Each week during the regular season and about once per round during the playoffs, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman writes his popular 31 Thoughts column. In the current column, two of the thoughts (numbers 20 and 21) were about the Capitals.
If you want to read the entire 31 Thoughts column, I highly recommend it and always find it interesting and informative.
Below are those thoughts and our analysis.
20. Another team that will not rebuild with its franchise player still around: Washington. The NHL is moving to a place where young players are getting big cash, but the Capitals have estate-planning to do. Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby will be approaching 33 and 31 when their contracts are up next summer. Alexander Ovechkin will be months shy of 36 when he’s up in two years. The closest comparison is probably San Jose. Brent Burns was 32 when he received an eight-year extension, Marc-Edouard Vlasic 30 and Logan Couture 29.
They gave Joe Pavelski a five-year contract when he was 30, and we haven’t even mentioned Patrick Marleau or Joe Thornton. Everything Capitals GM Brian MacLellan is considering revolves around Ovechkin, the greatest player in franchise history. (Backstrom and Holtby are pretty high on that list, too.)
Ted Leonsis is going to do everything in his power to make sure that Ovechkin retires in a Capitals jersey and that he never wears another NHL team’s jersey in between. To a slightly lesser degree, Leonsis probably feels the same way about Backstrom, who has the high hockey IQ and skill set to be an effective player well into his 30’s.
I don’t know if the same can be said about Holtby. While he is a great goaltender and has proven himself to be an elite goaltender, there are hurdles to Holtby spending his entire career or even the foreseeable future in DC. The first is the cost. Secondly, the upcoming Seattle expansion draft means that the Caps will only be able to protect one goaltender and it is hard to see the Capitals protecting a more expensive and older goalie in Holtby, when his heir apparent, former first round pick Ilya Samsonov, is waiting in the wings and will likely be considerably cheaper while on his entry level agreement and into his restricted free agent years.
21. Washington would love to get Jakub Vrana done long-term and keep Brett Connolly, but you know they’re also going to see what Backstrom/Holtby are thinking. Then, there’s The Great Eight. There was a time they thought he’d finish this contract and consider playing in Russia. Now? He had another incredible season and competed as hard as anyone in the playoffs. The Gretzky all-time goals chase is on, and what a story that pursuit would be. At the trade deadline, I think the Capitals “softly” checked the market on Matt Niskanen, but, even though he didn’t have a great year, he’s a good player. One exec said Washington made it clear “it would hurt” to move him. (They did put winger Maximilian Kammerer on unconditional waivers on Tuesday.)
Capitals GM, Brian MacLellan, has stated that locking up Vrana is his top priority. I believe that GMBM also wants to keep both Connolly and Carl Hagelin, but I don’t believe that he will wait until matters are resolved or serious discussions have taken place with Backstrom and Holtby. Keeping both Connolly and Hagelin will be difficult without moving out some salary. That’s where Niskanen comes into play. The Capitals have a good pipeline of young defensemen in their system, but few young forwards that are poised to play in the Caps top six. I think that losing Niskanen would be a blow to the Caps defense corps, but that may be what is needed to allow the Caps to fill the potential voids in the forward lines.
The other question is whether the Caps can justify paying what Connolly will likely want to be paid if he remains on the third line and he does not play any special team roles. Hagelin on the other hand is capable of playing on multiple lines and is an asset on the penalty kill. GMBM will have his work cut out for him this summer, but he has shown himself to be forward thinking and is very deliberate in what he sets out to do after establishing a plan. This much we do know. The Caps will likely look very different when the 2019-20 season begins.