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Capitals optimistic about new deal for Holtby

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

TAMPA, Fla. -- To make everything fit this offseason for the Washington Capitals, there’s an order in which GM Brian MacLellan plans to address the expiring contracts.

He has three restricted free agents he’d like to re-sign before anything else: goalie Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson.

“That would be the priority,” he said when we chatted last week. “We have a cap we’re working on, and you need to know how much you have to fill the holes you have. We have some [unrestricted free-agent] guys too. We’re not going to be able to afford all of them. We’re going to have to allocate dollars to where we think it helps our team the most.”

The biggest factor in how those dollars are allocated is the new deal coming for Holtby. This isn’t an easy deal because Holtby has proved he is one of the league’s best goalies and he’s going to be signing a deal that spans both restricted free agent and unrestricted free agent years. MacLellan also understands that term on a goalie is a dangerous thing, that you’re better off paying more per season to keep the term reasonable -- the way Columbus did with Sergei Bobrovsky. As some teams have learned, there’s nowhere to hide a bad goalie contract.

“If it doesn’t work, you’re in trouble,” MacLellan acknowledged. “There are three or four cases where it hurts the team.”

On the other hand, he’d also like to add a top-six winger and keep at least one of his unrestricted free agents so they’ll want to keep the cap hit reasonable. It’s a definite balancing act.

MacLellan also said that if you’re giving term to a goalie, it’d better be someone you’re convinced is one of the best in league.

“You just have to make sure he’s the real deal,” he said.

Does Holtby fall into that category?

“Yeah,” MacLellan said. “I think so.”

MacLellan expressed optimism in where the contract talks between the Capitals and Holtby were headed, a good thing since the opening of the free-agent window is quickly approaching. MacLellan still wants to get a deal done with at least one of his UFAs, maybe Eric Fehr or Joel Ward, but that is hard to do without cost certainty in goal.

“We’re negotiating,” he said of the Holtby talks. “We’re trying to get a good deal done for both parties. He’s a priority for us. I think we’ll get it done. It seems to be going the proper way in negotiations.”

A few more notes from around the NHL

• MacLellan still hasn’t entirely ruled out re-signing defenseman Mike Green, but the more you talk to him and his goals this offseason, the less it makes sense. Green had a salary-cap hit of $6 million, and with the raises coming for the other Capitals free agents MacLellan wants to retain, that number doesn’t work. Any deal to stay in Washington would have to be less than that, likely significantly less, and this is Green’s last chance at another big contract in the NHL.

“He has a decision and we have a decision,” MacLellan said. “There’s a point where you go: ‘That’s just too much for us. I can’t participate in that.’ He’s looking for a fit; I don’t think total dollars is his No. 1 priority. He wants to play on a winning team, but you’re still going to have to pay.”

• The other factor in the Capitals' offseason game plan is how much the top-six winger is going to cost. MacLellan wants someone with experience, especially if they’re going to slot in with Kuznetsov. A player like Patrick Sharp is a perfect fit, but he won’t be cheap at $5.9 million through 2016-17. MacLellan is still getting a feel for the trade market, one that won’t heat up until the conclusion of the Stanley Cup finals.

“Guys are starting to discuss names,” MacLellan said. “People are just getting things set up.”

In his pursuit of a top-six winger, MacLellan said he wouldn’t be moving his first-round pick. The Capitals are at No. 22 in the first round, an area of the draft where they’ve had good success with assistant GM Ross Mahoney running things.

“Yes,” MacLellan said. “Ross would get mad [otherwise]. He’d get really mad. That’s a lot of work to wait to pick until the second or third round.”

• Every year there’s speculation that teams looking to add young assets would take on bad salaries in return for prospects or draft picks and, aside from the Cody Franson trade to Toronto, we haven’t seen it play out. With the salary cap stagnant, this might be the year it happens. Arizona is definitely a candidate to take on bad contracts if it can add young players. The Coyotes might need to do it to get the floor. Buffalo has the room to do it too. An interesting team to watch on that front is Calgary. After making the playoffs, the Flames are somewhere in between in the rebuilding process, but GM Brad Treliving would still like to bolster the organization with more youth. According to war-on-ice.com, the Flames have about $44 million committed to salaries next season, giving them flexibility. Calgary remains willing to take on a bad contract for the right return, but the term has to be shorter than in previous years because of money the Flames are setting aside for future deals for Mark Giordano, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and T.J. Brodie.

And now, a few from the mailbag:

Craig,

This won’t happen but humor me. Assuming the NHL decided to contract the Coyotes and host a dispersal draft -- who would be in your top 5?

Rick Luthra

via email

Rick,

Great question. You’re right, I don’t see a scenario where this happens, but it’s a fun thought exercise. I’m not sure how it would work either because there’s a pretty big drop-off as the draft goes on, but my Arizona Coyotes mock dispersal draft (based on this year’s draft order) would look something like this:

1. Edmonton Oilers: Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He’s going to win a Norris Trophy at some point in the next five years. He just needs a Victor Hedman-like playoff run for everyone to appreciate just how good he is right now.

2. Buffalo Sabres: Max Domi. Imagine a top line in Buffalo centered by Jack Eichel with Domi and Evander Kane on the wing. Not bad.

3. Toronto Maple Leafs: Anthony Duclair. He doesn’t fill Toronto’s need for a good young center but gives them high-end speed on the wing.

4. Carolina Hurricanes: Brandon Gormley. I’m a little surprised he hasn’t made more of an NHL impact at this point, but Gormley is a well-thought-of defenseman who is still just 23 years old.

5. New Jersey Devils: Brendan Perlini. He was the No. 12 overall pick for the Coyotes in the 2014 draft and had 60 points in 43 games for Niagara this season.

As a former Whalers and Thrashers fan (yes -- cursed twice!), I’m saddened for the fans in Arizona who have to deal with the ownership and now arena mess. If the Coyotes relocate, any chance at all they play in Atlanta or Hartford as a stopgap until their new city is ready? What a trial run for both cities to prove hockey didn’t die.

Brass Bonanza

Atlanta

Oh man, you really are cursed. I definitely feel for Coyotes fans right now. They deserve so much better than what’s happening in the desert. It’s also an embarrassment for the league that we have an incredible Stanley Cup finals going on between the Lightning and Blackhawks, yet we’re talking about the Coyotes and Glendale City Council.

Coyotes ownership appears to be digging in to fight this and it’s headed to the courts, which likely means at least one more season in Glendale before any relocation. Hypothetically, if there were a need for an emergency relocation for the Coyotes I’d put Portland or KeyArena in Seattle at the top of the list before anything East.

Hi Craig,

Given Chicago’s cap situation and Brandon Saad’s excellent play in the post-season, how likely is it that another team might try to steal him via offer sheet and if so, who are the likely candidates?

Dan

Chicago

I’ve had multiple conversations about offer sheets with NHL GMs, and they’re convinced we’ll finally see one this summer after it’s been underutilized over the years. The reason one GM gave me for the lack of offer sheets is that most of them feel it’s an exercise in futility, that teams always automatically match. So if you sign a player to an offer sheet, all you’re doing is upsetting salary structure for young players and making your team a potential target.

That’s the issue with Brandon Saad too. The Blackhawks are going to match any offer sheet for him. They just are. Colleague Pierre LeBrun reported that the Penguins are interested in Saad, and he definitely fills a need with the Penguins. I can also see Buffalo GM Tim Murray aggressively using the offer sheet at some point in his tenure. Sharks GM Doug Wilson has also shown he’s not afraid to use the offer sheet if it makes sense, and San Jose has cap room this summer.

That said, if the goal is actually to get the player and not simply mess up the Blackhawks' cap situation, a Saad offer sheet might just be a waste of time.