Welcome to our Penn Quarter Sports Tavern’s Friday 6-Pack of Questions, where we aim to keep it real while answering your most pressing questions regarding the Washington Capitals.
Let’s get started.
@rtomoff16 Do you think [Braden] Holtby and [Philipp] Grubauer are the future goaltenders for the Capitals?
That sure seemed to be the case two months ago, but if Jaroslav Halak can get the Caps into the playoffs all bets are off. [More on that in our next question]. I talked with Holtby on Thursday for a story I’m posting later today. He still has another year left on his contract and, quite honestly, he’s taken his demotion to second-string goaltender better than I expected. I thought Holtby was the Caps’ best player in San Jose Saturday night when they earned two very crucial points. And don’t forget the Caps have three more back-to-back games in their final nine, including this weekend against the Bruins at home and Nashville on the road. Unless Halak can channel his inner 2010 I would not be surprised to see Holtby and Grubauer as the Caps’ two goalies next season and although both are young, that’s not a bad thing. The only way to develop young goalies is to play them and the Caps need to commit themselves to that at some point.
@justinhines16 I really like Halak, any chance he signs an extension in the offseason? Grabovski? Penner?
It would be nice to see all three players in the Caps lineup at the same time. I also like the way Halak has played. The guy has plenty of incentive after seeing the Blues trade him for a goalie [Ryan Miller] they think gives them a better chance to win the Stanley Cup. If that doesn’t motivate Halak, maybe playing for a new contract will. The question I need to ask if I’m the Capitals is how much do I want to spend on a goalie? At 28, Halak is in his prime earning years and he’ll likely be seeking an increase on the $4.5 million he’s making in the final year of the four-year, $15 million contract he signed with the Blues. If the Caps do not make the playoffs I don’t see them re-signing Halak. But if he leads them to the post-season and plays well I wouldn’t be shocked to see him back. As for Grabovski and Penner, I think there is a better chance Grabovski comes back. His price on the open market could take a hit because of his ankle injury, which might need additional healing in the offseason. If I could get Grabovski for $4 million I’d sign him and make him my second-line center with Evgeny Kuznetsov and either Tom Wilson or Troy Brouwer. As for Penner, he’ll be seeking a new contract elsewhere.
RELATED: [Oates pushes Capitals through a tough skate]
@CapsYapp Q: in projecting Tom Wilson's progress in the future lineup, do you see him top 6 or a 3rd line mainstay?
I need to see Wilson play regularly with skilled players to know if he has the hands to play top six. He’s already shown he can throw the fists and take the body hits and he’s done it without taking bad penalties or getting injured. Wilson is also one of just four NHL rookies to play in every game this season. To me, that’s enough to warrant third-line minutes. But with Alex Ovechkin, Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward ahead of him and under contract next season, who does Wilson bump out of a spot? That’s where the Caps could get creative in their quest for a much-needed top-four defenseman.
@PatrOne Is there a rift between GMGM and Oates? How does GMGM react to quality acquisitions [Erat & Penner] on 4th line?
I have not yet met a coach and GM who agreed wholeheartedly on how players are being used. I remember Ken Hitchcock refusing the play Patrick Sharp more than 8 minutes a night, pretty much forcing Bob Clarke to trade him to Chicago for Matt Ellison and a third-round pick. That’s why I have no problem with coaches having an input in player personnel. In the case of Oates, he wants left-handed players on the left side and righties on the right. Many Europeans, including Marty Erat, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin, have played most of their careers playing their off-wing. Erat, a left-handed-shooting right wing, fell into that category and never really fit in on the left side because of it. In the case of Penner, he was acquired to help the second line, but that was before Evgeny Kuznetsov arrived and played well enough to replace Penner on that line. If I look at the Caps’ depth chart on the left side, Penner’s on my fourth line. That doesn’t mean there is a rift between Oates and George McPhee. It just means Oates sees Kuznetsov as a better fit than Penner on the second line.
@yesisaiditfirst Chuck, many hockey elite media expecting that GMGM is done if the Caps miss [playoffs]. How far must he get 2 keep job?
Every time I go on Canadian radio I get this question. I don’t profess to know the position Caps owner Ted Leonsis takes on this subject, but I do think that at the start of the season he expected this team to make the playoffs. If they fail to reach the post-season for the first time in seven years, I think changes will be made. I’m just not sure if they’ll start at the top. I do know that when your team has the NHL’s top goal scorer in four of the last seven seasons big things are expected. Your question will answer itself in the coming weeks.
@MikeLeeTaylor Losing 2-goal leads... Bad coaching or bad execution?
It’s happened 13 times to the Caps this season and that’s believed to be the most in the NHL. Clearly, the Caps have proven this season that a two-goal lead is one of the least safe in hockey. Since the arrival of Ovechkin the Caps have been built to score goals first and defend their own zone second and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Despite Oates’ efforts to make the Caps a better defensive team they still rank 10th in the NHL in goals and 24th in goals allowed. The Capitals look like a team that has trouble recognizing how to play with multiple-goal leads, especially when they jump out to them early in games. Part of that is coaching. But it’s also having players who are mentally strong enough to play to know the difference between a safe offensive play and a risky one. The Bruins, who come to Verizon Center on Saturday, might be the NHL’s best team at taking a lead and choking an opponents’ offensive chances the rest of the way. They proved it again Thursday night in their 3-0 win over Chicago. To answer your question, good coaching yields good execution.