This is a great time to be a D.C. Sports Fan. But I don’t have to tell you that. You know from all the Capitals and Nationals championship hat and T-shirts in your collection, the parade photos on your phone, the bragging rights you have finally been able to wield over opposing fans.
Here’s another measure — the District is overflowing with stars. We have so many great players that we can’t keep all of them.
“When you are good enough and lucky enough and you have a good enough process where you have to worry about a lot of $250 million to $300 million players, you’re doing a pretty good job,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told 106.7 The Fan at Nationals Winterfest.
He was, of course, referring to the departed Anthony Rendon, but Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan could make the same statement about the team’s star goalie, Braden Holtby, and his future in Washington. In fact, he almost did while meeting with reporters last week to talk about signing Nicklas Backstrom to a five-year, $46 million contract extension.
“It is tricky,” MacLellan said. “Holtby’s a big part of our success as an organization and he’s in the mix with Ovi (Alex Ovechkin) and Nick as defining our organization. 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 cap and possibilities or not possibilities. So, we’re going to play it out.”
Alex Ovechkin, Max Scherzer, Nicklas Backstrom, Stephen Strasburg, Braden Holtby, Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, John Carlson — it’s an embarrassment of riches, or in this case, rich athletes.
You could make the case that the star power in this town has never been higher. Even in the glory days of the Washington Redskins, Super Bowl championship teams that never had the superstar players that move the cash registers.
Apparently, you can’t keep them all — at least that is what those who sign the checks tell us.
“We’re going to have to get creative if we want to accomplish signing Holtby with trades or find ways to create room,” MacLellan told reporters.
At least that is better than this answer from Nationals owner Mark Lerner when asked about the prospects of signing both Strasburg and Rendon.
“We really can afford to have one of those two guys,” Lerner said in an interview with NBC Sports Washington.
MacLellan at least left open the door of hope with his comments, even though he is far more handcuffed than the Nationals were.
The Capitals are limited by a real salary cap. The Lerners have to deal with luxury tax penalty for payroll spending — a surcharge for spending, not a cap.
One may have no choice. The other made a choice.
Backstrom/Holtby is the Capitals’ parallel to Strasburg/Rendon. The Nationals opted to sign Strasburg — the Sundance to Scherzer’s Butch Cassidy — to a seven-year, $240 million contract extension.
That left Rendon, who led the Nationals to their first World Series championship in an MVP-caliber season (34 home runs, 126 RBI, a .319 average) and a clutch postseason (three home runs, 15 RBI), as the shooting star, leaving to take a seven-year, $240 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels.
The Capitals have chosen to sign Backstrom — Ovechkin’s Sundance Kid — which leaves Holtby’s future in Washington in doubt.
Just like it was hard to say goodbye to Rendon, it will be hard to say goodbye to Holtby, a five-time All-Star and Vezina Trophy winner. His stunning save in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals against Vegas ranks among the greatest sports moments in Washington sports history, and was just named “Save of the Decade” by the National Hockey League.
What may make that goodbye easier is Ilya Samsonov, the 22-year-old Russian rookie who has played like a Stanley Cup veteran in his starts this season. He came in to relieve Holtby Saturday after the veteran gave up four goals on 22 shots to hold down the net while Washington came back with a 6-4 win over the New York Islanders.
The win made Samsonov the only goalie in league history to win each of his first nine career road games in one season and one of just two goaltenders in NHL history to win each of his first eight career road games. He is 15-2-1 with a 2.06 goals against average and a .927 save percentage
After a win over Carolina last week — following two Capitals losses — coach Todd Reirden gushed over Samsonov.
“He was excellent all night and continues to grow and get better,” Reirden said. “The situation where we put him in, we lost two in a row and needed a response. He stepped right up. He was outstanding right from the beginning.”
What we don’t know is how “outstanding” he would be with the Stanley Cup on the line — and if you want to entrust the last years of a productive Ovechkin and Backstrom to an untested playoff goaltender.
The Nationals are hoping that Carter Kieboom is their Samsonov.
The franchise’s 22-year-old top prospect struggled in his brief time with the major league club last season, batting just .128 in 11 games. But he batted .303 with 16 home runs and 79 RBI in 109 games with Class AAA Fresno last year and will have every opportunity to win the job as Rendon’s replacement at third base this year — and to be one of the infield anchors to back up the remaining years of Scherzer and Strasburg.
Will they be stars? Will Washington’s star cup continue to runneth over?
Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesdays and Saturdays and on the Kevin Sheehan podcast.
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