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Holtby, Ovechkin contracts 'tricky' for Capitals after Backstrom deal

Will need to be creative to fit goalie, forward under salary cap, GM says

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- After center Nicklas Backstrom signed a five-year, $46 million contract Tuesday, the Washington Capitals' focus will turn to Braden Holtby and Alex Ovechkin.

Backstrom is no longer eligible to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, but Holtby is. The 30-year-old goalie is in the final season of a five-year, $30.5 million contract, and Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said he'll have to do some work to find enough space to also fit him in under the NHL salary cap.

"We're going to have to get creative if we want to accomplish signing Holtby with trades or find ways to create room," MacLellan said.

Ovechkin has another season remaining after this one on the 13-year, $124 million contract he signed with Washington on Jan. 10, 2008, and is not eligible to sign an extension until July 1. So though MacLellan kept Washington's 34-year-old captain in mind while he was negotiating Backstrom's contract, Holtby's situation is more pressing.

Video: OTT@WSH: Ovechkin scores in 3rd period

Fitting in new contacts for Backstrom and Holtby was always going to be a challenge for the Capitals, who are tight against the $81.5 million salary cap this season and are carrying 21 players (two fewer than the maximum) because of that. 
Backstrom's new contract carries an annual average value (AAV) of $9.2 million, an increase of $2.5 million per season from the $6.7 million AAV on his expiring 10-year, $67 million contract.

After meeting with Holtby and his agent, David Kaye, in September, MacLellan said the sides would play out this season and talk again after it was over. The Capitals took a similar approach before re-signing forward T.J. Oshie after the 2016-17 season and defenseman John Carlson following the 2017-18 season.

But the situation with Holtby is more complicated because of the Capitals' salary cap situation and because re-signing Backstrom was clearly their priority.

"It is tricky," MacLellan said. "Holtby's a big part of our success as an organization and he's in the mix with Ovi and Nick as defining our organization," MacLellan said. "I think we had an open communication at the beginning of the year, and then we were going to address it at the end of the year to see where we're at with [the] cap and possibilities or not possibilities."

Another factor is the emergence of rookie goalie Ilya Samsonov. A first-round pick (No. 22) in the 2015 NHL Draft, Samsonov has been projected as Holtby's eventual successor, and the 22-year-old has lived up to the billing this season, going 13-2-1 with a 2.11 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage and a shutout.

Holtby, who helped Washington win the Stanley Cup in 2018 and won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goalie in 2016, is 18-9-4 with a 3.02 GAA and a .899 save percentage. Though he was selected to play in the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game, he has struggled of late, going 1-5-0 with 4.34 GAA and an .832 save percentage in his past six starts.

Video: NJD@WSH: Holtby makes save on Coleman

That's led to speculation that Samsonov might soon take the reins from Holtby, but MacLellan and coach Todd Reirden have repeatedly said Holtby remains Washington's No. 1 goalie. 

MacLellan said he kept Holtby informed throughout contract talks with Backstrom, but Backstrom, who handled negotiations without an agent, said he never discussed his situation with Holtby.

Conversely, Backstrom said Ovechkin asked him about negotiations almost every day. Beginning July 1, Backstrom plans to return the favor.

"For sure, I'm going to call him every day to ask," the 32-year-old said. "If I know Ovi right, he's probably going to sign the contract July 2."

Ovechkin leads Washington and is third in the NHL with 28 goals this season. The left wing scored twice in 2-0 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday to give him 686 goals in his 15-season NHL career and move two ahead of Teemu Selanne for 11th in League history.

Video: CAR@WSH: Ovechkin fires home feed for 685th NHL goal

Ovechkin also went without an agent and had his mother, Tatyana, handle negotiations for his current contract. After finding Backstrom "professional, well-prepared, probably a little stubborn at times" while working as his own agent, MacLellan joked he was worried that Ovechkin might hire Backstrom to handle his next contract.

"I honestly don't think he needs any help." Backstrom said. "He can do this on his own. He's stubborn, too, so it's perfect."

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