T.J. Oshie

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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.

Goalie
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.

Defensemen
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.

Forwards
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 CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

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 CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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‘It would have been weird if we wouldn't have won first’: Oshie opens up about former team hoisting the Cup

‘It would have been weird if we wouldn't have won first’: Oshie opens up about former team hoisting the Cup

ARLINGTON, Va. -- T.J. Oshie spent the first seven years of his NHL career trying to bring a Cup to St. Louis. Four years after he was traded to the Capitals, the Blues finally earned the franchise’s first championship.

Now after seeing his old team win, Oshie is happy for the city and his former teammates...but it helps that the Caps won it in 2018.

“I think it would have been weird if we wouldn't have won first,” Oshie said. “But no, I was very happy for those guys. I was happy to see the city of St. Louis.”

Oshie said he FaceTimed some of his former teammates the next morning while on his way to a golf tournament in Lake Tahoe. He discovered the celebration had not yet stopped.

“They hadn't gone to bed yet after the night they won so they were still there with the Cup,” he said.

The fact that Oshie has a championship of his own to celebrate certainly allows for him to be happy for his former team, but it also brings with it more drive.

“There's a different type of motivation,” he said. “Before it was like, 'This is ours. Let's keep it.' We didn't play St. Louis, they didn't take it from us, but that's kind of the feeling that you get.”

There were many points last season that could have been seen as moments to “turn the page” from Washington's Cup run: The start of the season, the banner raising, the White House visit, the start of the playoffs, Washington’s elimination at the hands of the Hurricanes, etc. But none of those moments brought with them the finality and reality of seeing Alex Pietrangelo lift the Cup.

The Caps are no longer the defending champs, they are no longer the team everyone is chasing and, despite his friendships with former teammates and his love for St. Louis, Oshie wants to see the Caps reclaim Lord Stanley.

“Our year will be, hopefully, a little bit more focused on getting that drive back to reclaim it,” Oshie said, “And hopefully bring another Cup to D.C.”

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