Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post
After another disappointing end to their season, the Capitals’ offseason got off to a promising and nice start with the re-signing of right wing T.J. Oshie to an eight-year contract. After losing defensemen Nate Schmidt (Expansion Draft), Karl Alzner (Free Agency), and Kevin Shattenkirk (Free Agency), and forwards Justin Williams (Free Agency), Daniel Winnik (Free Agency, remains unsigned), and Marcus Johansson (Trade), fans voiced their displeasure with General Manager Brian MacLellan. While the moves made (or not made) do warrant some anger, fans need to trust the longtime front office executive.
In his first three seasons as the General Manager of the Caps since taking over for longtime GM George McPhee in Spring 2014, MacLellan has turned the Capitals from a team that missed the playoffs and looked far from a Stanley Cup contender to a team that won back-to-back President’s Trophies in two of those three seasons and Metropolitan Division titles. While the ultimate goal of winning a championship was never reached with the assembled core of the last two seasons, MacLellan’s track record proves that he knows what he’s doing.
In his first offseason as General Manager, MacLellan bolstered the Capitals’ struggling blueline with the signings of defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to long-term deals. While Orpik has slowed in the last two or so seasons, there’s no denying he, along with Niskanen, helped stabilize a defensive corps that was in desperate need of help. What many people don’t know, or choose to ignore, is that the Caps needed to go five years on Orpik’s five-year, $27.5 million contract ($5.5 million annual cap hit), as they felt the market was getting competitive for his services, something MacLellan said himself the day of the signings. The Capitals improved to a record of 45-26-11 under MacLellan (and Head Coach Barry Trotz) from their 38-30-14 record in 2013-14, when they used 14 different defensemen, the most in the NHL.
The following summer, MacLellan traded right wing Troy Brouwer to the St. Louis Blues, along with goalie prospect Pheonix Copley and a third-round pick for Oshie. Oshie has since put up 107 points in 148 games played in Washington, while Brouwer is no longer in St. Louis and the Caps have since re-acquired both Copley and the draft pick. He also signed Williams, who recorded 100 points in 162 games played with the Capitals. Both of them were key pieces in the team’s success over the past two seasons. Before last season, MacLellan signed right wing Brett Connolly to a one-year contract for just $850,000. Connolly went on to score a career-high 15 goals last season and has since re-signed on a two-year deal.
While the moves he’s made this summer have, overall, been unpopular with most fans, there’s no denying that McPhee would have never been as proactive as MacLellan has been in terms of free agency and trades. MacLellan has spent over a decade in the Capitals’ front office and has gone through countless playoff heartaches in that time. If he had the guts to tell Ted Leonsis how to be a better owner in his interview, he certainly has the confidence in himself and the moves he makes. Given his track record as GM of the Capitals, there’s no reason not to trust him.
By Michael Fleetwood