It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.
Have a Caps question you want answered in the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.
Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.
Hey JJ its been awhile now where are we at on Vrana deal& some of these RFAs? #CapsMailNBC— WiseBeyondMyYears (@sports_god1) July 8, 2019
The only update on Vrana general manager Brian MacLellan offered in a conference call at the start of free agency was, “We’re in ongoing discussions with ihs representatives.” The longer this goes on, the more nervous people are getting, but I am not convinced there is any reason to worry at this point. Teams often wait longer to sign their RFAs as the team controls their rights. There’s no real pressure to get those deals done early. I thought earlier in the offseason that Vrana would be priority No. 1 because he would take a decent cap hit and the team would want to know how much money it had left to spend. Instead, MacLellan is doing the opposite and finished all other business while leaving himself enough room to sign the remaining RFAs. It is a shrewd way of doing things as he can go to Vrana’s agent and say, look, we only have this much cap room left to give him.
The only real danger is the player holding out or signing an offer sheet, both of which rarely happen. More on that later.
Christian Djoos and Chandler Stephenson also remain unsigned and both filed for arbitration on Friday. They can still work out a deal with the team at any time and rarely do we see players make it all the way through the arbitration process before getting a deal done. Djoos’ arbitration hearing is scheduled for July 22 and Stephenson on Aug. 1.
Paul O. writes: Love the mailbag. Thanks for keeping us engaged during the offseason. While it is unlikely Jakub Vrana goes anywhere due to a possible offer sheet, if it were to happen what would be Brian MacLellan’s likely next move with the UFA field scarce and the prospects the same?
Thanks to you Paul, and to everyone else who sends in questions. I really do appreciate you guys taking the time to send them in. I also appreciate you giving me something to write about in the offseason.
On to your question….
For those of you who are unfamiliar with offer sheets, those are contracts negotiated between an RFA and another team. The player signs it and the team that owns his rights can choose whether or not to match the offer. If they match the offer, the new contract now belongs to them and that is the end of the process. There is not further negotiating, that player is officially under contract under the terms he negotiated in the offer sheet. If the team does not match, team that gave the offer sheet will get the player, but must give up drat compensation to the orginial team. Compensation is set by the league ahead of time and is determined by a player’s cap hit. The higher the cap hit, the higher the draft pick compensation.
Offer sheets are rare because they rarely work, the compensation for the higher-end players is substantial and it is a good way to for a general manager to burn a bridge with another GM. The offer sheet the Montreal Canadiens gave Sebastian Aho is the first offer sheet given since 2013.
Vrana is a potential target for an offer sheet because he is a very good up-and-coming player, because the draft pick compensation would not be outrageous for him (as opposed to a Mitch Marner type of player) and because the Caps do not have much cap flexibility to match an offer and matching an offer could prove difficult.
While it is possible a team out there could try to give Vrana an offer sheet, it is unlikely to happen. For this to even be possible, Vrana would have to be willing to sign one or this is all moot. The speed with which Carolina came out and said they would match Aho’s offer sheet may also dissuade other general managers from trying this tactic.
MacLellan was asked about a potential Vrana offer sheet after news broke on Aho’s and he said, “We’re aware that it might be a possibility. I think in this market there are probably other players that are in front of him, but I guess you never know. We’re cautious. I think we feel comfortable.”
“We have a couple of things we can do flexibility wise to create a little space if we need to,” he added.
This could be MacLellan trying to sound tough to scare off other teams, but the bottom line is that even if Vrana does get an offer sheet, the Caps are more likely to move salary to keep him than they are to take the picks.
Benjamin C. writes: I would like to hear your opinion about how you think some players will perform next season. How do you think Evgeny Kuznetsov will play? How about T.J. Oshie coming off that injury? Are Tom Wilson and Jakub Vrana going to break out even more? Will Lars Eller step it up?
This is going to be a critical year for Kuznetsov. After a down year and the hotel video incident, there will be pressure on him to perform. There’s no room for the “you have to work 365 days a year to be an MVP and I don’t want to do that” attitude. Call me naive, but I think he will get the message and come ready to play next season. I am not going to go out on a limb and say he will be totally back to 2018 playoffs Kuznetsov, but I do think we seem him much closer to his ceiling than what we saw in 2018-19.
At some point, age plus wear and tear is going to catch up to Oshie. This is why I have argued he should be on the third line to give him less minutes so he can still play on the power play and penalty kill. Unfortunately, I am not sure if they have an obvious candidate to plug into the top six which means Oshie will likely return to his second-line role. This is the year I believe we see the production start to dip. I’ll put him at about 35-40 points this year instead of his typical 45-55.
The addition of Gudas will hopefully free up Wilson from having to worry about the extracurriculars as much and leave him just to focus on his game so I could see another big year for him. Let’s not forget, he scored 22 goals and 18 assists in just 63 games last season. I think 20-25 goals, 20-25 assists is very attainable. The trajectory is pointed squarely up for Vrana as well and he is going to be a 30-goal scorer sooner rather than later.
Eller had 36 points last season, which is the second highest in his career beaten only by his 38 points the year prior. He should be just fine.
Phil M. writes: I’d like to know your thoughts on the new additions. These are not faceoff wizards so that issue remains a vexing one and every team needs bottom-six scoring which we lost with Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly’s departure. Do you think the new players will result in better defense and can you see them contributing offensively? How do you see the third and fourth line combinations?
There was no way Washington was going to find the cap space to keep or replace the offensive production they ended up losing this offseason. It is no secret that many of the free agent moves were made to help the team defensively and their new players should boost the Caps in that end of the ice. The penalty kill should also be much improved with Carl Hagelin back in the fold as well.
It is great that the team looks better defensively, that was an area of serious need, but the offense is a concern. They did not get enough offense from the bottom six last season, especially in the playoffs and now Burakovsky and Connolly are gone. How much offense can the Caps expect from a Hagelin, Eller, Panik line? A lot will depend on the answer to that question.
If Washington becomes top-heavy and completely dependent on their top-six offensively, then they really have not gotten much better overall.
Craig B. writes: What are the chances Brian MacLellan can get a decent faceoff guy? Nicklas Backstrom seems to be the only guy who can win an important draw. Evgeny Kuznetsov has also struggled. Is there anyone in the pipeline who can win draws?
At this point if you are hoping MacLellan is going to go out and sign a faceoff specialist, that’s not going to happen. The team does not have room for all the forwards it currently has, he is not going to go out and sign another.
Washington ranked dead last in faceoffs last season at a paltry 45.7-percent. Even if you want to debate the importance of faceoffs, you don’t want to rank last in the league in anything. Just about everyone was bad at the dot last season except Nic Dowd who was the only center on the team with a win percentage over 50 at 51.9-percent. He was even better in the playoffs at 57.4-percent and Backstrom picked things up as well at 52.7.
Really, however, the biggest issue was Kuznetsov who won only 38.7-percent of his draws. That’s what you expect from a winger who steps in to take the draw after a center is tossed out. That is not an acceptable percentage for a top-six center. He has got to improve. Even if he wins 45-percent next season, that’s still terrible, but it should bump up the team’s percentage tremendously and lead to more offensive-zone chances (not surprisingly, Kuznetsov does not get many D-zone draws).
I am not one to get hung up on faceoffs. I think as long as Backstrom, Dowd and Eller are hovering around 50-percent the team will be fine, but Kuznetsov has to do better.
Morris G. writes: Is there a way centers can train so that they win more faceoffs? Does it take greater strength and do they have to give up something else in their training to improve faceoffs? Is it trainable or just a generic trait that you have to fortuitously have to find in one of your centers?
Like every aspect of the game, faceoffs are something a player can improve on if he puts in the work. Sidney Crosby, for example, improved from winning just 45.5-percent of his faceoffs as a rookie to winning over 55-percent three times in his career.
Faceoffs are a much more complicated and nuanced aspect of the game than most may realize. Some players telegraph where they are trying to send the puck when they get to the dot. A savvy player will read what his opponent is doing and react accordingly. There are multiple ways a player can hold his stick and multiple directions they could try to win the puck. Some players even bull rush the dot as soon as the puck is dropped to dry to knock their opponent out of the way and win the draw with the body.
So there is no one way to win or train to get better on faceoffs. Really the biggest thing is you have to put in the time to work on it. What makes it difficult is the fact that there is little to no individual time in a team practice. This means staying on after practice to work on it.
So what? Suck it up and put in the time! I agree with you, but just to play devil’s advocate, the team has a lot of meetings after practice to discuss things like scouting the next team, power play, etc. Kuznetsov is a big part of the offense and a big part of the power play. There may be a lot of times where he feels he does not have time after practice to devote 10-15 minutes to faceoffs.
If I were Reirden, I would make this a priority for Kuznetsov because, as I said, 38.7-percent is atrocious.
Marcio A. writes: I realize Todd Reirden maintained a lot of Barry Trotz’s system. I also know that he made some changes on the penalty kill and perhaps the other less publicized elements of how the Caps play. Just wondering if it is possible that there were enough differences, even around the edges, between how the roster was able to execute Trotz’s plans and Reirden’s plans? The implication is there could be more upside than initially contemplated from the changes to the fringes of the roster if the new guys fit better with where Reirden was trying to go.
Great question and this is an aspect people do not explore enough when evaluating last season. The Caps won the Stanley Cup under Trotz and MacLellan, understandably so, tried to keep that team together as much as he could for a potential repeat. While Reirden was a member of Trotz’s staff, it is unreasonable to think he would run the team in exactly the same way and have the exact same success. There were definitely times last season in which it looked like MacLellan and Reirden disagreed on certain players, Dmitrij Jaskin being the most obvious example.
While the defensive changes to the lineup seem on the outside looking in like they were made out of necessity with the team running out of salary cap space, it may also be MacLellan trying to tailor the roster more for Reirden’s style.
Brian R. writes: Do you think part of the reason maybe they offered Richard Panik a fourth year is if they leave him unprotected, Seattle might pick him up? Also, with Alex Alexeyev possibly coming up would they gamble and leave either Dmitry Orlov or Michal Kempny unprotected to help save money?
You often have to overpay free agents to snag them, but what do you do if you have no money to spend? You overpay with term. Panik said on a conference call that no other team offered him four years and that was a big factor in him signing with Washington.
MacLellan admitted that he gave Panik, Hagelin and Garnet Hathaway more years than he would have wanted to get them to sign with the Caps.
“In order for us to get that AAV down so we can add depth, I think we pushed up the term a year on probably all three of those contracts,” he said.
The lack of room under the salary cap had more to do with Panik’s contract than Seattle did.
Projecting out to 2021, Alexeyev may not have even played in the NHL at that point, but there is no way he is not protected. For those of you thinking to yourselves he will be exempt, that is actually based on a player’s professional years in North America. Even if he plays the next two years in Hershey, those are two years under an NHL contract which means, yes, he will need to be protected. Christian Djoos, for example, was available in the last expansion draft despite never having played in the NHL to that point.
Alexeyev’s upside is high enough that he will likely need to be protected from Seattle which will mean exposing someone else. A lot can happen in the next two seasons and if Orlov plays like he did last season, sure I could see him being exposed. We will have to wait and see..
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, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.
MORE CAPITALS NEWS:
- Fourth Line Battle: Who plays?
- Different, But Better: Caps improved in Free Agency
- Arbitration: What comes next?