Richard Panik

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Capitals have some huge decisions to make with key players

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Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan is going to have one of the more complex juggling acts in the NHL over the next year.

His team is just one year removed from its first ever Stanley Cup and is still, as currently constructed, a championship contender that should be one of the best teams in the league this season. They still have their core of stars in place, and they have worked to improve the depth around them with the recent additions of Carl Hagelin (before the trade deadline this past season), Richard Panik, and Garnet Hathaway.

For this season, everything is in place right for another run at a championship.

It is what happens after this season when things will get complicated as Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby will be eligible for unrestricted free agency, while Alex Ovechkin will be set to enter the final year of his contract.

Those are three of the most important players in the history of the Capitals franchise and the backbone of the team that finally brought the Stanley Cup to the district.

It is almost kind of hard to believe that Backstrom and Ovechkin are so close to the end of their deals given how long those contracts were. Ovechkin signed a 13-year, $124 million contract that began during the 2008-09 season, while Backstrom signed a 10-year, $67 million contract for the start of the 2010-11 season. Given how much the Capitals have received in return from those two they might be two of the best contracts signed during the salary cap era (honestly, the only other contenders are the Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin duo in Pittsburgh).

Now they are starting to reach their end because father time is a relentless monster that is always chasing after each and everyone of us. Time really does fly.

MacLellan’s challenge will be figuring out how to keep them, and which one to let go if it should come to that.

Let’s start with the obvious one: As long as he wants to play in the NHL it is almost impossible to believe that Ovechkin will ever wear a sweater that is not the Capitals. He is one of the “one team” icons in the sport, and there is no way Ted Leonsis is going to let him chase Wayne Gretzky’s goal record (and perhaps even reach it) with another team. That is just not going to happen. He stays.

But there is nothing the Capitals can do with Ovechkin’s contract until next July. They can, however, sign Backstrom or Holtby at any point starting right now.

This is where the big decision might have to come in, because given the constraints of the salary cap it is hard to see how they can fit all three on the team beyond this season.

The Capitals have a lot of players signed to long-term contracts, and already have 15 players under contract for 2020-21 and 13 players under contract for the 2021-22 season. Trying to figure out what the salary cap is going to look like in either of those years is nearly impossible right now, but the Capitals already have $62 million committed to their 2020-21 roster and nearly $50 million for the year after.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

That is a lot, and they not only have to worry about re-signing their superstars, but also filling out the remainder of the roster around them.

When it comes to prioritizing between Backstrom and Holtby the most sensible investment would seem to be Backstrom. He is a No. 1 center, still one of the best players in the world, and should continue to be a top-line performer into his 30s.

Will he decline some? Almost certainly. But what he gives the Capitals will still be better than the alternatives they might realistically be able to acquire.

That leaves Holtby. The problem the Capitals will have with Holtby is you already saw what his next contract might look like this summer when Sergei Bobrovsky signed with the Florida Panthers. That is going to be a massive contract to squeeze in under the cap when taking into account Backstrom’s next deal (which will probably be a raise, and maybe a significant one, from his current contract) and the eventual extension for Ovechkin (almost certainly $10 million-plus per season).

The only real to realistically do that is going to be shipping out another significant player in a trade.

Tom Wilson? T.J. Oshie? Dmitry Orlov? Or perhaps a combination depth players that are signed to term. The Lars Eller, Hagelin, and Panik trio will combine for $9 million against the cap in each of the next four seasons, all for depth players well into their 30s. Will that be the best use of salary cap space? (This is the risk with signing depth players to long-term contracts.)

But that is IF the Capitals want to make that sort of a commitment to Holtby.

He has been one of the best goalies in the league during his career and is still capable of shining in big moments and carrying the team when he is on top of his game. But over the past two seasons (and including the Stanley Cup year, when he did not even enter the playoffs as the starter) those moments have not been as frequent. He has started to shown signs of slowing down, and investing a seven-or eight-year contract into a goalie that will be 31 years old in the first year of his next deal could be too big of a risk.

If the Capitals have to move on from one of their big-three, Holtby is the most logical choice. He is the one that is probably least likely to retain most of his current value in future seasons, and even though he has been a top-tier goalie for so many years he is also probably the one they have the best chance of replacing.

The Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Holtby era has been an incredible success in Washington, winning two Presidents’ Trophy and a Stanley Cup all in the past four years.

But with their current contracts coming to an end it is entirely possible that one of them — probably Holtby — will be finishing their career in a different uniform barring some other significant change elsewhere on the roster.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT’s 2015 free agent frenzy tracker

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Throughout the day, we’ll be keeping tabs on all the signings across the NHL. Check back regularly for all the biggest signings, trades and other acquisitions from July 1:

Wednesday, July 1

• Washington signs Justin Williams: two years, $6.5 million (link)

• Arizona signs Antoine Vermette: two years, $7.5 million (link)

• Anaheim signs Shawn Horcoff: one year, $1.75 million (link)

• New Jersey signs Jim O’Brien to one-year, two-way deal

• Boston signs Matt Beleskey: five years, $19 million (link)

• Toronto signs Daniel Winnik: two years, $4.5 million (link)

• Columbus signs Gregory Campbell: two years, $3 million (link)

• Montreal signs Mark Barberio: one-year, two-way deal worth $600K at NHL level (link)

• Anaheim signs Matt Hackett to a two-year deal and Chris Mueller and Joe Piskula to one-year deals

• Detroit signs Brad Richards: one year, $3 million (link)

• Minnesota signs Zac Dalpe: one year, $ TBA

• Toronto signs Mark Arcobello: one year, $1.1 million

• Florida signs Cameron Gauce and Brett Regner: term and $ TBA

• Pittsburgh signs Steven Oleksy: one year, $575,000

• Pittsburgh signs Kevin Porter and Kael Mouillerat to matching one-year, $575,00 deals

• Detroit signs Mike Green: three years, $18 million (link)

• Boston extends Ryan Spooner: two years, $1.9 million (link)

• Pittsburgh signs Sergei Plotnikov: one year, $ TBA

• Ottawa signs Mike Kostka: one year, $800,000

• Minnesota signs Ruslan Fedotenko: one year, $ TBA

• Toronto extends  Richard Panik: one year, $975,000

• Vancouver signs Taylor Fedun: one year, $ TBA

• Ottawa signs Zack Stortini: two years, $ TBA

• Dallas extends Curtis McKenzie: two years, $1.35 million

• Buffalo signs Cal O’Reilly: two years, $1.4 million

• New York Rangers sign Viktor Stalberg: one year, $1.1 million (link)

• Toronto signs P.A. Parenteau: one year, $1.5 million (link)

• New Jersey signs John Moore: three years, $4.8 million (link)

• Nashville signs Cody Hodgson: one year, $1.05 million (link)

• New York Rangers sign Raphael Diaz: one year, $700,000

• Tampa Bay signs Eric Condra: three years, $3.75 million (link)

• Vancouver signs Richard Bachman: two years, $ TBA

• Pittsburgh signs David Warsofsky: one year, $600,000

• Minnesota extends Ryan Carter: one year, $625,000

• Chicago signs Viktor Tikhonov, one-year, $1.04 million (link)

• Winnipeg signs Alex Burmistrov: two years, $3.1 million (link)

• Nashville signs Barrett Jackman: two years, $2 million (link)

• Carolina extends Riley Nash: one year, $1.5 million

• St. Louis extends Chris Butler: one year, $675,000

• Minnesota extends Nate Prosser: two years, $1.25 million

• San Jose signs Paul Martin: four years, $19.4 million (link)

• Los Angeles signs Jhonas Enroth: one year, $1.25 million (link)

• Calgary signs Michael Frolik: five years, $21.5 million (link)

• Vancouver signs Matt Bartkowski: one year, $1.75 million (link)

• Arizona signs Zybnek Michalek: two years, $6.4 million (link)

• Arizona signs Dustin Jeffrey: one year, two-way deal

• Arizona signs Steve Downie: one year, $1.75 million (link)

• Arizona signs Anders Lindback: one year, $875,000 (link)

• Arizona signs Brad Richardson: three years, $6.24 million (link)

• Colorado signs Francois Beauchemin: three years, $13.5 million (link)

• Colorado signs Blake Comeau: three years, $7.2 million (link)

• Edmonton signs Mark Letestu: three years, $5.4 million (link)

• Edmonton signs Andrej Sekera: six years, $33 million (link)

• Winnipeg extends Matt Halischuk: one year, $750,000

• Philadelphia signs Michal Neuvirth: two years, $3.25 million (link)

• New York Islanders sign Thomas Greiss; two years, $3 million (link)

• Washington extends Stanislav Galiev: two years, $1.15 million

• Toronto signs Matt Hunwick: two years, $2.4 million (link)

• Winnipeg extends Adam Pardy: one year, $1 million (link)

• Vancouver extends Yannick Weber: one year, $1.5 million (link)

• Minnesota extends Mikael Granlund: two years, $6 million (link)

• Detroit extends Tom McCollum: one year, $ TBA

• Detroit extends Andy Miele: one year, $575,000 (link)

• Calgary extends Karri Ramo: one year, $3.9 million (link)

• Dallas extends Patrick Eaves: one year, $1.15 million (link)

• Nashville extends Mike Ribeiro: two years, $7 million (link)

• Chicago extends Artem Anisimov: five years, $22.75 million (link)

• Anaheim extends Kevin Bieksa: two years, $8 million (link)

Previous deals of note (post-draft)

• Brandon Saad, Michael Paliotta and Alex Broadhurst to Columbus for Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp and a ’16 fourth-rounder (link)

• Detroit re-signs Brendan Smith: two years, $5.5 million (link)

• Kevin Bieksa to Anaheim for a ’16 second-rounder (link)

• Isles re-sign Anders Lee: four years, $15 million (link)

• Martin Jones to San Jose for a ’16 first-rounder and Sean Kuraly; Sharks sign Jones to three-year, $9 million deal (link)

• Jets re-sign Stafford: two years, $8.7 million (link)

• Calgary signs Dougie Hamilton: six years, $34.5 million (link)

Video: Blackhawks’ Shaw fined $2,000 for diving/embellishment

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Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw has been fined $2,000 by the NHL for diving/embellishment.

From the league:

Shaw was issued a Warning following an incident flagged by NHL Hockey Operations during NHL Game No. 228 against Tampa Bay on Nov. 11. His second Citation, which triggered the $2,000 fine, was issued for an incident during NHL Game No. 1138 against Los Angeles on March 30. Shaw drew a delayed penalty to Los Angeles forward Mike Richards on the play, at 5:24 of the first period. The penalty to Richards was nullified when Chicago scored seven seconds later.

Shaw becomes the ninth player to be fined for diving/embellishment this season, joining Washington’s Tom Wilson, Toronto’s Richard Panik, Islanders goalie Michal Neuvirth (fine occurred while with Buffalo), the Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck, Detroit’s Gustav Nyquist, Florida’s Vincent Trocheck, Nashville’s James Neal and Montreal’s P.K. Subban, who has been fined twice.

Caps’ Wilson the latest to be fined for diving

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Washington forward Tom Wilson has been fined $2,000 for diving/embellishment, the NHL announced on Friday.

From the league:

Wilson was issued a Warning following an incident flagged by NHL Hockey Operations during NHL Game No. 936 against Toronto on March 1. His second Citation, which triggered the $2,000 fine, was issued for an incident during NHL Game No. 1057 at Minnesota on March 19.

Wilson received a minor penalty for embellishment on the play, at 14:45 of the second period.

Video of the incident:

With that, Wilson becomes the eighth player to be fined for diving this season, joining Toronto’s Richard Panik, Islanders goalie Michal Neuvirth (fine occurred while with Buffalo), the Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck, Detroit’s Gustav Nyquist, Florida’s Vincent Trocheck and Nashville’s James Neal and Montreal’s P.K. Subban, who has been fined twice.

PHT Morning Skate: Brandon Pirri loses his stick to a fan

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Florida Panthers forward Brandon Pirri scored twice in Thursday night’s 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Pirri now has 16 goals in 22 games. However, he may have lost his lucky stick. During the third period Leafs forward Richard Panik flipped Pirri’s stick over the glass (see video below). Panik received a misconduct on the play. A lucky fan five rows up received a nice souvenir as a result.

“That was a weird play,” chuckled Pirri post-game. “It got pretty deep in the crowd.”

Want to have former New York Yankee Derek Jeter as a neighbor? Buy Vincent Lecavalier’s house. Lecavalier’s Florida home, which is a few doors down from Jeter, is currently on the market. (Tampa Bay Times)

Editor’s Note: Play one-day fantasy hockey tonight! Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $20,000 league for Friday’s NHL games. It’s just $2 to join and first place wins $2,000. Starts Friday at 8:00pm ET. Enter Now!

A young Boston Bruins fan received a hockey card Thursday night. Liam Fitzgerald, who was born with Down syndrome and beat a leukemia diagnosis, received the card from Upper Deck.

Connor McDavid had quite an impact on attendance in the Ontario Hockey League this season. Teams entertaining McDavid saw a 20 percent increase in attendance when the Erie Otters were in town. (NHLtoSeattle.com)

Darren Helm’s girlfriend gave birth to the couple’s daughter on a Michigan highway this week. (Detroit Red Wings)

Actor Matthew Perry was on Jimmy Kimmel Live this week and discussed his friendship with L.A. Kings’ forward Anze Kopitar.

Ken Campbell writes the Arizona Coyotes need to win the NHL Draft lottery more than the Buffalo Sabres. (The Hockey News)