Photo: CSN Midatlantic
Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan (a GM of the Year finalist last season) has proven in his three seasons as the personnel decision-maker that he isn’t one to make bad decisions. Since taking over for longtime GM George McPhee in the spring of 2014, the former scout and assistant GM has turned the Capitals from an underperforming team to one that has become the uncontested favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
In his very first offseason as general manager, MacLellan addressed one of, if not the, biggest issue concerning the Capitals’ roster when he signed defensemen Matt Niskanen (seven-years, $40.25 million) and Brooks Orpik (five-years, $27.5 million) to bolster a blueline that had lacked in talent in the previous several seasons. While the Orpik contract is hotly disputed amongst fans, there is no denying that the veteran blueliner has brought a steadying and physical presence to the defensive corps that the Caps have not had for some time.
After finishing the prior season 38-30-14 and out of the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, the Capitals finished their first season under MacLellan (and head coach Barry Trotz) with a record of 45-26-11; a seven-win improvement and an 11-point improvement from the year before. But it would be the 2015 offseason that would see MacLellan truly turn the Caps into contenders with the acquisitions of top-six forwards T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams. The Capitals fell short in the playoffs, but finished with a franchise-best 56 wins and the second most points (120) in team history.
This past summer, MacLellan addressed yet another need when he acquired center Lars Eller in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens to give the Caps a much-needed third-line center. Eller has fit nicely into the team and has been one of its most valuable two-way players. To add to his latest list of transactions, he proved the Caps were all in for a Cup this season, when he acquired All-Star defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk late Monday night from the St. Louis Blues, adding another weapon to an already stacked blueline.
The impact MacLellan has had has clearly been felt by the entire organization. Before he took over, the Capitals were in complete disarray, and confidence was clearly waning from the players and in some respects, the fans too. Under McPhee, the Caps had never even attempted to make headlining acquisitions that could propel them to the next level, always settling for marginal moves. MacLellan’s willingness and boldness to do so has given both fans and players something to be excited about. And if the Caps do finally raise Lord Stanley’s mug this summer, their brilliant architect should be one of the first front office executives to raise it proudly above his head.
By Michael Fleetwood