It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 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.
Don G. writes: I have seen dozens of articles and assumptions that the Capitals will not keep Braden Holtby next year but what if they do? What other player moves would have to be made to allow that to happen and strategically would that be a good move? I mean, you'd be keeping one of the best, most consistent goalies in the league which is not a bad thing to build around. Could they replace an older, more expensive player or two with younger, cheaper players from Hershey (or free agency) and keep the known and valued commodity in goal?
Projecting out to 2020, the Capitals will have 10 forwards, four defensemen and one goalie under contract for just over $62 million. That means they will need three forwards and three defensemen in addition to Holtby. This does not include restricted free agents Chandler Stephenson, Travis Boyd, Breandan Leipsic, Jonas Siegenthaler or Christian Djoos.
The salary cap is not expected to make a huge jump next season so let’s call it $83.5 million. That leaves the Caps with a little less than $21.5 million to fill the roster. Now let’s give $7 million of that to Nicklas Backstrom who will need a new contract and who has been on a team-friendly deal for some time. That leaves the team with about $14.5 million.
The first and most obvious answer to your question is that Brian MacLellan would have to convince Holtby to sign for less than he is worth. You cannot commit $10+ million per year and make this work especially with Alex Ovechkin also needing a new contract in 2021. I’m not even sure $9 million would be low enough to make sense and anything lower than that you have to wonder if Holtby would even be willing to talk about.
Second, MacLellan would have to trade Ilya Samsonov. For anyone out there holding out hope for a Holtby-Samsonov tandem for the next three to five years, that’s not going to happen. The looming Seattle expansion draft means the Caps will only be able to protect one goalie and both Holtby and Samsonov are far too valuable a commodity to risk losing for nothing. If you commit to Holtby, you are doing so over Samsonov.
Any decision beyond that will be dictated by what happens this season. If the team struggles perhaps players like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov end up on the trade block which would free up more cap space. If that happens, however, it almost certainly will mean the championship window is closed and you have to ask if committing to a 30-year-old goalie over the 22-year-old prospect would even make sense.
On the other hand, if the team makes another deep playoff run then those players are not going anywhere, plus RFAs like Siegenthaler and Djoos will expect raises and the team will have even less money to work with.
If the former happens, this is a done deal and Holtby is gone. There is no point in starting a rebuild by trading away your top goalie prospect. As difficult as it would be to make the money work, having another deep playoff run would be the only scenario I see for Holtby to come back. To make it work financially, MacLellan would have two options. The first option would be to plug roster holes with cheap prospects but that option is dependent on having prospects who are NHL ready available to you. The second option would be to sign veterans to cheap contracts by offering term which MacLellan did this offseason with players like Carl Hagelin, Garnet Hathaway and Richard Panik, all of whom were signed for four years.
@jamezbezt writes: Ilya Samsonov had an up-and-down season in the AHL last year. What are your thoughts on his potential heading into this year?
The start of the AHL season for Samsonov was not good at all, but he turned the corner midway through and looked tremendous after that. If he continues that trajectory, then the Caps have nothing to worry about.
For me, the skill is there. He has everything that you could want in a starting goalie including size and athleticism. What he struggled with was tracking the puck and the play in his own zone which is to be expected for a goalie transitioning to the North American game. The smaller ice makes the game a lot faster and Samsonov has to continue adjusting to that to avoid getting caught out of position.
The improvement Samsonov showed from the start of the season to the end is encouraging and I still believe in him as an NHL starter. We may even get to see him play a few games with the Caps this season. I do not see any way that the team can avoid calling him up at some point. If they are even considering letting Holtby go for this guy, you have to get a few looks at him at the NHL level before you can reasonably make that decision.
@sports_god1 writes: What are the chances of Jakub Vrana breaking 30+ goals this year? I would say in order for him to be a 30-goal scorer regularly, he has to get more PP priority and/or even top line with Alex Ovechkin and whoever in the middle.
Vrana scored 24 goals last season in just his second full NHL campaign. Of those 24 goals, only one of them came on the power play.
I do not think Vrana necessarily needs to play on the top line to reach 30 goals, but I think you are correct in saying that he needs more power play time if he is going to get there and that is why I do not think he will.
Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, John Carlson and T.J. Oshie all return this season and I do not see Vrana replacing any of them. Unless he does, I see him being able to reach 30 goals at 5-on-5 play alone.
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.
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