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Who will the Caps' protect in the expansion draft? Breaking down The Hockey News' projection

Who will the Caps' protect in the expansion draft? Breaking down The Hockey News' projection

Just like with Vegas, the Seattle expansion draft is fascinating. There are so many different factors to consider when thinking about who teams will want to protect and who Seattle could be interested in. I can’t get enough. So of course when The Hockey News publishes a projection of the Caps’ 2021 protection list, I’m all over it.

As a refresher, the Seattle expansion draft will have the same rules as in 2017. Seattle will select one player from each team, except Vegas which is exempt. Teams will have the option of protecting either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight total skaters and one goalie.

Making a protected list for 2021 requires a few projections to be made just with the Caps’ roster itself. For the purpose of this exercise, Steven Ellis, who wrote the projection, assumes all restricted free agents will remain with the team. Unrestricted free agents are either left off the list or kept with their current team. Nicklas Backstrom, for example, is considered a Capital based on the likely scenario that he is re-signed.

You can read the full projection and explanation here.

Ellis makes the correct assumption that the Caps will protect seven forwards and three defensemen over eight skaters. Protecting eight skaters only makes sense if you have a handful of star defensemen who must be protected. The vast majority of teams will elect the option of protecting 10 skaters instead of eight and the Caps should be no exception.

Keeping all that in mind, let's breakdown Ellis' list by position.

Ilya Samsonov

Knowing that Father Time is undefeated and that the team’s top prospect is a goalie, Samsonov seems the likely choice here. The one quibble I have is the notion that Holtby is still with Washington and left exposed. Ellis acknowledges in his reasoning that keeping Holtby would be difficult, but he seems to assume that they will and keep him as the main starter before exposing him in 2021.

That is not going to happen.

Washington’s salary cap situation is going to make it nearly impossible to re-sign Holtby, but if he does re-sign it will be at the expense of Samsonov and not in tandem with him. You do not give the type of contract Holtby will command to a player you intend to replace in another year. If you are Holtby, you do not accept that contract without some sort of guarantee the team is committed to you long-term. For most teams that would result in a no-movement clause, but Holtby will not get one because MacLellan simply does not give them out. There is no player currently on the Capitals roster who has one and there were no players who had one in the 2017 expansion draft.

Also, if the Caps do somehow manage to convince Holtby to sign at a number the team can afford and without a no-movement clause, you do not simply leave him exposed and let him get taken for nothing. If he walks after this season as a free agent, fine, but there is no way he re-signs just to be exposed later. It makes no sense for the team or the player.

John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov
Michal Kempny

As per the rules, we are assuming Jonas Siegenthaler and Christian Djoos are still with the team and Radko Gudas is not. Also, per my understanding, Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary should be exempt as second-year players.

Let's get two things out of the way. First, Carlson will and should be protected. He would have to decline to a precipitous degree for this even to be worth discussing and if he does, he won’t be taken anyway. He will be protected, end of story.

Second, let's relax with the Orlov hate.

I am not an Orlov hater. I know a lot of people reading this projection will say Orlov is not worth protecting and this will be a good way to get out from the last two years of his contract and his $5.1 million cap hit. Orlov absolutely has top-four skill and if you don’t believe that, there’s nothing more I can do to convince you. The sample size is large enough at this point that you either believe it or you don’t.

Given his cap hit, this is another player whose future will be decided before 2021. By that point, Orlov will either have shown that he is worth protecting or he will have been moved already. With how tight the team is against the cap, I do not think MacLellan will wait until the expansion draft and keep his fingers crossed Orlov gets taken. When I see Orlov still on the team in 2021, I have to agree with Ellis and protect him.

That leaves one more spot. I am taking Djoos out of it as he is under-sized and looks more and more like a third-pair NHL defenseman. Jensen has value as not only a top-four player but a right-shot one to boot. Given how he struggled last season after getting acquired by Washington, I think it is reasonable at this point to assume that Kempny or Siegenthaler may be more valuable to the team by 2021.

I am very high on Siegenthaler’s potential and he will only be 24 by the time of the expansion draft. Kempny will turn 31 before the start of the 2021-22 season. Add in the fact that he will be entering the final year of his contract, I would lean more towards protecting Seigenthaler over him.

Nicklas Backstrom
Lars Eller
Carl Hagelin
Evgeny Kuznetsov
Alex Ovechkin
Jakub Vrana
Tom Wilson

It should first be noted that this projection was done before the unfortunate news of Kuznetsov’s IIHF suspension after testing positive for cocaine. There certainly is growing scrutiny around him, but I do not think it changes much. I have the same opinion of Kuznetsov as I do about Orlov. If the team wants to move on from him, they will have decided to do so long before 2021. If he remains with the Caps by the time of the expansion draft it will be because he has rebounded and put his troubles behind him. Since we are assuming he is still a Capital for this exercise, I am still protecting him.

Like Ellis, I believe MacLellan will be able to re-sign both Ovechkin and Backstrom and if he does, both will be protected. Even if both players are starting to show signs of decline, they will be big enough names to garner interest from Seattle and you have to protect them because of what they mean to the franchise.

I only have one quibble with Ellis’ forward list and that is Hagelin. Hagelin will be 33 by the start of the 2021-22 season. Protecting a bottom-six winger who is 33 is a tough sell for me, especially given that his greatest attribute is his speed. When he starts to decline, it is going to happen fast. Richard Panik may be entering his first season as a Cap, but he is three years younger than Hagelin so he would be my pick.

That means Oshie is left unprotected. Oshie will be 34 by that point, he'll still have a whopping four more years left on his contract at $5.75 million and, given the way he plays, he is going to have a heck of a lot of tread on those tires. He is not going to be top-six Oshie at that point in his career and unfortunately probably will not be living up to his cap hit either. You leave him exposed because he probably won't be taken and even if he is, it may save you from what will probably be some rough years at the end of that contract.

So there you have it. Overall, a pretty good job by Ellis and I would only add only some minor tweaks, namely replace Hagelin with Panik, Kempny with Siegenthaler and do not assume Holtby will be exposed because he will be gone by that point and the era of Samsonov will have already begun.

No doubt this projection is going to change multiple times before 2021, but that’s what makes the expansion draft so fun.


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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: What will Alex Ovechkin do when his contract expires?

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: What will Alex Ovechkin do when his contract expires?

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 to be answered in the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Jimmy H. writes: If Alex Ovechkin isn’t close to Wayne Gretzky’s scoring record, what do you think he will do? Do you think he will re-sign with the Caps or possibly sign with the KHL and retire on a Russian hockey team?

Let’s get some perspective on Gretzky’s record. With 658 goals, Ovechkin still trails Gretzky by 236. Even if Ovechkin scores 50 goals in each of the next two seasons,  which would be absolutely insane given his age, he is still going to need 136 just to tie Gretzky.

I am not sure what you mean by “close” but Ovechkin is not going to be close when his contract is up in two years.

There are plenty of quotes this summer in which Ovechkin does not close the door on returning to Russia or even retiring once his current contract is up, but those were all Russian interviews. What is he supposed to say, no, this league isn’t good enough? I don’t think there is anything to worry about.

I have always believed that Ovechkin would finish his career in Russia, but only when he feels he is slipping at the NHL level. The NHL is by far the best league in the world and as long as he remains as good as he is, I do not think he will be satisfied returning to the KHL.

I do not foresee him being a Jerome Iginla and bouncing around teams to be a third or fourth-line winger scoring 10 goals a season. When he no longer is a top-line NHL player, then I think he will strongly consider a KHL return. Given his level of play now, however, I feel confident that he and the team can work out another deal that will keep him in Washington past his current contract.

Phillip M. writes: I think projecting Richard Pánik’s likely offensive production, you must consider who is feeding him the puck when he slides into the high danger areas he has a proclivity to slip into. Brett Connolly benefited from this greatly and his shot percentages are indicative of this production. I feel confident Panik will have a career year scoring goals in Washington because of the skill set we have at center and come close to the 20 goals that we lost when Connolly took the bigger paycheck. What are your thoughts on this?

Panik’s best season came in 2016-17 in which he scored 22 goals and 22 assists while playing with Jonathan Toews in Chicago. That is his only 20-goal season. I do not foresee him stepping into a second-line role right off the bat in Washington so that means he will play primarily with Lars Eller.

With all due respect, Eller is a tremendous player, but he is not Toews.

Several players come to Washington and enjoy a bump in offensive production. Given the team’s roster moves, however, I believe defense is going to a be a major focus for the team this season. The only way I see Panik reaching 20 goals is if he takes over a majority of the season on the second line. I think there would be a benefit to T.J. Oshie playing on the third, but I do not think that role will simply be handed to Panik. He will have to earn it first.

Phillip M. writes: Do you feel that the speedy duo of Jakub Vrana - Carl Hagelin and the T.J. Oshie - Richard Panik combos could afford the Capitals the best top 3 scoring lines this year? I like that Vrana Hags line. I think it could be explosive!

Well, first off I do not think those will be the lines. Over the course of the season, we will likely see many different line combinations. If I were to pencil in what I believe the line combos will be to start the season, I would not have the same lines you do:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Richard Panik
Brendan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

I actually believe the offense will take a slight step back this season because of the offensive depth the team lost. I do not think Panik and Hagelin will produce at the level of Connolly and Burakovsky.

Hagelin does a lot of things very well, but offense is not his specialty. He has never scored 20 goals in his career and he will be 31 by the start of the season. Putting him with Vrana would certainly be a hard line to keep up with, but I do not think this will instantly translate to a massive step up in offensive production for him.

Panik and Oshie, meanwhile will most likely both play on the right so I do not think we will see too much of them together.

The bottom line is that offense is expensive and the Caps could not afford to keep some of its depth producers on the roster. The team is better defensively and still dangerous offensively, but I do not see a team that replaced Connolly and Burkakovsky with Panik, Hagelin and Garnet Hathaway somehow getting better offensively.

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in the next mailbag, send it to or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.


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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Are the Caps done for the summer?

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Are the Caps done for the summer?

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 to be answered in the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

I do not look at the Caps’ current situation as a guarantee that someone is going to get traded. In fact, I think it is unlikely at least until training camp. The Caps’ cap situation, of which every general manager in the league will be aware of, will make it hard for Brian MacLellan to get fair value for anyone he puts on the trade block. Plus, Washington sees itself as a Cup contender this year. It would be very hard to pull off a trade that would save money while also weakening the roster. Any move that could weaken the current roster, the team will hesitate before doing.

A trade is not outside of the realm of possibility, but I am not betting on it.

Grayson C. writes: Is Braden Holtby going to play for the Caps next year?

If you mean 2019-20, yes. I know some think the team should trade him, but you do not trade a Vezina and Cup-winning goalie who is your current starter if you think you are a Cup contender as the Caps do. It’s not going to happen.

If you mean 2020-21, that is yet to be determined. There are a lot of reasons to believe this year will be Holtby’s last in Washington. That topic has been written to death by now so if you want more info, you can read about it here. I do ultimately believe this will be Holtby’s last season in Washington, but the important thing to remember is that has yet to be determined. If Holtby is great this season and Samsonov struggles to the point that you question what his NHL future might be, perhaps MacLellan re-evaluates and decides it makes more sense to keep Holtby. Given what his contract will ultimately look like, I doubt that will happen, but until Holtby signs elsewhere it is at least possible.

If you’re Holtby and you are seeing comparable goalies sign massive contracts -- comparable goalies who have not won Stanley Cups by the way -- why would you give up that leverage for a handshake?

It’s an interesting thought, but it’s not going to happen. Holtby will be 30 by the time his current contract runs out. This is not a player entering his prime. Every year he runs the risk of a significant injury or just a plain bad year. He is also giving Samsonov another year to develop and to prove that he is an NHL starter. Both are detriments to his current value.

I do not see Holtby doing anything to increase his value at this point, but I could see how he could lower it. Holtby is giving up way too much leverage for this to make any sense.

I believe the team is done for the summer. As I mentioned above, I do not think a trade is imminent and all the restricted free agents have been signed. The team is in a wait-and-see mode with Holtby which, as you noted, just leaves Backstrom., but there is nothing to suggest a deal is even in the works there yet.

Benjamin C. writes: Carl Hagelin isn’t known for his point production but he seemed to put up decent numbers with the Caps. How does he do next season? Also, will Richard Panik be a 20 goal scorer?

Hagelin scored only five goals and 14 assists last season, but three of those goals and eight of those assists came in 20 games with the Caps. That is encouraging, but let’s not get too excited about what his point production could be. Hagelin has not scored more than 10 goals in a season since 2015-16 and he has reached 30 points only once in the past three seasons.

It would be reasonable to expect an offensive rebound, but I would project him to be in the 25-30 point range and nothing more.

As for Panik, he has only reached 20 goals once in his career and he did it playing on a line with Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks. Playing third-line minutes with Hagelin and Lars Eller makes me think 20 goals would be a bit of a reach. Seeing as how several forwards step into Washington as free agents and get a bump in offensive production, I would not be surprised to see Panik score 15-20, but I would expect 20 to be about his ceiling.

Andrew E. writes: The Capitals have picked up players on expiring contracts for several consecutive years like Nick Jensen, Carl Hagelin, Michal Kempny, and Kevin Shattenkirk. What type of season would it take for the Capitals to do the opposite and move Nicklas Backstrom or Braden Holtby for maybe an ELC with some upside at the deadline? A total disaster of a season?

Picking up players on the final year of their deal is standard practice in the NHL. On one end of the spectrum, you have bad teams who realize they can’t or won’t re-sign a player on an expiring contract so they move him to avoid losing him for nothing. On the other end of the spectrum, playoff teams will look for players with no term because they usually come at a reasonable trade price allowing teams to acquire players they otherwise would not be able to afford.

What you are asking is what it would take for the Caps to go from one end of that spectrum to the other. Yes, it would have to be a complete disaster of a season.

The nature of the Stanley Cup Playoffs means that most teams entering the playoffs do so believing they have a chance to win it all. Even if the Caps are still in playoff contention, they are not going to be sellers because they know they have the talent to win, they saw that just two years ago. This year would have to be a complete loss with no team chemistry, all the free agents are busts, age catches up to all of the older core like Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov shrinks under the scrutiny, injuries galore, etc., etc.

Even then, the team would be in a tough spot because its most valuable players are considered untouchable. I am of the belief that the organization wants Backstrom and Ovechkin to retire as Caps so right there, those are two valuable players who would not even be available if the team were to start selling.

Nathan S. writes: Is it fair to say hockey hasn’t grown in popularity the way many had hoped when the league started expanding and moving more teams to Sunbelt 20 plus years ago? It still seems hockey struggles to gain any attention from ESPN or any of the big-time sports outlets. What is holding it back and what can be done to increase the popularity of the NHL?

Yes and no. On the one hand, this is a bit harsh considering league revenue continues to grow, the league continues to expand and the success of a team like Vegas has shown that hockey can thrive just about anywhere, not just in Canada and the northern United States. On the other hand, the league does not seem to have shortened the gap between it and the NBA, NFL or MLB.

To me, the biggest issue for hockey is the accessibility of the game. People grow up playing basketball, football and baseball and they gravitate towards those sports as fans. You would be amazed at how many times I get asked what “icing” is. Hockey is just not as entrenched in our culture as the other major sports.

There are three major areas I would look to improve on in order to grow the game: No more work stoppages. You cannot build any momentum or make inroads if you are the only league with a work stoppage once every 10 years.

The league needs to do everything it can to build youth hockey throughout the U.S. It is an expensive game to play and there are limited places to do it. That has to change.

Hockey needs to start promoting personalities rather than shunning them. P.K. Subban should be one of the faces of the NHL and there should be no debate over whether he is a detriment just because he is not boring.

Luka K. writes: Will players push for a new CBA more like basketball’s CBA? Let players have more money, they are the ones who sacrifice their bodies, they are the face of the game. It seems like every other team these days has cap issues. Players have earned their money, teams want them but can’t afford them. If teams want to retain their homegrown talent make them possible to go over the cap and pay the luxury tax. It seems that it never was this much money in the game and players make little of that compared to NBA, MLB. I understand the league desires parity but owners have money, why not spend it on those who make them all that cash?

You are talking about two different things here. It sounds like you believe the player’s salaries are restricted just by the cap and that getting rid of it would suddenly lead to them getting paid like in other sports. It doesn’t work that way. What an owner can afford is only part of the equation when it comes to players getting paid.

It is important to remember that the league and players split revenue as per the CBA. The players get 50-percent of hockey-related revenue so it is not as if a rich owner can come in and just starting throwing crazy contracts around and reset the market. He could, but those players would end up losing a lot of that money to escrow so the dollar figures would not be as enticing as they may seem. The way to get the players more money is to grow the game and make the league more money as a whole.

I have seen a conversation building over whether the league would be better off with a soft cap and luxury tax as opposed to a hard cap as it currently has. In this current era of the NHL when young players play significant roles and restricted free agents are getting big deals, this is going to continue to be a debate.

Since a team like Toronto is more scrutinized than most, I think their current situation is really fueling this conversation. They are in a position where they have three home-grown star players in Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Willie Nylander and they may not have the money to keep everyone. Even if they do, it will mean trimming the roster in other places to make it all fit. Why should a team be essentially punished for drafting well?

I get that argument, but it holds less water considering the Leafs signed John Tavares for $11 million per year. There would not be a debate over whether the team could afford Marner or not if they had not given out a massive free-agent contract. This is arguably a situation of the Leafs' own making.

Given the parity in the league, I personally would not change anything that could threaten that. I love that about the sport and I think it makes it unique from the others in which there are only a select few teams who can realistically win a championship in any given year. Considering the NHL lost a full season in a lockout battle just to get the salary cap, I cannot imagine the league being willing to renegotiate any time soon.

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in the next mailbag, send it to or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.