graphics and broadcast info featured on the video screens outside Capital One Arena.

The Capitals will begin their first-round playoff series with the New York Islanders on Wednesday at 3:00 p.m., so it’s time for fans to start showing their support virtually!

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