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Who is the Caps' MVP at the bye week?

Who is the Caps' MVP at the bye week?

There's no hockey this week for Washington as the Caps are on their bye week. That gives us time to take a look at the team and evaluate how they look at this point in the season. Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent J.J. Regan offer their bye week grades for each aspect of the team. Today, they give their picks for MVP.

El-Bashir’s MVP: G.M. Brian MacLellan

There are several qualified candidates from which to choose. There’s Nicklas Backstrom, who’s fourth in the NHL in points. There’s Braden Holtby, who’s in the Vezina Trophy conversation again. And there’s T.J. Oshie, who carried the Caps’ offense early on.

But my pick for MVP is Brian MacLellan, who recognized his team’s biggest weakness after last year’s playoff ouster and did something about it. He traded for third line center Lars Eller and signed Boston Bruins castoff Brett Connolly to a one-year contract in the span of a few days last summer. 

The Caps hoped Eller and Connolly could provide a jolt to a bottom-six forward group was that was badly outplayed in the second round loss to the Penguins. Now, as the regular season enters its stretch run, that hope has turned into reality. 

Eller has anchored the third line, produced 10 goals and, prior to the bye, was deployed on the power play as a replacement for an injured Andre Burakovsky. Connolly, meanwhile, is up to 12 goals despite missing 14 games as a healthy scratch. Both Eller and Connolly struggled initially to fit in, but they now looked like fully integrated pieces on the NHL’s best team.

If the Caps go on to claim the franchise’s first Cup, Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and Holtby will, no doubt, be the headliners. But the team’s supporting cast, led by Eller and Connolly, is going to play a big role, too. 

And that supporting cast wouldn’t have been in place without MacLellan’s decisiveness during the offseason.

RELATED: Burakovsky skates in cast before practice

Regan's MVP: Nicklas Backstrom

Alex Ovechkin is the Caps' best player, but a reasonable argument could be made to say that Backstrom is actually the team's most important player. That has certainly been true this season.

Backstrom leads the Caps in points with 61. That's nine more points than the second-place Alex Ovechkin. He is also fourth in the NHL, trailing Connor McDavid by only six points.

But it's not just about stats. What sets Backstrom apart is his consistency.

Ovechkin went seven straights games without a goal from the end of November to the start of December, Evgeny Kuznetsov was sleep walking unitl January, T.J. Oshie was the MVP before he suffered an injury against Detroit in November, Marcus Johansson could not stop scoring in the team's Western Canada road trip but went through a lengthy dry spell afterward.

All the while, Backstrom was there, quietly producing just like he always does. The longest the veteran center has gone without a point this season is three games. That's it.

And even when he's not scoring, Backstrom remains incredibly important because of how he can limit the other team's offense. As great as he is offensively, he may be just as good defensively. That's a rare combination.

Seriously, Backstrom may be the most underappreciated player in the NHL, but not by me. He's the team MVP and in my mind, it's not close.

MORE CAPITALS: Sanford, Vrana rejoin the Caps

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: How the Matt Niskanen trade sets up the rest of the Caps’ offseason

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: How the Matt Niskanen trade sets up the rest of the Caps’ offseason

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

Have a Caps question you want to be answered 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.

There usually is no rush in re-signing restricted free agents since teams own their rights. Having said that, I thought the deal for Jakub Vrana would get done quickly so that Brian MacLellan would know how much money he had to work with under the cap. It would make sense for Vrana too because, with every signing, there is less money for him. Yet, we are still waiting.

This issue may get a little complicated with reports saying the salary cap could actually be lower than initially expected. Still, that probably does not affect Vrana’s final number, it just affects how much money the Caps will have to spend on other players. Whatever moves MacLellan still wants to make, he will have to leave enough room to get Vrana re-signed. I expect this deal to get done soon after the cap is finalized, but long before July 1.

As for Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby, we could see a bit of momentum on the Backstrom front. Moving Niskanen did not just save cap room for this season, but for the following year. Gudas has only one year remaining on his contract while Niskanen had two. There is zero chance Holtby gets extended this summer, however. With the expansion draft looming and goalie Ilya Samsonov as the team’s No. 1 prospect, all decisions regarding the team’s future in net will be on hold until we see how both players perform this season. If Samsonov looks ready to step into the NHL, it may ultimately not make sense to re-sign Holtby at all. That’s just the reality of the business.

Darren L. writes: With the trade of Matt Niskanen for Radko Gudas and the subsequent signing of Carl Hagelin, do you think there is still a chance, however slim, that Brett Connolly can be re-signed?

Benjamin C. writes: Now that we’ve sign Carl Hagelin does that basically end Connolly’s time in Washington?

Before the offseason, I was not sure it would be an either/or scenario between Hagelin and Connolly. When the realities of the salary cap set in, however, it seems pretty clear that re-signing Hagelin means Connolly’s tenure in Washington is over. The one caveat is that I did not expect Hagelin’s cap hit to be under $3 million as I thought there would be a market for him in free agency. He wanted to stay, however and was willing to take less per year for term. Kudos to MacLellan for getting Hagelin’s cap hit down to $2.75 million.

Connolly is coming off a season in which he scored 22 goals in a third-line role and limited power play time. Hockey-Graphs projects him to get a deal worth just over $3.5 million per year. To me, I think he could get more than that. I am of the opinion that there will be teams out there willing to offer Connolly more money and a bigger role than what the Caps can which will make it hard to keep him. If the offers all end up in the $3.5 million range, however, Washington could potentially afford that. So there is a chance, more than I would have thought, of keeping Connolly at $3.5 million per year. That’s about the limit I think they could afford and if his price tag goes up, that will be the end of that.

Darren L. writes: I keep reading that the Caps are very aggressive in the trade market. Do you think that there is an under the radar move that we, as fans, don’t know about yet?

In his latest 31 Thoughts column, Elliotte Friedman listed Washington among one of the most aggressive teams in trade talks saying generally of the NHL “we could see some frenetic attempts to move up and down.”

Friedman also wrote, “Other teams believe the Capitals are in total ‘go for it’ mode.”

The Niskanen trade was one we all saw coming, maybe not for Radko Gudas, but Brian McNally and I have been saying pretty much since the offseason began that Niskanen was going to get traded. I also wrote Tuesday on why the Caps could be players at the draft to move from their 25th pick. Anything beyond that, whether it means bringing in someone or sending someone out, I think we could label as unexpected.

Sure, there are players like Andre Burakovsky who it would be a surprise but not be shocking to see moved. If the Caps are as big a trade player as Friedman reports, I think we could be looking at a surprise move especially considering they would have to ship out cap space to get someone of significance.

Tyler A. writes: With Brett Connolly likely leaving Washington, how can the Capitals add some more offensive power to the bottom six this off-season?

Good question and it is an important one as depth offense is one of the team’s biggest weaknesses. The Caps probably have enough cap room for one significant third-line signing in the $3-4 million range depending on the salary cap. They could probably get a Joonas Donskoi, Micheal Ferland type for that amount.

But it is also important to remember that the fourth line needs a boost as well. The team just did not seem to find the right combination for that bottom line. For most NHL caliber RFAs, there is usually little question as to whether they will be re-signed. For Washington, however, the questions needs to be asked if it makes sense to bring back Chandler Stephenson or Dmirij Jaskin when the offensive upside looks pretty limited. Do the Caps have enough money to go after free agent fourth liners like Noel Acciari or Brian Boyle? And then, of course, what do you do with Andre Burakovsky and that leads to the next question….

Benjamin C. writes: Do you think we can get Andre Burakovsky back?

Eric C. writes: With the signing of Gudas and Hagelin what do you think this means for Burakovsky and his future in D.C.?

This depends on whether Burakovsky will be willing to sign for less than the $3.25 million the Caps would have to offer to qualify him. To me, there is definitely room for Burakovsky with the probable loss of Connolly. He can be an asset to the bottom-six so long as he gets paid like a bottom-six player.

After three straight seasons of scoring 12 goals, at this point, it is time to view and judge Burakovsky like a bottom-six player. We saw in the playoffs that he boosts the fourth line as he provides more talent than most teams see when facing an opponent’s fourth line. But you cannot afford to spend $3.25 million on a fourth line wing. That’s the key.

Bob C. writes: Why do you and some others maybe feel that Andre Burakovsky deserves to come back to the team? Myself and other fans feel he will never develop any more than what he has been.

“Deserve” has nothing to do with it. I have been pretty consistent in the fact that I think the Caps should bring Burakovsky back only if they can get him for less than what it would take to qualify him. That is too much for a player who has been plagued by injuries and inconsistent play throughout his career and who has scored 12 goals in each of the past three seasons.

With Connolly likely on his way out, that’s 22 goals coming off the third line. Washington’s bottom-six accounted for five goals in seven games in the playoffs. That’s not enough. In this day and age, you need players who can produce on the third and fourth lines. Burakovsky provides a dangerous offensive option in the bottom six, his skill set still has a high ceiling and the team is running out of options and cap space to improve depth scoring.

Lower the bar for Burakovsky and assume he is a bottom-six producer at this point. If he exceeds that expectation, great. If not, well then you paid a bottom-six forward a bottom-six salary.

Thanks for all your questions! Part 2 of the mailbag will be coming on Thursday. 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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Capitals' National Anthem singer Caleb Green auditions on America's Got Talent

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YouTube.com/@America'sGotTalent

Capitals' National Anthem singer Caleb Green auditions on America's Got Talent

If you've been to a Caps game, you've definitely heard the incredible voice of Caleb Green singing the National Anthem.

Behind his impassioned voice is an undeniable patriotism, as Green is a retired Master Sergeant of the United States Army.

Beloved by Caps fans, Green decided to take his talents to the biggest stage in the world: America's Got Talent (AGT).

"Voices of Service" is an acapella group comprised of Green and three other servicemen and woman that have found music as a way to provide music therapy to servicemen and women suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Tuesday night on AGT, Green and the "Voices of Service" delivered an incredible acapella rendition of Katy Perry's "Rise," resulting in a standing ovation from the crowd and a resounding "YES" from the judges to advance to Hollywood.

 

The Washington Capitals gave their own shout out to Green following his performance.

As did Capitals commentator, Craig Laughlin.

America's Got Talent airs on NBC Tuesday nights at 8 p.m.

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