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Japers’ Rink Mailbag: Deals, Defense, and Drinking

Backstrom, Holtby, Orlov, Kempny and more in the return of the Japers’ Rink Mailbag.

Carolina Hurricanes v Washington Capitals - Game Five Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

It’s hot outside, hockey’s on hiatus for another two months... seems like the perfect time to take some of your questions as the Japers’ Rink Mailbag returns!

In case you didn’t know, two huge staples of the Washington Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby, are playing on the last year of their current contracts. Both are eligible to sign an extension with the Capitals at any time. Brian MacLellan has publicly stated that he will talk with both during the summer about extensions and get a grasp on the numbers they are looking for. But looking at how the Capitals are already up against the cap without any major contracts coming off the books next season, there’s probably not enough room to extend both unless they sign team-friendly deals.

So how will these deals look? Let’s start with our Swedish leader. Backstrom is one of the most elite passers in the league that has put up at least 18 goals and 50 assists in his last six seasons. He’s good at both ends of the ice and has been a great leader in his time with Washington. It’s also worth noting that Backstrom has been playing for pennies on the dollar for what he’s worth for almost ten years now.

When trying to find a good predictable number for a contract it’s good to find a comparable. It isn’t easy finding one for Backstrom, but a similar one would be Joe Thornton. Both elite playmakers that see the ice like no one else. Backstrom may not be as good as Thornton but he has a Cup so money should look similar. Thornton signed a new contract with the San Jose Sharks in 2012 when he was 32 years old for three years with a AAV of $7M. At the time that was about 10.9% of the cap for his team. 10.9% of the cap for the Capitals, assuming the cap goes up another $2M next summer like it did this offseason, would be a bit over $9.1M ($9,101,500 to be exact).

So a three year deal at $9M sounds about right, but the way MacLellan was talking about how he would like to get sentimental for Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin makes one think they might be willing to go longer than three years. So maybe a five year deal closer to $8M would make everyone happy. But again, remember the Capitals have been underpaying Backstrom for a long time. Him and his agent could be demanding more because they might feel like they are owed more for everything he’s done for this team; and they wouldn’t be wrong.

Then again, Backstrom seems like the sweetest guy in the world and could sign for league minimum for eight years. Who knows. But a smart, educated guess (and remember I’m neither) would be three to six years with a AAV of $8M-$9M. And obviously how he plays this upcoming season will also play a big part in the numbers.

Holtby’s next contract is a bit easier to predict since Sergei Bobrovsky is about as damn close as you can get to a comparable and he just signed a 7 year $10M AAV contract with the Florida Panthers. Bobrovsky is almost exactly a year older so Holtby’s new contract will start at almost the same age when Bob’s new contract starts this season. They entered the league in 2010, and since then, per Corsica, Holtby has played 499 games with a 3.96 WAR/82. Bobrovsky, in that same time span, has played 479 games with a 3.71 WAR/82. So through the years Holtby has been slightly better and he has a Cup to add to his resume.

It’s safe to say Bobrovsky’s 7 year $10MM AAV contract is pretty much what Holtby will be seeking next summer, unless he has a drastically terrible season. Even then he’d get something much higher than his current $6.1M AAV contract.

The answer is A; it’s always A.

But more seriously, there’s absolutely no way Holtby is traded this summer or even this season. That just won’t happen. The Capitals would have to be doing pretty terrible for something like that to happen and I just can’t see it. But it’s probably smart to prepare yourself the fact this is most likely Holtby’s last season playing for the Capitals.

As stated above, Holtby will probably be looking for a contract similar to Bobrovsky’s seven year $10M AAV contract. The first question is it even possible to fit a contract like that on the Capitals roster? Unless the cap goes way up and the Capitals start shedding a salary or two, there’s just about no chance the Capitals could fit a $10M AAV contract on their roster. The alternate is Holtby takes a nice home discount and signs for $8M or $9M, which would be hard to see. This is the last chance he will have at signing a big contract, it’s unlikely he’ll skip on that.

The second question after “could they” is “should they”? The answer is most definitely no, they shouldn’t. Unlike Backstrom, Holtby has an elite replacement in the AHL that could be NHL ready this very season. For Backstrom, the Capitals only have one top six center replacement and that’s Connor McMichael who 1) isn’t definite to be a top six center and 2) won’t be NHL ready for at least two years, probably three. But when it comes to Holtby he could be replaced and not missed (playing wise not emotionally wise) because Ilya Samsonov is looking very promising. Also, it just isn’t wise to invest big money and long term to goalies that will be 30. It’s proven that goalies decline at that age and throwing big money at a declining goalie is the kind of move that can handcuff a team for years.

The only way it makes sense to re-sign Holtby is if 1) he signs a very team friendly deal and 2) the Capitals are able to trade him in 1-2 years or allow him to be taken by Seattle in the expansion draft. Anything beyond that just isn’t wise or fiscally doable for the Capitals.

If the Capitals have a lot of one thing, besides goofy Russians, it’s left handed defensemen throughout their system. In the NHL they have Dmitry Orlov, Michal Kempny, Christian Djoos, and Jonas Siegenthaler. Then starting in the AHL this season they have Alexander Alexeyev, Lucas Johansen, Martin Fehervary, Bobby Nardella, Tobias Geisser, and Kris Bindulis. Sebastian Walfridsson is playing over in Europe. That’s eleven left handed defensemen, enough to make almost four teams worth. That’s a lot.

All the left handed defensemen listed at the NHL are very good. The fact that the Capitals will need to choose between Siegenthaler or Djoos every night this season is a great problem to have. Then the first three listed for the AHL (Alexeyev, Johansen, Fehervary) all look very promising. It isn’t definite they reach their potential, but if they do they will need space at the NHL level sooner rather than later. Director of Player Development for the Capitals, Steve Richmond, just weeks ago during prospect camp mentioned Alexeyev and Fehervary as players who will be NHL ready soon, maybe even this season.

It’s probably safe to assume, that as right handers, John Carlson and Nick Jensen are safe (Radko Gudas probably won’t be here longer than his one year contract), so that leaves four other positions there for the taking starting in the 2020 season. Just doing the simple math it’s easy to see it won’t work. Orlov, Kempny, Djoos, Siegenthaler, Alexeyev, Johansen, and Fehervary leaves seven defensemen to fill four spots. With the league getting younger, faster and needing good players on cheap contracts, it seems Orlov, Kempny, and Djoos are on borrowed time (I didn’t list Siegenthaler because he’s still essentially a prospect and the Capitals seem to be very high on him).

The Capitals probably don’t want to trade Orlov, Kempny, or Djoos but at some point their hands may be forced to move at least a couple of them, either because they need cap space or it gets to a point they will hinder development of Alexeyev, Johansen, Fehervary, or others if they stay in the minors any longer. So if the young kids can reach their top level (obviously that’s still a question) it would be very surprising to see guys like Kempny, Djoos and Orlov finish out their current contracts here. A best guess is Djoos and Kempny will be moved over the next two years then the Capitals will hold onto Orlov as long as they possibly can either until they need space or if Orlov ever declines too much.

I’m contacting Ted Leonsis right now to ban you and your family from Capital One Center. Your family should absolutely never go to another game in your life. As the gang from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia has stated, the fans and their superstitions control the fate of their team. If you do anything wrong in your rituals and the team loses, the L falls onto you.

For instance, during the 2018 playoff run to the Cup, I watched the first two game overtimes against the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Caps lost both. From that day forward anytime the Capitals went to overtime I took my dogs on a long walk and turned off my phone. Then when we returned home I came back to an overtime win every single time. Yes, that means I didn’t even see Evgeny Kuznetsov’s OT winner against the Pittsburgh Penguins, arguably the biggest playoff moments in Capitals history outside of Lars Eller game winning goal in game five against Vegas.

Yes, I sacrificed my pleasure for the Capitals win. Please, hold your applause, it’s what any red blood Capitals fan would do... right? And that’s why I ban you and your family from the Capital One Center. Not to be harsh for harsh sake but to do what is right. You’re welcome, Capitals fans.


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