Do the Capitals have to respond to Penguins' trade for Jason Zucker?

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

Check out Part 2 below.

Have a Caps question you want answered in the next mailbag? You can submit your questions here at the Capitals Mailbag submissions page on NBCSportsWashington.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Geoff Joert writes: Why do you keep thinking this team is better than it is? Can you not see and simply admit that you made an awful, terribly misguided analysis that this team is nothing close to your putting their championship chances as “High” (that you’ve noted in the past)?

Lol. I don’t think there is a more pessimistic fanbase in America than Caps fans. Usually there’s a grace period after a championship where fans relax a bit, but I think the 2018 Cup somehow made Caps fans more pessimistic.

No team is ever as good as it looks on a win streak and no team is ever as bad as it looks in a losing streak. My job is to provide actual analysis. Saying, “this team stinks, everyone should be fired and traded, this season is pointless” may be what you want to hear, but it’s not analysis. It’s lazy overreaction.

Here are my feelings on the Caps from the start of the season up until now. Heading into the year, I thought the offense was going to be good but top-heavy and that the real question mark of this team would be the defense. Specifically, it looked like Nick Jensen would be called upon to play a top-four role and I was not convinced he could handle that based on last season. As the season has gone on, I think the offense overall has been better than I expected, but I was also proven right about Jensen. He and Radko Gudas are good third-pair defensemen, but neither are up to the task of playing in the top four. That is the biggest hole on the roster. The other wrinkle with the defense is that Michal Kempny is really struggling this year. That I did not foresee, though it is understandable given that he missed all of training camp and the start of the season.

The last two games were bad, but those were the result of lazy mental errors from a team that has relied on its offense to outscore its problems for much of the season. Better the team learn that lesson now than in April. Honestly, for everyone freaking out right now, be honest, how many of you would be freaking out if the Caps never lost consecutive games and were easily on pace to win the Presidents’ Trophy because they were peaking too soon and not facing any adversity?

The problem is not how they have played the last few games, it’s that the hole on the second pair remains and now the team knows Martin Fehervary is not the answer.

Do I think the Caps are the frontrunner to win the Cup? No, but I do think if they add a player who can play in the top four suddenly that will fix a lot of their problems on defense. So to me, the Caps are a player away from being a contender and yeah, that puts them in a good spot because how many other teams in the NHL can say that? Not many. 

You can ignore the rest of the season if you want since it’s all pointless, but just remember that the 2019 Stanley Cup champions were dead last in the NHL in January, the 2018 Stanley Cup champions were down 0-2 in their first round series and had to go back to a goalie having the worst season of his career, the 2017 champs champions played the entire postseason without their best defenseman, and the 2016 champs entered the playoffs with both of its top two goalies injured. Each of those teams made declarations like the one above look pretty silly.

It is foolish for any analyst (or really anyone) to make come to a conclusion about a team and blindly stick to it for the entirety of the season. You adjust based on new information, games, stats, injuries, trades, etc. Would I pick the Caps to win the Cup right now? No, but I don’t think they are totally out of it either.

But yeah, you’re right. We should all just stop watching because the Caps lost two bad games in February.

Greg Findlay writes: When the Caps made the trade for Nick Jensen last year they sent Detroit Madison Bowey and a second-rounder. I am curious how well Bowey has played in Detroit, and I am wondering why BMGM thought that Jensen would be that much better. Was Jensen a top 4 defenseman in Detroit?

Yes, Jensen was in a top-four role in Detroit averaging over 20 minutes per game. Had everything gone according to plan, Jensen would have been asked to only play a third-pair role last season, but the injury to Kempny forced Todd Reirden to shuffle the defense and suddenly Jensen was called upon to do a lot more. Giving him an extension before he ever suited up for the Caps was odd, but I think that move was the result of Brian MacLellan realizing he was going to have to trade Matt Niskanen in the offseason to free up cap space.

As for Bowey, he’s had a tough go of it this season. He’s averaging 17:31 per game, which ranks seventh among the team’s defensemen, on the worst team in the NHL.  He was placed on waivers and cleared before briefly being sent to the AHL in December. He has played a little better since then, but his possession numbers are awful with a Corsi-For percentage of 44.14, which ranks eighth among the team’s defensemen.

Nathan S. writes: What players and coaches have you/your colleagues enjoyed covering/interviewing the most vs. those who were your least favorite to cover?

For the sake of professionalism, I’ll limit this to players/coaches I have dealt with in the past and exclude the present. Everyone’s favorite player was Jay Beagle. He was always willing to talk to the media about pretty much anything and was just a really nice, genuine person.

I have touched on this in previous mailbags, but I did not find Adam Oates all that pleasant to deal with and, from what I’ve heard from players and other people within the organization, neither did anyone else. Oates clearly thought about the game a lot differently than other people. Had he been successful, he would have been one of those outside the box coaches who changed the way people approach thought about the game. When those different ideas don’t work, however, it is fair to question them. I always got the sense from him that he felt he was the smartest guy in the room and didn’t like explaining himself to anyone. When you’re a head coach, sometimes you have to answer tough questions. You can’t just come at it from the standpoint of “I know more about this than you” especially if what you’re doing isn’t working.

Hubert Cheung writes: Do you know the name of the song used in the Matt Niskanen tribute video?

The song is called “I Feel Alive” and was found on a site used for media production. I checked and there really is no artist info. It looks like the song was strictly recorded just to be used for production purposes.

Phillip Martin writes: I’ve read reports that the speedy Axel Jonsson-Fjallby might be NHL ready and is a good penalty killer who could compliment Lars Eller’s style of play. With Carl Hagelin that would be our fastest line. Thoughts?

Hagelin is a very good comparable for Jonsson-Fjallby. He is a very speedy forward who projects to be a bottom-six, penalty kill type of player. Also like Hagelin, l think his offensive upside is not very high.

People seem a little disappointed in Hagelin’s offense this year with just four goals, but that’s pretty about where we should have expected him to be with 45 games played this season. He scored five goals last year and 10 the season before that. Never in his career had he scored 20 goals so I’m not sure where all the expectations for a big offensive season came from.

LIke Hagelin, i think people see Jonsson-Fjallby’s seven playoff goals in the SHL in 2019 and six the year before in 11 playoff games and think he is going to be a sniper. He’s not, not at the NHL level anyway. But that’s OK. If the Caps managed to find the next Hagelin in the fifth round of the 2016 draft, that’s great. But would I insert him into that third line? Absolutely not.

People are ready to run Richard Panik out of town because he only has seven goals. Hagelin has four. Now you want to put Hagelin 2.0 at right wing? That would be a waste. Eller has to have someone with at some finish to his game. Panik at least has a 20-goal season in the NHL. A Hagelin, Eller, Jonsson-Fjallby line would be speedy, but if you’re concerned about a lack of offense from the third line, that trio would probably make things worse, not better.

Wilson Thomas writes: What happened to Lucas Johansson?

I think the 2019-19 season really hurt. He wrapped up a solid junior career in 2017 and had a decent first season in Hershey in 2017-18. An upper-body injury limited him to just 45 games in 2018-19 and his progression lagged behind as a result. I went to watch Hershey play a few games in the playoffs in 2019 and I saw a player who’s puck-moving skills were nowhere close to what I would expect from a player selected in the first round largely as a puck-mover. The team then drafted Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary in 2019 and Johansen was suddenly below both in the organization depth chart.

My best guess at this point is that if he still has an NHL future, it will be with another team.

Ken Berger writes: Two questions real quick. First, could you explain what it means to bank salary cap space? And, when the home team has the last change, how does that work? Does it mean the other team has to wait a certain amount of time before changing?

To better understand the salary cap, don’t think of it as a big number teams need to stay under by the end of the season. The way it works is that a team cannot be on pace to go over the cap by the end of the season.

Here’s the example I always give. If I gave you $1,000 to last you from Monday to Friday, the salary cap dictates that you can’t spend more than $200 per day, otherwise you’ll be over $1,000. But what if you spend less than $200? Let’s say you spend only $50 on Monday and $50 on Tuesday. Now you can spend $300 per day from Wednesday to Friday to get to $1,000. The amount of money I gave you didn’t change, but you could spend more because you “banked” space the first two days. That is how banking space works.

The rules for line changes dictate that at every stoppage of play, the visiting team has to change lines first. That allows the home team to see who is on the ice and match up accordingly. When play continues, all bets are off and teams can change lines whenever they want. If a visiting coach is really paying attention to matchups, you will sometimes see line changes immediately after a faceoff as he tries to get his team away from whatever matchup the opposing coach just put out there.

John Schecter writes: My boys and I are wondering what is your favorite part of covering this team? What is the most challenging part for you?

Getting paid to watch hockey for a living is pretty darn cool, but that’s rather obvious. I am very fortunate in that I get to cover the team I grew up supporting with the broadcast crew I grew up watching. It is pretty incredible to be considered a colleague of Joe Beninati, Craig Laughlin and Al Koken because I watched those guys on TV. When I was a kid, I went to a practice with the Caps Kids Club and got Dale Hunter’s autograph, but I was too shy to ask Joe Beninati for his. Now I work with him. That’s surreal.

The most challenging part is the schedule. When you work nights and weekends you miss a lot of time with your family and friends. You don’t really realize how much people get together on the weekends until you don’t have them anymore. I don’t have the luxury of leaving work at work either so during the season things can get pretty all-consuming. From September to July basically there is not a day where I’m not writing even if it’s technically a day off. And news always has a bad habit of breaking on those days off or during times like a family birthday.

Lauren Obaugh writes: Here’s a fun question for you JJ. If you could pick a victory song (much like the players’ goal songs) for the Caps what would it be?

I’m so glad you asked this because I have the perfect song. Initially, I would have said Rock and Roll Part 2 by Gary Glitter which is the best victory song ever. My wife and I were actually introduced at our wedding to that song, but you’re not supposed to use that anymore because Gary Glitter is…not a good person (Google him). Thinking about it though, I realized there was something better:  Big Enough by Kirin J. Callinan, which is more commonly referred to as the screaming cowboy. The entire song is six minutes long and magnificently ridiculous, but really the only part you need to hear is the glorious crescendo (preceded by a whistling solo) of a cowboy frantically shrieking in the sky.

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I desperately want this to become a thing. Imagine a goal is scored and amidst all the celebration you just hear that cowboy shrieking through the rafters at Capital One Arena. It would be the greatest moment of my life. Someone please, please, please pick this as their goal song.

Jason Woodside writes: If the Caps were dogs what breeds would they be? I think it’s pretty obvious Oshie would be a golden retriever but beyond that I really don’t know.

I’ll give you three (and I’m cheating because two of them are former Caps). Braden Holtby would be a komondor because he is the hairiest man ever and Philipp Grubauer would be a German Shepheard.

And then of course, there’s Jay Beagle….

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be answered in the next mailbag, you can submit it here at the Capitals Mailbag submissions page on NBCSportsWashington.com.

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