As the NHL offseason continues, Washington Capitals beat writer Samantha Pell asked readers for questions about the upcoming season. Here’s a look at what we received on Twitter.

This mailbag will address the upcoming NHL expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken, the Capitals’ roster for the regular season, the blue line, Evgeny Kuznetsov and whether fans will be in the stands in 2021.

Using your crystal ball, who gets protected in the expansion draft? — @lousede22

Let’s start with the rules for the 2021 expansion draft, which will help the Seattle Kraken fill out its first roster. Teams can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender, or they can protect any combination of eight skaters and one goaltender. First- and second-year NHL players and unsigned draft choices are exempt.

I think it makes more sense for the Capitals to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender. Using that framework, here’s a possible scenario:

Forwards (7): Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Lars Eller, Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik

Defensemen (3): John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Brenden Dillon

Goaltender (1): Ilya Samsonov

That would mean Washington would leave T.J. Oshie and Carl Hagelin exposed. On the blue line, Jonas Siegenthaler, Justin Schultz and Nick Jensen also would be exposed. Protecting Panik over Oshie would be a controversial move to some.

Who is most likely to go to the Kraken in the expansion draft? Who would be a total surprise? — @hansonw22

Oshie seems to be the most likely candidate. He turns 34 this month and — after next season — still will have four years left on his contract, which carries an annual salary cap hit of $5.75 million. Oshie still plays at a high level, but it is fair to question whether his production can carry an additional four years at that price.

Seattle would gain a captain-worthy player in Oshie. A heart-and-soul type of player, Oshie, who grew up in Washington state, brings emotion, grit and work ethic.

Do you expect the Caps to make any trades before the regular season? — @EmptyMaybe

I think something could happen. Much is in flux, and it seems some teams are waiting until coronavirus protocols are finalized before making more moves.

It’s no secret that Washington has a crowded blue line — especially on the right side — after its pickups in the offseason. I could see Washington, which is tight against the salary cap, try to move a defenseman.

And with the news that Henrik Lundqvist will not be joining the Capitals next season because of a heart condition, they could go out and try to find a netminder.

What’s the plan now with Jensen? The signings of Schultz and [Trevor van Riemsdyk] make the right side jammed. Is a trade incoming, or is he safe because of [Michal] Kempny having to go to LTIR? — @NateTemple_

Kempny will start the season on long-term injured reserve, which gives the Capitals some needed financial flexibility. (Kempny had surgery to repair a torn Achilles’ tendon in October and will be out six to eight months.) Washington was able to re-sign Dillon and snag Schultz in free agency.

Jensen seems like a possible trade candidate, but if another defenseman gets hurt in training camp, he is an easy option to plug in. New assistant coach Kevin McCarthy, who is in charge of the blue line, has said the team needs “at least eight guys that can play at an NHL level” because of the unconventional season. Keeping Jensen, who has trended upward recently, could be the easiest route.

With eight defensemen (Kempny hurt obviously) and only 11 forwards, who do you think fills that 12th spot, and who’s the seventh man for defense? — @SchmidtStroke

Barring any additional movement, the 12th forward spot seems as if it will go to Daniel Sprong, whom the Capitals signed to a two-year, $1.45 million deal in September. Sprong was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Christian Djoos in February. Sprong is the cheap forward option Washington needed to stay under the salary cap. He may be the best fit to slot in on the third line, filling the absence of Ilya Kovalchuk.

I think the Capitals’ blue line will look like this to start the season:




van Riemsdyk

They also have Paul LaDue, Fehervary and prospect Alexander Alexeyev at their disposal. With a crowded right side of the blue line, the Capitals appear to have a competition on their third pairing.

How can we believe in a bounce-back season by Evgeny Kuznetsov? — @JimCapsCup

Kuznetsov definitely had a drop in production last season. The Russian center tallied only 19 goals and 33 assists in 63 games. That was his lowest point total since he had 37 points (in 80 games) in 2014-15.

There’s one big reason to think Kuznetsov could find his stride again: Peter Laviolette. The Stanley Cup-winning coach was hired by Washington not only to get immediate results from a veteran group but also to push the players, hold them accountable when they aren’t at their best and reset the team’s culture. Kuznetsov could benefit from that style of coaching. He has been streaky over the past two years, with flashes of brilliance followed by mental mistakes or a lack of effort. For Kuznetsov to get back to his 2018 self, consistency will be key.

Is the league really planning to play an entire (if shortened) season with no fans in arenas? — @salsa_wits

The NHL is still working out its return-to-play details, but I would not expect to see fans in home arenas to start the season. That could change if local restrictions ease.