Photo: Washington Post
It was a rough spring for the Washington Capitals in 2016. The Capitals were the best team in the NHL in 2015-16, but were bounced early in the 2nd round in the playoffs by their arch rival and eventual Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Capitals GM Brian MacLellan was devastated with the way the Capitals season ended. In the matchup against Pittsburgh in the playoffs, the Penguins third line consisting of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel really stole the show.
The Capitals most glaring hole in 2015-16 was the third line center position. Jay Beagle, Mike Richards, and Marcus Johansson all rotated with this position last season. The Capitals re-signed Marcus Johansson over the summer, but Capitals management has always preferred he play on the wing. Jay Beagle is more suited to play on the 4th line regularly, versus in the top 9. Mike Richards was not retained by the Capitals during the offseason.
MacLellan vowed to fix this hole in the Capitals lineup, and make the Capitals 3rd line quicker, and bigger in the offseason.
THE TOUGH DECISIONS
As a NHL general manager, one has to have a strategy in order to make improvements to a club.
The Capitals made their first move at the 2016 Draft as they traded two 2nd round picks to Montreal in exchange for Lars Eller. It was a steep price to pay, but MacLellan is sure that Eller will fill the hole of third line center. Eller is big and rangy, and he adds a lot of quickness to the Capitals lineup.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) October 9, 2016
The other critical decision MacLellan made happened during free agency, as he decided to let forward Jason Chimera walk. Chimera, 37, spent the last seven seasons in Washington, and he signed with the NY Islanders for two years at the beginning of the free agency period.
Letting Chimera walk was not an easy decision, but he did not fit into the Capitals long term plans. This decision opened up a key roster spot, for one of the Capitals young players to take.
THE ZACH ATTACK
Capitals management and fans began to see the emergence of 21-year old Zach Sanford through the preseason. The Capitals young prospect impressed many during the preseason games, and eventually won himself a roster spot on the Capitals opening night roster.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) October 8, 2016
Sanford has spent the last couple of seasons playing hockey at Boston College. He is a big man at his young age, as he is listed at 6’4” tall and 210 pounds. During the preseason, he showed a willingness to use his frame to his advantage, and a willingness to get to the dirty areas near the net.
With Sanford projected to play on the Capitals third line alongside Lars Eller, the Capitals third line will be younger, quicker, bigger, and it should see an improvement in offensive production.
CHANGES ARE DIFFICULT, BUT SOMETIMES NECESSARY
Every NHL GM has to make some tough decisions every single season. Brian MacLellan knew changes had to made during the offseason, in order to keep the Capitals as a Stanley Cup favorite.
While the changes are only subtle to some, the Capitals should see more production from their third line this season. A quality third line that can chip in some offense to the Capitals attack consistently will only make the Capitals that much more of a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup.
MacLellan made some tough decisions over the summer, but he most likely improved the Capitals lineup balance. It is safe to say to MacLellan, “Mission Accomplished” in regards to the Capitals new and improved third line for the 2016-17 season.
By: George Foussekis