Capitals’ GM Brian MacLellan Holds Media Conference Call

The last week has been busy for Brian MacLellan, General Manager of the Capitals. Aside from some minor signings and contract extensions for players, he has made some moves that have not been popular with the fan base. A lot of anger and questions began to arise. Knowing this would happen, MacLellan set up a time to talk with the media this morning. This is what he had to say.

The small signings included re-signing restricted free agents Chandler Stephenson and defenseman Christian Djoos, both to two-year deals. On the first day of unrestricted free agency he made a small signing, mainly for depth purposes and for the Hershey Bears by adding veteran forward Anthony Peluso.

He also had some more noteworthy signings as well. First, he signed restricted free agent defenseman Dmitry Orlov to a six-year deal worth $30.6 million ($5.1 million AAV) and followed that up with fellow Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov’s monster eight-year deal worth $62.4 million (AAV of $7.8 million). Less than an hour later, he traded forward Marcus Johansson to the New Jersey Devils for second and third-round picks in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft to create some cap space. It was that trade that really got the Washington fan base going.

Obviously, the first question that needed to be answered was how the Caps got to this point, losing a player like Johansson just for picks. He iterated it was all about the salary cap, stating “We were expecting to run into some cap issues going forward.” When asked about the Johansson trade, MacLellan responded, “We contacted a few teams. We didn’t have [cap] room to take a player back, so we took the best picks we could get.

Ray [Devils General Manager Ray Shero] was sitting in a good spot with roster spots available and lots of picks.” MacLellan mentioned that he did think he would be able to make room for Johansson, but there was a deadlock movement because of the league adding a new team. “I did anticipate a little more trade activity during that Expansion Draft time. It froze right up.” Even after trading Johansson and finding themselves up against the cap ceiling with a need for a Top 4 left-handed defenseman, MacLellan isn’t too worried. “We’re comfortable now with the salary cap, but will see where we go.”

As mentioned, the Caps’ biggest issue as of now is finding a defensive partner for John Carlson to play with. An option for the Caps to find space to find that player was to buy out veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik, but MacLellan didn’t consider it.

“We value what he brings out in young defensemen. We have a lot of young guys coming up. We’re going to have two young guys [on defense] most likely.” Orpik could bring a lot of stability to those rookies. Among the names MacLellan mentioned are Djoos, Lucas Johansen, Madison Bowey, Connor Hobbs, and Tyler Lewington. Going back to Carlson, MacLellan said they are “going to experiment” with him, having younger players play with him. Surprisingly, he mentioned Aaron Ness “as a Nate Schmidt-type of player and a great skater”.

When talking about the Kuznetsov contract, MacLellan admitted that they “went a little above what they thought they’d spend”, but he felt it was very necessary because of  Kuznetsov’s leverage of possibly going to the KHL.

That didn’t stop management from liking the signing. “We think he will be a top center going forward and the contract will be great.” At the end of the day, MacLellan boiled it down to two decisions: “Either have Kuznetsov go to the KHL and hit unrestricted free agency in two years or move Johansson.” They made, arguably, the right choice, regardless of the hurt of losing Johansson.

When it comes to the forward group, MacLellan felt losing Johansson hurt, but that he should be replaceable with the young talent coming up. “[Andre] Burakovsky is going to have a bigger role”, as he’ll most likely replace Johansson everywhere in the lineup in the Top 6 and on the power play. He has the potential to have a big year. Brian continued “[Jakub] Vrana was great last year when playing with Kuznetsov.” That’s big for the very skilled winger that had a tough end to his AHL career. He has the ability to be a big contributor for the Caps this season and will need to be if the Caps want to be successful again. MacLellan also loved the line of [Brett] Connolly-[Lars] Eller-[Tom] Wilson and Burakovsky-[Nicklas] Backstrom-[T.J.] Oshie. That leaves [Alex] Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Vrana as a potential, very dangerous second-line.

Shane Gersich was a name that came up during the conference call, a former fifth-round pick that looks to be an absolute steal. He intends on going back to college for his junior year, but like former Capital Zach Sanford, might be convinced to go straight to the NHL or AHL. However, MacLellan shot down that idea, “We’re going to let him go back to college. He might have been the best player in Development Camp. Great pick.” The Caps will be keeping a very close eye on him and he could possibly be wearing red next season.

MacLellan didn’t have much else to say, but talked about some smaller moves and issues. On the Devante Smith-Pelley signing, they see “a lot of potential” in him. He did very well for the Anaheim Ducks a couple of years back and the Caps will be trying to get that from him. When it came to who will see penalty killing time with Justin Williams and Daniel Winnik gone, MacLellan responded, “I think both [Nathan] Walker and [Chandler] Stephenson have killed penalties. We’ll give one or both guys a chance to show what they can do.” To finish it up, MacLellan was “bothered” that the Caps couldn’t get the ultimate goal finished (winning the Stanley Cup), “We had a complete lineup.” Not winning the Cup the last two years has clearly affected more than just the fans.

Everyone knew the roster would change, but it doesn’t make it any easier saying goodbye to players like Johansson and Williams. Though it can be balanced out by welcoming new ones, whether from outside of the organization or the young players within it. There are going to be a lot of changes and new faces next season. It will be exciting and perhaps a little terrifying. Only time will tell if MacLellan’s decisions this summer were what the Caps needed or not.

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8 Responses to Capitals’ GM Brian MacLellan Holds Media Conference Call

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