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.
No word on who could be a potential trade partner. The first team I thought of was someone like Ottawa. After getting rid of...well, everyone, they are a team that will need to spend some money to get to the salary floor and they could certainly use some veteran leadership.
Do not get too excited about a possible return. No one is blind as to why the Caps may be exploring such a move and no one is going to be in a rush to do Washington any favors. Unless MacLellan is targeting a depth forward which would help fill a need, the Caps cannot afford to take much if any salary back in the deal so I would expect this deal to largely be for draft picks and not players.
What about prospects? I have a hard time seeing any team trading a high-end prospect for a 32-year-old defenseman coming off a tough year with a $5.75 million cap hit. Let’s temper expectations here.
As to your second question, the two guys with the highest ceilings are Kody Clark and Garrett Pilon. If they continue developing I could see them being middle six guys. The second line may be a reach, but in today’s NHL your third line needs to be productive as well. Both guys, however, still need some time to develop.
Nathan S. writes: Given all the analysis about why the Caps came up short in their effort to repeat, a lot was mentioned about the short off-season. This leads me to wonder how the Penguins repeated in 2017? They did it without their leading D-man Kris Letang and also had the short summer following 2016 Cup run? Did Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin's experience trying to repeat in 2010 give them wisdom to share with their teammates? Did they get a little lucky in playing a mediocre Ottawa team in the Eastern Conference Final? Did they have more players new to the 2017 team that were hungry?
Actually, the 2016-17 Penguins managed to keep almost its entire roster together losing only Ben Lovejoy and Jeff Zatkoff so that definitely was a factor in the repeat. It is also not really fair to say Ottawa was mediocre as it took a Game 7 overtime goal for Pittsburgh to finally put the Senators away. They were literally one goal away from playing for the Cup.
I have always been tempted to dismiss the 2017 postseason as an anomaly because the Penguins were able to win without Letang and there is no way that defense should have been good enough to hoist a Cup. There is another factor, however, that played a major role and has again proved huge this year and that is the importance of keeping goalies fresh.
In 2016, Matt Murray carried the bulk of the load for Pittsburgh with 21 starts in the postseason. In 2017, Marc-Andre Fleury was the No. 1 with 15 starts. Now let’s consider that of the four starting goalies in the conference finals in 2019, only one of them, Martin Jones, appeared in more than 50 games in the regular season. Jones played in 62 games, Rask in 46, Petr Mrazek in 40 and Jordan Binnington in 32 (48 if you count the 16 games he played in the AHL).
Add in the fact that Holtby appeared in only 54 games in the 2017-18 season as opposed to the 63, 66 and 73 he played in the three seasons prior and I am beginning to think a fresh goalie may be one of, if not the biggest factor in a deep playoff run.
Nathan S. writes: What are the biggest keys for Caps to make another Cup run next year?
The first key is to lock down the bottom six. You cannot win without depth. If Carl Hagelin, Brett Connolly, and Andre Burakovsky all leave as cap casualties in the offseason, you have to be able to replace them with quality players. You cannot just stick some scrubs on the third line and rely on the top six to do all the work while playing the fourth line seven minutes a night. Those days are over.
Evgeny Kuznetsov has to be better. The team cannot afford for him to be a pretty good second-line center. He needs to play up to the MVP caliber player we saw in the Cup run, especially with Ovechkin getting another year older. Other players are going to have to share in the offensive load because Ovechkin cannot hit 50 goals forever.
Backup goaltending is also quietly becoming more important. I went into more detail above, but the Caps should aim to keep Holtby at about 55 appearances at the maximum. You can only do that if you get solid backup goaltending.
Structurally, the team needs to be smarter with the puck. There were too many lazy passes, too many times when players ignored the easy passes and went for the more difficult and ill-advised ones that led to turnovers, too many times when a player would skate himself into a turnover in the offensive zone, too many times the puck was carelessly given up in the defensive zone leading to penalties and goals. That should be something that is correctable by the coaches.
Finally, take advantage of the long offseason. Few players seemed to know how to handle the shortened offseason in 2018 other than Ovechkin. Now they have extra time this year, they need to use it to both rest and get a full offseason of training in.
It took just four games for Boston to put away the team that eliminated the Caps and there are a few reasons why. Every good team has a strong top six, but depth scoring is the difference between a good team and a championship one. The Bruins were thought to be a top-heavy team coming into the playoffs, but that has not been the case thus far in the postseason.
Washington had 10 players score in seven games against the Hurricanes. It had 20 goals in those games and nine of them came from Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. In just four games, Boston got goals from 12 different players. Despite having arguably the best line in hockey with Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak, that line only accounted for six of the team’s 17 goals in the series.
Having a hot goalie certainly helps as well. Holtby was fine with a 2.67 GAA and .914 save percentage and was certainly not the reason Washington lost. Tuukka Rask, however, was better. He torched Carolina with a 1.25 GAA and .956 save percentage.
Williams looked every bit the clutch playoff performer against the Caps, but Boston – and Marchand in particular – was able to get under his skin. I would not advocate for more players to try Marchand’s shenanigans, but while Washington was able to use its physical play so effectively in 2018, that was basically a non-factor in 2019.
One other major issue: the power play. Despite how horrendously bad the Caps looked on zone entries, they actually managed a respectable 25-percent on the power play against the Hurricanes. How did Boston do? OK, I guess, with a 46.7-percent. Read that again, that is not a typo. In 15 power plays, the Bruins scored seven times. The Caps went seven games with Carolina with the series ultimately being decided in double overtime. The margin separating the two teams was that thin. If the Caps had figured out at all how to break into the offensive zone during the power play, that would have tipped the series in their favor.
It is becoming a constant refrain in these mailbags, but I will repeat myself yet again: get rid of the sling shot.
Snively’s strength is more offensive so I do not foresee him being a big penalty killer. He stepped into the AHL and made an offensive impact right away with two goals and five assists in just nine games. When the playoffs started, however, it was a different story. He had no points in two games and from what I heard when I went to Hershey, that was his real “welcome to the pros” moment and he became clearly overmatched. He was sent back to Yale soon after to complete his classes for his degree.
Since most questions regarding prospects are really about if a player can step into the lineup next season, I would say that seems doubtful given how last season ended. I think there may be some NHL third-line potential there, but it is hard to tell after just nine games.
Mary B. writes: The lack of respect for the Capitals seems palpable as I watch the playoffs this year. Examples of what I mean: The NHL made a new commercial about hockey being something you feel, and there’s not a single second of footage of the Caps in the ad being shown during playoff games. MacLellan is not a finalist for Executive of the year. John Carlson is not a finalist for the Norris. Ovechkin is not a finalist for the Messier Leadership award. On the reverse side, Tom Wilson gets more scrutiny and sever punishment than anyone in the league, yet when a Caps player is hit in the head and/or injured, it barely seems to be noticed.
Why? What have the Caps done to merit such treatment?
In terms of the “Feel” commercial, I don’t know what to tell you. There are several moments of Ovechkin hoisting the Cup and of the parade in Washington. If that got cut for the shortened commercial, well, that happens all the time. There are 31 teams and you are not going to fit all of them in a 30-second commercial spot. MacLellan is not a finalist for general manager of the year because that award is actually voted on after the second round of the playoffs. If your team is eliminated in the first round, chances are you are not going to be a finalist. All three finalists were the general managers of teams in the conference finals.
Can’t argue with you on Carlson. I vote on the Norris and he was second on my ballot. He should at least have been named a finalist. I wonder if there’s just a tendency to dismiss him as an offensive guy or if he gets overshadowed by Ovechkin the same way Nicklas Backstrom does. For the Messier Award, Mark Messier personally chooses the finalists himself so you’ll have to take it up with him. It is hard to argue with any of the three guys he chose.
Wilson is not singled out because he is a Capital, he is singled out because he has been suspended four times in a short span and three of those incidents that led to suspension happened during the preseason which means they were unnecessary. He has to play smarter and he did that once he returned from the Oskar Sundqvist suspension. Do people overly scrutinize his game? Yes, but that has nothing to do with the fact that he plays for the Caps.
Austin C. writes: Do you think that there is still a big rivalry when it comes to Baltimore vs DC sports?
The D.C.-Baltimore rivalry is an interesting one given how much intermingling there is. Baltimore still cheers for the Caps and Wizards and there are still a lot of Orioles fans in Washington, or at least there was until the Orioles became so bad they can’t even figure out how to get an out in an easy in-field play with the bases loaded. Seriously, a little league team would have played that better.
The two biggest issues for the rivalry are the baseball TV rights fiasco and the Ravens-Redskins. I would contend the average sports fan does not know much about the TV feud between the Nationals and Orioles other than the fact that it exists. What everyone knows, however, is that sports coverage in the DMV area is completely dominated by the Redskins, a team that has won three playoff games since 1992. They have won two Super Bowls despite not even being a team until 1996 and they remain completely secondary to the Redskins. I can see why that would rub Baltimore fans the wrong way.
But with the Nationals-Orioles and Redskins-Ravens in different leagues/conferences, you do not get regular matchups to help fan the flames of hatred that fuel the great rivalries. A rivalry definitely exists, but I would not call it a big one.
The real question is whether Joe Flacco or Jason Campbell is more elite?
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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