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What does Backstrom’s new contract mean for Braden Holtby?

What does Backstrom’s new contract mean for Braden Holtby?

The unfortunate reality of a salary cap means that more money for one player means less for another and that is the situation that now presents itself for Braden Holtby after Nicklas Backstrom re-signed with the Capitals for five years, $46 million on Tuesday.

Both Backstrom and Holtby entered the 2019-20 season on the final year of their current contracts without new deals in place. Backstrom’s new deal, however, is the latest impediment in a growing list of reasons why one of the most prolific goalies in franchise history likely will not be back in 2020-21.

"It is tricky," general manager Brian MacLellan said. "Holtby’s a big part of our success as an organization and he’s in the mix with [Alex Ovechkin] and Nick as defining our organization. I think we had an open communication at the beginning of the year and then we were going to address it at the end of the year to see where we’re at with cap and possibilities or not possibilities. So, we’re going to play it out.”

Managing the salary cap this season has been a challenge for both MacLellan and head coach Todd Reirden all season. With the campaign just over halfway through, the Caps have needed to use a number of tricks to stay under the cap including playing with seven defensemen, switching backup goalies, cutting the roster down to zero healthy scratches and traveling to a California road trip with no spare defensemen. As the team tries to bank space, the current roster has only 13 forwards (one extra) and six defensemen (no extras).

Washington entered this season right up against the salary cap ceiling and just added an additional $2.5 million of salary for next year.

Yes, the salary cap steadily rises from year to year, but from the 2018-19 season to 2019-20, the cap ceiling rose from $79.5 million to $81.5 million, a jump of only $2 million. Whatever jump in the cap there may be between this season and next, the Caps have likely already spent most if not all of that additional room with Backstrom's new deal.

Re-signing Holtby already looked like a long shot for the Caps after Sergey Bobrovsky signed a seven-year $70 million deal with the Florida Panthers. As both players have similar stats, Bobrovsky essentially became an instant comparable for Holtby’s agent to draw upon in any contract talks. Granted, Bobrovsky’s contract has already proven to be a cautionary tale as he has managed only a .896 save percentage and 3.29 GAA leaving Florida with some serious buyer’s remorse less than a year into the deal. Holtby’s own play this season has likely lowered whatever he may have been expecting on the free-agent market this season with a .899 save percentage and 3.02 GAA.

So yes, a $10 million cap hit is probably unlikely for Holtby at this point and his next cap hit will probably fall somewhere in the middle of that and his current hit of $6.1 million. But Backstrom’s new contract means the Caps will have little money left to spare for him and any other players the team may need to sign.

In addition to Holtby, Radko Gudas is also on the last year of his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent, while Jonas Siegenthaler, Brendan Leipsic and Travis Boyd will all be RFAs. At the very least, Siegenthaler will get a raise from his current entry-level deal that has a cap hit of only $174,166. Even if the team does not intend to re-sign the other three, MacLellan still would have to replace them all and no one works for free.

“We’re going to have to get creative if we want to accomplish signing Holtby with trades or find ways to create room,” MacLellan said.

While Hotlby’s current numbers may lower his price tag, it also means the team should be less inclined to move salary in order to keep him. Would trading away a player in a salary dump to keep Holtby really make sense given how rookie Ilya Samsonov has played (13-2-1, .925 save percentage, 2.11 GAA)?

Let’s also not forget that Samsonov, Ovechkin and Jakub Vrana will soon be in need of a new contract after the 2020-21 season as well.

The Caps likely had enough money to re-sign one of either Backstrom or Holtby, but not both. By giving a $2.5 million per year raise to Backstrom, that very well could mean that this will be Holtby’s final season in Washington.

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The 6 most important things Brian MacLellan said about new Caps acquisition Brenden Dillon

The 6 most important things Brian MacLellan said about new Caps acquisition Brenden Dillon

ARLINGTON, Va. --  While the Capitals were on the road, Brian MacLellan was hard at work and finalized a deal on Tuesday to bring San Jose Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon to Washington. On Wednesday he met with the media to talk about the newest Cap.

"He's got playoff experience, he's a veteran player, physicality, the ability to play with top-end guys, a good character guy," MacLellan said. "I think he'll add a lot of energy in our room and on the ice. He's a physical presence. He checked a lot of boxes for everything we thought we needed."

Here are the six most important things MacLellan said about Dillon.

Dillon may be a top-pair player

Dillon is certainly a top-four defenseman, but the Caps added a player they feel can play on the top pair.

"I think we move him around a little bit," MacLellan said. "He could play with [John Carlson], could play with [Dmitry Orlov]. He's played with two good guys in San Jose. I anticipate the coaches trying him at both spots and see what works best for us."

Todd Reirden echoed those thoughts after practice.

When asked if Dillon playing with Brent Burns made him a natural fit to play with Carlson on the top pair, Reirden said, "That's my first initial thought. That is a similar type of player for sure."

Either Kempny or Jensen is going to get bumped out of the top four

When you re-read MacLellan's comments on Dillon playing in the top four, he said he could play with either Carlson or Dmitry Orlov. Adding a player into the top four means taking someone out and, based on those comments, that player is either going to be Michal Kempny or Nick Jensen.

Dillon is not the solution for the team's problems on the right

Right defense has been an issue for the Caps this season, but it does not sound like the plan is to plug Dillon in on the right side.

MacLellan was asked if Dillon could play on his off-side and he gave a tepid endorsement.

"He could, yeah," MacLellan said. "I think he's played a little bit on the off-side, but Orly's had some experience playing on the off-side. There's a number of different combinations we could try."

Reirden was asked who would play the right if Dillon and Orlov played together, and he said it would be Orlov.

While both MacLellan and Reirden said it would be an option to try Dillon on the right, it did not sound like that was the long-term plan at all.

This was not a reaction trade

Washington has lost four of its last five games and is 11-11-0 since Dec. 23. The team suddenly no longer sits in first place in the Metropolitan Division and trails the Pittsburgh Penguins by a point in the standings. The Caps' recent struggles, however, did not influence this deal, at least according to MacLellan.

MacLellan stated twice that he would have made this deal "regardless because I think it's a great fit for us — I think his skillset and the group we do have. I think one of the things that's been frustrating for me is the play in front of our own net, the compete level in front of our own net, and this is something he brings to the table here. I think he does a great job in front of our net. So I think we addressed that through him."

It should be noted that MacLellan has previously stated he was only looking for depth at the trade deadline and now has acquired a player who may well end up playing on the team's top pair. If you take him at his word, however, MacLellan liked Dillon and liked the upgrade, and that's why this deal got done — not because of the team's current struggles.

Dillon's playoff experience is a major reason why he is now with Washington

Last season, MacLellan traded for a defenseman playing a significant role on a bad team in Nick Jensen. Jensen had zero playoff experience and that showed in the team's postseason series against the Carolina Hurricanes. This year, MacLellan elected to go a different route.

Dillon has 62 games of playoff experience under his belt and helped the San Jose Sharks reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 and the Western Conference Final in 2019.

MacLellan was asked how much that experience mattered to him, and he said, "A lot. A lot. I think he’s been in the final. He’s been on good teams, similar to us. I think San Jose and Washington had top teams for a long time and he’s been in that environment, so I think it’s a good fit.”

Physical play is still a major part of the team's identity

Dillon is not the type of player you go out an acquire if physicality is not a priority.

For the season, Dillon ranks ninth in the NHL with 178 hits. His acquisition means the Caps now have five of the top 21 hitters in the league.

"I think we're all attracted to size as long as it can play," MacLellan said. "We like having the big bodies and playing a heavier game, and he's a good skater for his size, too. He has that physical presence, and we're excited to see how it fits for us."

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Here's how you can score free Chipotle by wearing your Caps jersey Friday

Here's how you can score free Chipotle by wearing your Caps jersey Friday

Now's your chance to score some free Chipotle, Caps fans!

By wearing your favorite Capitals jersey on Friday, you can earn a free entree through Chipotle's "suit up and score" campaign with the purchase of another entree of equal or lesser value.

While all jerseys qualify for the promotion, we recommend Alex Ovechkin's as he goes for goal No. 700.

So rock your red, grab a friend and head to Chipotle for this awesome deal redeemable Friday, Feb. 21 only.

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