Two of the biggest names among impending unrestricted free agents belong to the Washington Capitals. Long-time cornerstone Caps and Stanley Cup winners Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby will both see their current contracts expire this summer, barring an extension before then. Yet, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that there has been little in the way of contract talks between Washington and either Backstrom or Holtby. LeBrun states that the team has decided to be patient with the decisions, letting the season play out as a way to better gauge their needs moving forward. He adds that the team is on the same page with both camps in this regard as well. It could be that the team waits through the whole season before making a call on Backstrom and Holtby, taking both individual and team performances into account. Thus far, Holtby, 30, has struggled in net – for the second year in a row at that – posting an .884 save percentage and 3.60 GAA in eight games for the Capitals, losing three starts to 22-year-old Ilya Samsonov. Continued poor performance, especially in light of Samsonov’s strong play, could convince Washington GM Brian MacLellan that he does not need to pay the premium price required to retain the 30-year-old Holtby. Meanwhile, Backstrom is still playing at the same elite level, recording nine points in eleven games so far and leading all Capitals forwards in even strength ice time. The 32-year-old has been the epitome of consistency throughout his whole career, recording 882 points in 906 career games while skating in less than 90% of Washington’s games in a given season just once. It’s hard to say that Backstrom has ever had a bad season and it may be difficult for MacLellan and company to say goodbye to a player who has never given any indication that his days and an impact player are anywhere close to being over, unless they determine that the Capitals days as true contenders are over and the team is in need of transition. The salary cap will of course play a major role in these decisions as well. Washington has $63.5MM tied up in just 14 players next season, and likely lack the space needed to re-sign both Holtby and Backstrom while filling out the rest of the roster. Which way they go, re-signing on or the other or perhaps neither, will be a tough call and the Capitals are smart to use all of the information available, including this season’s results, to make that decision.
- TSN colleague Bob McKenzie also notes today that Hockey Canada is in the beginning stages of forming their official roster for the 2020 World Junior Championships later this winter and are hoping that they can count on the three players currently in the NHL who also qualify for inclusion on the U-20 roster: the Coyotes’ Barrett Hayton, the Blackhawks’ Kirby Dach, and the Islanders’ Noah Dobson. The pair of centers and dynamic defensemen are each of their respective team’s top prospects, but their usage so far this season has been minimal. All three of Hayton, Dach, and Dobson have played in just two NHL games so far this year and are still eight games away from burning a year on their entry-level contracts. However, for Hayton and Dobson, McKenzie does not believe that the ten-game limit is a concern, as he doesn’t feel Arizona nor New York plan on sending their promising prospect back to the junior level. That doesn’t mean that they can’t still be loaned to Team Canada for the WJC though; it is not an uncommon practice for young pros in need of experience playing at different levels of competition instead of solely in the NHL to briefly leave their clubs for the international exhibition. With that said, both the ‘Yotes and the Isles hope to be playoff teams and may be unwilling to give up top young players mid-season, especially if they have become regular contributors. As for Dach, it is still unclear what Chicago’s intentions are this season. The youngest of the group, the No. 3 overall pick in June, Dach has spent some time in the AHL this season and has seen limited ice time in his two games with the Blackhawks. The team could still decide he would be better off with another year in the WHL, although McKenzie believes they are not yet ready to make that decision. Either way, Dach stands the best chance of participating in the WJC, given his current role in Chicago and the expectations of the team this season.
- LeBrun also reports that, while there haven’t been any in-person meetings this month, collective bargaining continues between the NHL and NHLPA. Back in September, both the league and the players’ association declined to use their opt-out clause in the CBA, which would have prematurely ended the current agreement after this season. The decisions extended the CBA through the 2021-22 season, giving the parties plenty of time to work through their issues. However, both sides felt comfortable in declining their opt-outs as a result of positive ongoing talks and all stakeholders of hockey wanted to see that progress continue. LeBrun writes that those talks have not stalled, but are simply now ongoing in a more behind-the-scenes fashion. The hope is that the NHL and NHLPA can sort out a new collective bargaining agreement long before the September 2022 expiration date of the current deal and put to rest any thoughts of another work stoppage. Continued talks are a good sign that labor peace will come easier this time than in years past.