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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Who is the most underrated Caps player of all-time?

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Who is the most underrated Caps player of all-time?

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: Who do you think is the most underrated/underappreciated player in Caps history?

So I have a  few candidates for this, but when I first read this question one name instantly came to mind. It is a current player so I went back and scoured through a list of all the players in franchise history to make sure this was not just a product of recency bias. In the end, I am having a hard time finding a better option. The most underrated player in the Caps' history is Braden Holtby.

There, I said it.

Holtby is the best goalie in franchise history and was one of the key pieces in a Stanley Cup run and every time he lets in a questionable goal, I get inundated with people telling me that he is terrible, has always been terrible and he should be traded immediately.

Now, let's be clear. I am not talking about the people who think the team should move on from Holtby this season when his contract expires -- heck, I'm in that camp. I am talking about the people who are unceasingly critical and disparaging not only of Holtby's recent play, but of the entire career of, let me repeat myself, the best goalie in franchise history.

Holtby became the undisputed No. 1 goalie in 2013-14. Since that time, no goalie in the NHL has played more games than Holtby and no goalie has more wins. Holtby has a whopping 20 more victories than Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask who is second in that stretch despite playing only 13 more games, so don't tell me his win total is just a product of the number of games he has played. Before the Cup win, he was criticized as being a poor playoff performer which is ridiculous. Holtby has the fifth-best playoff save percentage of all time. Of all time!

But JJ, what about Olie Kolzig?

Kolzig was great. I loved him when I was growing up. Holtby has a better career GAA and save percentage, both players have a Vezina Trophy to their name and, oh yeah, Holtby has a freakin' Cup. And yet, Kolzig is revered by the fanbase while I am left constantly having to defend Holtby.

Do I think he is past his prime? Sure, but the way in which people downplay how important a player Holtby has been to this franchise is staggering. To think he has not been a key factor in the team's success including the Cup run is just plain wrong.

Maybe this is a product of the fact that probable replacement, Ilya Samsonov, is younger, cheaper and already on the roster. Maybe 10 years from now, people will feel differently about Holtby, but for now it is stunning to me how many people undercut what he has accomplished.

There are two other names I wanted to bring up. First, Mike Ridley. Ridley has the fifth-most goals in franchise history with 218, but for some reason he has seemingly faded into history in the minds of Caps fans. If I told you to list the greatest players in franchise history, how far down the list would you have to go before you thought of Ridley? A guy who scored 218 goals and 329 assists in 588 games for Washington probably deserves more recognition.

The other name is another recent player: Alex Semin. I am not saying he is underappreciated. He did not take full advantage of his skills during his NHL career. That is not debatable. I guess this is just more of a quibble I have with the word "bust."

Sasha Pokulok was the Caps' first-round draft pick in 2005. He never played a single game in the NHL. That's a bust. Semin played 650 NHL games with 239 goals and 517 total points. That's not a bust.

Was he disappointing considering his talent level? Sure, but he still produced a heck of a lot of points while wearing a Caps sweater.

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John Schecter writes: Could you discuss and explain some of the various "systems" that teams use in hockey?

There are a lot of people who could explain this better than me, but I can give you the basics. A hockey system is basically the tactics of how a team plays. Hockey is a very fluid game and, as a result, it can look as if the players are largely winging it. You try to keep the puck out of the net and when you get it, you head down the ice as quickly as possible, pass to a teammate and shoot. Done. In reality, just about every aspect of what the players do on the ice is meticulously planned, coached and practiced.

How aggressive is the forecheck? Who's responsible for the forecheck? How do you defend the neutral zone? Do you try to trap? How do you defend the blue line? How does the defense defend in any given situation? How do you break the puck out of the defensive zone? How do you transition on offense? How aggressive are the forwards on the breakout looking for odd-man rushes? How do you break the puck in? How much does the team dump and chase? How does the team set up offensively? What type of shot is the offense looking for?

I think it is a little easier to grasp the different systems in football where it can be largely and easily defined such as a spread offense, a 4-3 defense, etc. Hockey is more nuanced because the game is free-flowing and everyone has different responsibilities depending on where the puck is, who is on the ice and the situations. To really understand a hockey system in the NHL requires an insane level of knowledge and understanding of the game that is beyond most of us, including me. I can give you the basics, but believe me, it gets very complicated very quickly.

Austen Bundy writes: Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are obviously going to have their numbers retired together but I've always wondered why Scott Stevens, Peter Bondra and Olie Kolzig never had theirs retired. Any historical or practical insight you can provide on this, JJ?

This is something that I have argued about for years. First off, my guess with Stevens is that it is because he spent the majority of his career and had the most success in New Jersey. He had eight good seasons with Washington and what the team ultimately had to show for it was the five first-round draft picks the team received to compensate them for the offer sheet Stevens signed with St. Louis. I don't know why the Caps have not retired Bondra or Kolzig's numbers but if it were up to me, I wouldn't. I know that gets a lot of people riled up, but I have an extremely high standard for retired numbers.

There are only three numbers that should be retired by the franchise: 5, 8 and 19. That's it. That's the list.

Being a good player for a team is not a good enough reason to get your number retired. Believe me, it pains me to say this. I grew up watching Bondra and Kolzig play, I loved both of them. Bondra was my favorite player. But that's not good enough for no one else to ever wear No. 12 again.

Rod Langway, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom not only played hockey at an elite level for the team, but their impact on the franchise went well beyond good play. You have to have a greater impact on the franchise than just being good at hockey. To me, that's what it should take and those are the only three who meet that standard.

Jules A. writes: How would you rank each version of the Caps’ jerseys from start of the franchise to now?

  1. Original red
  2. Blue Stadium Series
  3. Current white
  4. Current red
  5. Black
  6. White eagle
  7. Original white
  8. Maroon Winter Classic
  9. Blue eagle

The hatred of the old red jerseys stems largely from the team's abysmal record while wearing them this season, but if you step back and actually look at them, you will recognize the undeniable beauty. That and the blue Stadium Series jerseys are far and away the two best jerseys this team has worn. It's a shame we only got to see the Stadium Series jersey twice.

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.

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: What's the plan in net beyond 2020-21?

Capitals Mailbag Part 1: What's the plan in net beyond 2020-21?

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 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: It seems like the general consensus between the pipes for 2020-21 is that Braden Holtby walks and a proven backup comes in to help Ilya Samsonov settle in as an NHL #1. How do you see the future of the goaltender position in Washington beyond next season? If Samsonov proves to be a reliable starter, do the Caps call up Vanecek to back him up for years to come?

The Caps’ goalie pipeline currently consists of Pheonix Copley and Vitek Vanecek in Hershey and Mitchell Gibson who is playing college hockey at Harvard. I am not really sure what to make of Gibson yet. He was OK, but not great in the USHL, but was really good in his freshman year at Harvard. I don’t know what the potential is there yet.

As for Copley and Vanecek, I see the ceiling for both as being NHL backups, at least in the traditional sense. As the NHL goes more and more toward tandems, that complicates things. I think Copley is a traditional backup, but I don’t want a situation where he is playing 30+ games per year. I think Vanecek has the higher ceiling, but I don’t see him as an NHL starter so I think there could be potential for a Samsonov-Vanecek tandem in the future with Samsonov being the primary starter. But I don’t know if that’s how the Caps see it.

If the team does indeed go the experienced backup route for next season, just how long that backup is signed for could be an indication for what Brian MacLellan views Vanecek’s future with the franchise will be. A three-year deal for an established No. 2 probably means Vanecek will be playing somewhere else before too long.

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Scott Egbert writes: Would Alex Ovechkin retire soon?

Ovechkin has given no indication that he is going to retire soon or that he is even fading as he currently sits tied with David Pastrnak for the league lead in goals with 48. Could he be a Barry Sanders and walk away while still being one of the best in the game? I really don’t see it. I think his love for the game of hockey and fierce competitiveness will drive him to continue on. He may not want to talk about it, but he has laid the groundwork for a possible run at Wayne Gretzky's goal record. It is going to be really hard for him to walk away from that.

When Nicklas Backstrom discussed his five-year extension, he mentioned that Ovechkin was asking him all the time about it. I don’t think that was because he wanted to make sure Backstrom was around just next season. I think he was looking down the road.

No, I do not see Ovechkin retiring any time soon. Then again, he is 34 so we are definitely on the back-end of his career so it is fair to wonder just how many more years he has left.

Justin Cade writes: Which Caps player do you think is most likely to be lost to Seattle in the expansion draft?

Assuming that Washington elects the option of protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, my best guess would be we see the Caps protect Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Lars Eller and Jakub Vrana. Notice that is only six forwards. I don’t really see any other forwards they would really need to protect. They may have the flexibility to protect T.J. Oshie if they wanted, but he will be 34 years old at that point and still have an additional four years left on his contract with a cap hit of $5.75 million. He is a marketable player that I think Seattle could have some interest in, especially given his ties to the area, but only if his production hasn’t fallen off a cliff by that point.

On defense, the situation is a bit hazier.

First, per my understanding, neither Alex Alexeyev nor Martin Fehervary will be eligible to be selected so Washington won’t need to protect either of them. John Carlson absolutely will be protected, but the two players after him are a question mark. If it were me, I would protect Jonas Siegenthaler and I ultimately believe that is what they will do. Then it is a choice between Dmitry Orlov and Michal Kempny.

I think Orlov is a very good, top-four puck-moving defenseman who is frequently underrated by fans who just point to his turnovers and see nothing else. To me, he is worth protecting. That seems like an easy call now with how much Kempny has struggled this year, but this becomes much more difficult if Kempny returns to form.

So to summarize, I believe the two most likely players to be taken will be either Oshie or Kempny.

Thanks for all your questions! Part 2 of the mailbag will be coming on Thursday. 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.

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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: A new top line?

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: A new top line?

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.

One other quick note, I have gotten more questions about when and if the season may start. The answer is that there is no answer. The NHL wants to award the Stanley Cup this season and they are going to look into every option to do so, but no one knows when all of this is going to end so I don't have any answer to give you. I really don't want to speculate about it because there's no point.

On to the questions.

Cory Goodwin writes: I was wondering why Jakub Vrana and Tom Wilson don't play together on the second line and then T.J. Oshie moves up to the top line because it seems at this point that Wilson and Vrana will be the on the same line if they stay with the Caps because of their age. So because Oshie is older, woudn't it make sense to have Alex Ovechkin-(Nicklas Backstrom/Evgeny Kuznetsov)-Oshie and Vrana-(Backstrom/Kuznetsov)-Wilson?

First off, I don't like Ovechkin, Backstrom and Oshie together. I realize that Oshie was practically brought to Washington for this purpose, but that was several years ago. None of those three players have ever been all that fast and they are not getting any faster into their 30s. If you want to use this trio in limited situations, fine, but this line is just too slow to be an established top line in this day and age. But what about Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Oshie and Vrana, Backstrom, Wilson?

The stats are very limited, but not encouraging. Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Oshie have played together at 5-on-5 only 37:01 for the entire season and their Corsi-for percentage is 31.37, high-danger chances for percentage is 20.00 and expected goals-for percentage is 20.56. All of those numbers are abysmal. Extend those numbers to include the 2018-19 season as well and you get 65:45 of total 5-on-5 ice time, a Corsi-for percentage of 44.12, high-danger chances for a percentage of 30.43 and expected goals-for percentage of 33.40.

The bottom line is that they don't play well together.

The silver lining is that Vrana, Kuznetsov and Wilson have been OK together since 2018 so if that one day ends up being the top line for Washington, well, you could do worse. But no, I would absolutely not put Ovechkin, Backstrom and Oshie together and the numbers say don't put Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Oshie together.

Tim K. writes: To respond to your suggestion that Brenden Dillon won't be re-signed because of 20-21 and beyond's cap hits: if he were to re-sign, he would be doing so knowing he wouldn't be protected in the expansion draft anyway. Therefore, signing him for next season and then trading him or losing him to Seattle is totally plausible, and in my humble opinion, a smart move. Even around the expansion draft, a mobile, physical, top 4 Dman who is well-liked in the room shouldn't be hard to move.

Tim is referring to my answer on Dillon in Part 1 of this week's mailbag which you can read here.

Boy, you drive a hard bargain. Why wouldn’t Dillon want to do that? Hey Dillon, thanks for coming in. Take a seat. Listen, we want you back, we will offer you less money than you could probably get on the open market, provide zero protection from the expansion draft or trade protection of any kind and look to move you after the first year. Sound good?

I don't necessarily disagree with your main points, but you are looking at this strictly from the team perspective. Free agency is a two-way street and your scenario gives Dillon little incentive at all to re-sign.

Dillon is a 29-year-old top-four defenseman. He will be looking for his last big contract and is good enough that he should be able to do better than the scenario you just laid out. Maybe the market will dictate he take this sort of gamble of having no-trade protection or protection from the expansion draft, but I think someone out there will probably be able to offer him more money and more stability, at least in terms of protection, than the Caps.

And let's not forget about his agent. If the Caps pay him more than they can afford in the future, his agent will know this and make him aware that the offer is being made with the intention of moving him in a year. That's his job.

Maybe the market isn't there for Dillon and he has to take a deal with no protection or maybe he is valued at the amount the Caps could afford to pay him, but if that's what the Caps offer him he should at the very least take it to free agency and look for a better offer than a deal made with the intention of moving him in a year. Why would he sign that?

Tim K. writes: Regarding 3rd line wingers, I'm sure Connor McMichael would get first crack at it or 2RW with T.J. Oshie sliding down to the third line before committing the kind of money that Richard Panik or Carl Hagelin get for someone totally new to the Caps' system. Todd Reirden seems to like giving prospects a chance to prove themselves, and having a guy on an ELC saves a lot of cap room.

McMichael had an excellent season in the OHL with 102 points in 52 games. That ranked third in the league and he played fewer games than both of the players who finished ahead of him. But that does not necessarily mean he will be ready to make the jump to the NHL next year.

Of the OHL's three leading scorers last season, only one of them played in the NHL in 2019-20 and he played a grand total of three games. Now, I'm not trying to say it's impossible. I went back and looked at the top three scorers in the OHL in each of the past five seasons. Of those 15 players, seven of them went on to play in the NHL the following season and one of those seven only got three games. So it is possible that McMichael could be ready, but a dominant OHL season is far from a guarantee.

Here is one of the problems with relying on prospects to step into NHL roles at the start of the season and it is something that I don't think is talked about enough. Once you realize the player isn't ready to fill that role, it is too late to fill it through free agency. All the top-nine players that perhaps the team had interest in bringing in would have signed somewhere else and hey, look, the season is starting. What you are saying is that the Caps should have so much faith in McMichael being able to step from juniors to the NHL next season that the Caps should not bring in another top-nine forward in free agency. Maybe he can. Maybe the scouts feel that strongly about him. Then again, maybe Brian MacLellan is not going to assume a 19-year-old will be able to step into a top-nine role in the NHL straight out of juniors.

The way the OHL season ended also won't help McMichael's cause. With no playoffs, that is less of a resume for MacLellan and the scouts to draw upon when evaluating if McMichael could be ready to make the jump.

Another issue is that McMichael is a center, not a wing and the Caps have plenty of centers at the moment. If Washington sees him more as an NHL wing than a center, great. If not, better for him to work on developing into an NHL center in the OHL than forcing him to be an NHL wing and then hoping he can shake those habits later on.

Morris Gavant writes: Why aren’t playoff stats counted in a player’s career stats? After all, those goals and assists are earned against the best in the league instead of the bottom-dwelling teams of the regular season. Why accommodate to the lowest common denominator and feel sorry for the players who don’t have playoff games? A goal is still a goal, as a rose by any other name is still a rose.

First, every professional sport does it this way. Drew Brees, for example, is the NFL's all-time leader in passing touchdowns with 547 which does not include the additional 34 he has in the playoffs. If you did include those, Tom Brady would actually hold the record as he has 541 regular-season touchdowns and 73 postseason touchdowns.

I confess I am not in the ear of every pro sports commissioner, but my take is that stats are not just a measure of a player's accomplishments, they are also a way to compare players. There is no way to make every comparison equal given missed games for injuries, personal issues, suspension, etc., but it becomes impossible to compare the accomplishments of two different players if you are judging one based on 82-regular season games and one on 82-regular season games plus 16 playoff games. What good would those stats be? What if two players score an equal number of points per game, but one made the playoffs and the other didn't? The one who made the playoffs could finish the season with a lower points average because of the more difficult nature of the postseason and then be viewed to have had a worse season despite the fact the other player just sitting at home which doesn't make much sense.

I think there is also an acknowledgment that the playoffs are different from the regular season so to lump all the stats together would not be an accurate representation of a player's performance in either the regular season or the postseason.

Pete DeiTos: Who is your most hated Caps nemesis (player) of all time not named Sidney Crosby?

Growing up a Caps fan, I hated the Mario Lemieux Penguins. I would tell people that Lemieux wore 66 because they couldn't fit the third "6" on his jersey. I also really hated Darius Kasparaitis. Any Pittsburgh fans out there, if you hate Tom Wilson because you think he's dirty but own a Kasparaitis jersey, your opinion is invalid. Pretty much all the Penguins from that era from Tom Barrasso to Martin Straka I just couldn't stand.

The more random team and players I hated was the black and red era Buffalo Sabres. This probably stems from the 1998 Conference Final between Washington and Buffalo, but there is no non-Penguins player I hated more than Matthew Barnaby. I thought he was the biggest whiner and the dirtiest player in the NHL. One of the most satisfying things I have ever witnessed was Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final. I was a kid and went with my dad. Barnaby scored the game-tying goal with less than a minute to go in regulation and taunted the crowd. Washington would win it early in overtime and I went nuts..

Take that, Barnaby.

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.

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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