Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Is it time for the Caps to move on from Braden Holtby?

J.J. Regan
NBC Sports Washington
Braden Holtby has been a wall for the Caps in net for several years, but on the final year of his contract and with Ilya Samsonov in Hershey, is it time for Washington to move on?

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Is it time for the Caps to move on from Braden Holtby?

Braden Holtby has been a wall for the Caps in net for several years, but on the final year of his contract and with Ilya Samsonov in Hershey, is it time for Washington to move on?

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Is it time for the Caps to move on from Braden Holtby? originally appeared on nbcsportswashington.com

It's time for a new Capitals mailbag! You can read Wednesday's Part 1 here.

Check out Part 2 below.

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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.

It may technically be the offseason for the players, but it certainly is not for Brian MacLellan who is busy preparing for the draft and figuring out what his roster is going to look like next season. The NHL draft takes place on June 21 and 22 and free agency begins July 1.

First, here's what MacLellan can't do: He cannot re-sign Braden Holtby or Nicklas Backstrom. Players are not able to negotiate a contract extension until they reach the final year of their contract and the league year begins on July 1. All of the team's other free agents, however, should be fair game.

In an offseason where the Caps have a lot of work to do, why haven't we heard anything yet? Because the team's entire offseason will depend on how much money it takes to re-sign Jakub Vrana.

Vrana is a restricted free agent and just scored 24 goals at the age of 23. He is going to be re-signed, but how much it costs will determine who and what else the Caps can afford. As he is playing in the World Championship right now, however, it does not make sense to re-sign him until the tournament is over since you never know what can happen injury wise.

At this point, MacLellan is likely meeting with scouts in preparation for the draft and reaching out to agents to figure out if certain free agents are open to a return and what the possible numbers could be. Deadlines tend to spark action so do not be surprised if we do not see a lot of movement on the team's free agents until June.

Victor L writes: With the Capitals' tight salary situation, and the eventual installation of Ilya Samsonov as the goaltender of the future, shouldn't the Caps consider trading Braden Holtby and just make the move now to Samsonov?

James P. writes: With Seattle commencing play in 2021, the expansion draft is only 1 season away. Given that teams are only able to protect 1 goalie, would Washington consider trading Holtby to a goaltender-desperate team such as Calgary or Edmonton now and bring up Ilya Samsonov one year early?

There is some merit to this argument in that, if the Caps intend to move on from Holtby to Samsonov, doing it now would allow the Caps to trade a valuable asset in Holtby and free up cap space. Having said that, no, this is not going to happen and it shouldn't.

An example of what you are talking about is when Tampa Bay had both Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy and elected to trade Bishop during the final year of his contract. The difference with that situation is that Vasilevskiy was in his third NHL season when Bishop was traded and was clearly ready to be an NHL starter.

Samsonov has never played in an NHL game. He just completed his first season in North America. I watched him play in the playoffs for Hershey and I saw a goalie with very raw skill who was still in need of serious development. To bring him to the NHL next season to be the starter would be unfair to him and unfair to the team. He's just not there yet.

This does set up a potential dilemma after the 2019-2020 season as the Caps will likely be forced to choose between Holtby and Samsonov. Holtby will be 30 at that point and will be looking for another long-term deal. If I am him, whatever Sergei Bobrovsky signs for this offseason would be my starting point in any negotiation. You do not sign Holtby long-term if you think you have a new budding starter in Samsonov.

So do you re-sign Holtby and trade a young future No. 1 or do you let Holtby walk as a free agent and turn the crease over to a player who, let's face it, probably won't have a ton of NHL experience again by next year?

It's a fascinating question. The bottom line is that the timing of all of this stinks for Washington, but you do not solve that problem by giving Samsonov too much too soon. He is not ready and that would be a massive mistake.

Ryuko M. writes: Do you guys think we will keep Braden Holtby after next year?

Looking at the team's salary cap, my prediction is that Washington will only be able to keep one of Backstrom or Holtby and I find it far more likely that Backstrom will be the guy who stays with Washington. The reason why is Bobrovsky.

Bobrovsky, 30, is an unrestricted free agent this season and is going to break the bank. He is a two-time Vezina winner with a 2.46 GAA and .919 save percentage in his career. Holtby's numbers are very similar with a 2.47 GAA and .918 save percentage. He has won the Vezina only once, but he blows Bobrovsky out of the water in terms of playoff performance. Holtby has won a Stanley Cup and has managed a 2.09 GAA and .928 save percentage, the fifth best playoff save percentage of all-time. Bobrovsky has won only one playoff series in his entire career and has a pedestrian 3.14 GAA and .902 save percentage.

Holtby is one year younger than Bobrovsky so he will reach free agency at the same point in his career. Based on the numbers above, Holtby is worth at least whatever Bobrovsky is if not more. I just do not see how the Caps can afford to commit $10+ million in cap space to a goalie on the wrong side of 30 when they already have cap issues and they have what they believe will be the next starter already in the pipeline.

Nathan S. writes: Given that he and Matt Niskanen struggled this year and many expect him to be traded, do you see much hope for Dmitry Orlov to improve or be traded as well?

Orlov is not going to get traded. This was not a great season for him, but in many ways, I thought he was weighed down by Niskanen who was the worse of the two. Plus, Niskanen is 32 so it is not a stretch to believe his best years may be behind him.

Niskanen is a possible trade target because of his age, because the Caps need the cap room and because despite his season he would still have value in a trade. It is a gamble, however, because you still have to replace him in the top four. Nick Jensen looks like he will take over that spot, but there is no obvious answer for who steps up without Orlov.

The bottom line is that if the Caps traded away two of their top-four defensemen in a single offseason, they would be completely cutting their own legs out from underneath them.

Orlov had a lot of turnover issues early in his career, but he has improved greatly in that area. Last season in particular I thought was very strong for him. This year, as I said, was a down year, but I think his reputation among the fanbase is hurting him worse than his play right now. He is a solid top-four defenseman in his prime and not someone the Caps should be looking into getting rid of.

Benjamin C. writes: Out of Carl Hagelin, Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky, we're definitely going to lose somebody (probably Connolly). Any chance we keep 2 out of the three? At least one of them?

If you want a deeper dive into the Caps' salary cap constraints this season, you can read this story I wrote in April. To summarize, if you take out all the UFAs and RFAs, Washington will have about $10 million in cap room to sign five forwards and a defenseman. Some of that money, probably somewhere in the $4 million range, is going to go to Vrana and another approximately $1 million is going to go to Christian Djoos. That leaves the Caps with about $5 million to sign four forwards.

See why there is all that speculation about trading Niskanen for cap room?

Of Hagelin, Connolly and Burakovsky, the player I see as most likely to leave is Hagelin. He was a trade deadline acquisition and will likely command more money on the free agent market than the Caps can afford. What will really stinks is if he goes back to Pittsburgh which is something I see as a definite possibility.

As for Connolly and Burakovsky, I definitely see scenarios in which either or both players stay. Connolly has crashed and burned on two other NHL teams before he finally found success with the Caps. Would comfort and fit prompt him to take a significant discount? As for Burakovsky who is an RFA, a qualifying offer of $3.25 million would likely be too steep, but perhaps Washington could explore the option of not qualifying him and then try to convince him to sign for less.

There is no way the team can afford two out of the three without freeing up cap space and even then, there is going to be a team out there willing to offer Connolly more money and a bigger role than what the Caps can. Without much forward depth in the pipeline, however, the Caps really need to find a way to keep at least one of these players. If I had to choose the most likely to stay at this point, I would say Burakovsky.

Holtby, Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson, Jakub Vrana, John Carlson, Michal Kempny and Dmitry Orlov are all back next season. That is a championship-caliber core so yes, the window is still open. But you cannot win without depth and that is the challenge this offseason. Can MacLellan add enough pieces around the core to keep this team among the Cup contenders?

As for how long the window will be open, given the age of some of the team's significant players, this becomes a year-by-year question. You cannot anticipate when players will begin to drop off or how much. When that happens, that changes the equation.

Is the window still open in 2019-20? Yes. Will it be beyond that? There's no way to know if Ovechkin will remain the caliber of scorer he is, if Holtby will still be the goalie or if Samsonov will be ready to take over, if Backstrom will still be with the team, if Oshie begins to decline physically, if the team is able to find key depth pieces, etc.

Yes, but his attitude sure isn't.

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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