Jakub Vrana

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Caps Goal of the Year Bracket: Kuznetsov's silky mitts vs Vrana's steal and snipe

Caps Goal of the Year Bracket: Kuznetsov's silky mitts vs Vrana's steal and snipe

With less than a month before training camp opens in mid-September, we are taking one last look back at the 2018-19 season as we dive into the best goals of last year. We compiled our bracket based on the cumulative rankings of our Capitals team, from reporters to producers and everyone in between, and now is your turn to help us determine the best Capitals goal of 2018-19. Below is a Slack conversation between the members of our Capitals content team. 

jmurph: Another day, another matchup in our Goal of the Year bracket. Today we’ve got Kuzy’s sweet hands against Jakub Vrana turning defense to offense. Who wants to lead us off?

Rob Carlin: Love the Vrana goal. Love everything about it. Great stick lift & steal, finished like a goal scorer — and got the face wash from Ovi. Love it. But Kuzy was magical. Vrana is like Strasburg — dominant 7 innings but doesn’t get a decision.

jmurph: The face wash isn't the best part of the goal, but it's definitely my favorite part.

timmcdonough: I’m with Rob... these are two sweet stick-handling displays, but Kuznetsov makes it looks soooo easy. I lost count of the dekes in there, then to pull it around the goalie and in the net, like the puck was Velcro’d to his stick.

bmcnally: The hard work that went into the Vrana goal was so impressive. Never gave up on the play. That was a beauty. But I agree with Rob. It looked like Kuznetsov put a spell on the Ducks goalie there. To do that near full speed and end up deking him that bad is ridiculous.

Rob Carlin: And it wasn’t a quick face wash. Ovi stayed with it.

jmurph: Not to mention, Kuzy helped turn the puck over in the neutral zone before rampaging down the wing. I could watch the replay of that goal on repeat and never get tired of it.

Rob Carlin: Didn’t Vrana take a tough loss earlier in this bracket? He’s turning into Gonzaga. High hopes but gut-punching losses.

bmcnally: Ryan Miller must still wake up at night this summer in a cold sweat thinking about what Kuznetsov did there. It's like he was hypnotized. We won't talk about how that game against the Ducks ended, but it's so, so good.

timmcdonough: I’m already looking ahead to round 2, which is always dangerous, but we’re gonna have some ridiculous matchups...

jmurph: Hopefully we can find a Vrana goal to sneak in there because he definitely deserves a shout. He scored some beauties last year and is having some terrible luck on these draws.


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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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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: If the Caps wanted to re-sign Holtby, could they even make it work?

Capitals Mailbag Part 1: If the Caps wanted to re-sign Holtby, could they even make it work?

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.