Photo: Sports Illustrated
While fans may have questioned some of the moves Capitals‘ general manager Brian MacLellan made last summer, the man knew what he was doing, putting together a team that delivered the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup championship. The Capitals’ ownership rewarded MacLellan with a contract extension in March. Ultimately, MacLellan led the Capitals to the top of the mountain and many of his moves were huge parts of the team’s run to their first Stanley Cup. NoVa Caps takes a look at MacLellan’s moves since the end of the 2016-2017 season.
Oshie, who MacLellan acquired in a trade with the St. Louis Blues on July 2, 2015, in exchange for forward Troy Brouwer, goaltender Pheonix Copley, and a 2016 third round pick, had a significant decrease in production after scoring 33 goals in 68 games during the 2016-17 season, and was on pace for 40 over a full season. He only scored 18 goals in 74 games with half of those goals at even strength. A major part of that was due to a concussion he suffered from a hit from San Jose Sharks’ forward Joe Thornton in a 4-1 win over the Sharks on December 4.
After returning from injury, Oshie recorded two goals (one on the power play) and 13 points in 35 games, almost half a season. Oshie, 31, later recorded six goals (five at even strength) and 11 points in the last 13 games of the regular season and finished third on the team with eight goals (six on the power play) and fourth with 21 points in 24 playoff games en route to the Stanley Cup Championship. He tallied 47 points in the regular season.
Oshie, who could have become an unrestricted free agent the week after he signed his extension, may have had a down regular season, but he rebounded with a strong end to the regular season that carried over in his playoff performance. With his enthusiasm in the locker room and his leadership, the Capitals paid Oshie for more than just his on-ice production.
This may turn out to be a Grade A contract, but with an 8-year term we will have to wait and see how the contract ages. This contract may have been longer than what the Capitals initially wanted, but giving him eight years dragged down his cap hit so it would be more affordable for the team.
After receiving a one-year bridge deal worth $2.57 million right before training camp opened in 2016-17, Orlov finished sixth in the NHL with a +30 rating and tallied six goals and a career-high 33 points. When the offseason came around, Orlov, who turns 27 on July 23, got a huge pay raise.
Orlov was paired with defenseman Matt Niskanen after the two were the Capitals’ best shutdown pairing in 2016-17, but Niskanen injured his left thumb five games into the season and missed 13 games.
Orlov finished the season with a career-high 10 goals along with 31 points and a +10 rating, and added two goals, six points, and a +5 rating in 24 playoff games. Defensively, Orlov finished the season with a career-high 116 blocked shots, 128 hits, and 54 takeaways, while averaging 23:08 per night, including 19:59 at even strength. Before the year, he never even averaged 20 minutes a night.
After the Bruins didn’t qualify Connolly, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s sixth overall pick in 2010, and a restricted free agent, the Capitals gave him a one-year contract worth $850,000 on the opening day of free agency during the 2016 offseason. The Caps signed Connolly in an effort to add scoring depth to the bottom six after the Pittsburgh Penguins exposed their lack of depth in the Pens’ six-game series win in the second round that season.
Connolly, 26, ended up being a steal, recording 15 goals and 27 points in 66 games, but he played in only seven playoff games in 2017, getting scratched the final six games against the Penguins in Round 2. He recorded zero points and had a -2 rating in those seven games before being scratched.
Connolly was set to become a restricted free agent again after the season, and was not qualified by the Capitals when the deadline for qualifying offers were due. The Capitals signed him later that week to a two-year contract.
Connolly went through a 10-game scoring drought at the beginning of the regular season, including a seven-game point drought (he missed seven games due to a concussion after a hit from Vancouver Canucks’ defenseman Erik Gudbranson in a 6-2 loss on October 26). He scored just a goal and an assist in eight games after returning and got scratched for one game. After getting back into the lineup, Connolly went on a three-game goal scoring streak and recorded 10 goals and 16 points the next 36 games. He finished the regular season tying his 2016-17 total of 15 goals and 27 points in 70 games.
Unlike two seasons ago, Connolly played in all 24 playoff games and scored six goals and nine points. He was also a +4. For $1.5 million a year, Connolly is a bargain.
When this deal was announced, many people believed that the Capitals overpaid Kuznetsov, as he came off a 19-goal, 59-point performance in 82 games after tallying 20 goals and 77 points in 82 games the previous season. According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Freidman, the Capitals tried to get Kuznetsov, 26, in the $6 million range, but knowing that he could return to the KHL, the team handed him a monster contract, making him the second-highest paid player on the team at the time (Alex Ovechkin: $9.53 million). Kuznetsov turned down an offer for a two-year deal with an annual average value worth $10 million to go back and play with his hometown team, Traktor Chelyabinsk in the KHL. If Kuznetsov had signed that deal, he could have come back to the NHL as an unrestricted free agent in 2019.
Many thought that the 8-year megadeal was a huge mistake and one that increased contracts across the entire league. Boston Bruins’ forward David Pastrnak was about to sign a six-year contract worth $36 million with the team as a restricted free agent but Kuznetsov’s contract made him ask for more. He eventually signed a six-year deal worth $40 million ($6.67 million AAV) with the Bruins on September 14.
Kuznetsov had a career year this past season, posting 27 goals and 83 points, which was the 19th most in the NHL, in 79 games. He led all players with 20 assists and 32 points in 24 postseason games. He played on the first line with Ovechkin during most of the season.
If Kuznetsov had become a restricted free agent after this past season, it would have probably cost the Capitals $9 million or even $10 million per season. That contract is not looking too bad now.
To accommodate Kuznetsov’s $7.8 million cap hit, the team needed to move a player, and the Caps wasted no time. Just a few hours after the Capitals announced the Kuznetsov contract, the team traded forward Marcus Johansson to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a second and third-round draft picks in 2018.
While it is understandable that the Capitals were forced to move cap space, it’s hard to think that they couldn’t have gotten more for a proven top-6 forward who had scored 24 goals and 58 points the year before and was only 26 years of age. Making the trade even more painful, Johansson went to a Metro division rival.
Unfortunately for New Jersey, Johansson played only 29 games with the Devils due to multiple concussion and tallied just 14 points during that time.
After Smith-Pelly tallied four goals and nine points in 53 games with New Jersey in 2016-17, the Devils bought-out the final year of his contract on June 30, 2017. He signed a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 with the Capitals on July 3, 2017.
It was uncertain if Smith-Pelly would even make the Capitals’ roster out of training camp, but he secured a place on the team after posting two goals and four points in five preseason games.
Smith-Pelly scored seven goals and 16 points in 75 games with the Capitals during the regular season, primarily playing on the fourth line with center Jay Beagle and winger Chandler Stephenson. In addition, he averaged 1:14 of ice time per game on the penalty kill. Smith-Pelly also spent some time on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom/Evgeny Kuznetsov.
While his regular season numbers were good for a fourth-liner making the league minimum, Smith-Pelly had his coming out party in the postseason, matching his regular season goal total of seven goals. He had eight points in 24 playoff games. Smith-Pelly was one of the Capitals unsung playoff heroes, scoring many key goals such as the series-clinching goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Round 1, a huge goal in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning to extend a 1-0 lead in the third period, and the game-tying goal in the Capitals’ Stanley Cup-clinching victory in Game 5 against the Vegas Golden Knights. He scored three goals in the Final against the Golden Knights.
Smith-Pelly re-signed with the Capitals on a one-year contract worth $1 million on June 27. He was not offered a qualifying offer from the Capitals when they were due and could have become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. There were reports that Smith-Pelly turned down more lucrative offers from other teams to return to Washington.
After forwards Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams parted with the Capitals, it was pretty clear that they were going to look for Andre Burakovsky to replace some of the 48 goals that walked out the door. Burakovsky started the season on a line with center Nicklas Backstrom and Oshie, where he tallied three goals in the final three games of 2016-17 and seemed destined for a breakout year.
But Burakovsky, 23, had a rough start to the season, posting only two assists in his first seven games. Burakovky finally broke through in his eighth game with a goal, which some thought would have gotten him going, but he broke his hand the next game and missed the next 20 games. In his first 10 games back in the lineup, Burakovsky tallied two goals (both in the same game) and four points (three in the same game) and wasn’t playing that well. He was scratched for two games before getting back into the lineup and then got sick after two games, missing the next three contests. Burakovsky played the next seven games, though his ice time dipped from 15:26 to 6:34 over that streak and was scratched the next game. With the trade deadline fast approaching, some fans and reporters questioned whether the team would trade Burakovsky with the inconsistency he had shown and with the team looking for a top-four defenseman.
He started to show flashes of his potential when he picked up four goals and six points in the next eight games. He got hot at the end of the regular season with four goals and eight points in his final 12 games, including a goal-of-the-month candidate in one of the final games of the season.
Burakovsky entered the playoffs hot and played well in Game 1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets but suffered a broken thumb the following game that required surgery. It kept him out for 10 games. He didn’t record a point in his first five games back in the lineup and was scratched for Game 5 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Fortunately, Burkovsky bounced back with a pair of huge goals in Game 7 against the Bolts to put the Capitals back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years and for only the second time in franchise history. Burakovsky tallied four assists in five games during the Stanley Cup Final.
Burakovsky will get another chance to show his value this year before he becomes a restricted free agent again. He has shown flashes of breakout potential but the keys for him are consistency, confidence, and to stay healthy in order to do that. The two-year bridge contract struck the right balance, giving the Caps an opportunity to see how Burakovsky matures before making a longer-term commitment.
The Capitals got goaltender Philipp Grubauer for a discounted price compared to other backup goalies, such as Jonathan Bernier, who signed a one-year contract worth $2.75 million with the Colorado Avalanche that year.
Grubauer went winless in his first six starts but not because he was playing bad. He was often getting starts on the second night of back-to-backs when the team in front of him was not at their best. The 26-year old German netminder was arguably the NHL’s best goaltender from Thanksgiving to the end of the regular season, posting a save percentage of .937 and a goals-against average of 1.93. Grubauer, who was drafted by the Capitals in the fourth round in 2010, went 15-5-2 in that span and won over the starting job from Braden Holtby after he went through a 1-5-2 stretch.
Grubauer finished the season with a 15-10-3 record, a goals-against average of 2.35, and a save percentage of .923. He started the first two games of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Columbus Blue Jackets, but he got pulled at the second intermission of Game 2 after giving up eight goals on 49 shots to begin the series. Holtby replaced him and never looked back, leading the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup championship.
Despite his start to the playoffs, Grubauer’s play down the stretch was a big reason that the Capitals won the Metropolitan Division. He started over Holtby in an April 1 game against the division rival Pittsburgh Penguins with a chance to clinch the division on the line and was excellent, stopping 36 shots (12 while shorthanded) in a 3-1 victory. Holtby was going through the worst stretch of his career and the team needed to give him a reset before the playoffs. Grubauer gave the coaching staff comfort to do that.
After the Stanley Cup celebrations wrapped up, the Capitals traded Grubauer and defenseman Brooks Orpik to the Avalanche for the No. 47 pick in the draft on June 22. They could have gotten more for Grubauer and were reportedly offered the No. 42 pick by the Carolina Hurricanes for Grubauer and Orpik, but the Capitals didn’t want Grubauer in the same division. Trading Orpik and his $5.5 million cap hit freed up cap space to re-sign defenseman John Carlson to an eight-year contract extension worth $64 million ($8 million). Carlson could have become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and would have been the most coveted defenseman and player other than some guy named John Tavares if he reached that point.
Forward Alex Chiasson was not offered a qualifying contract from the Calgary Flames as a restricted free agent, despite tallying 12 goals and 24 points in 81 games during the 2016-17 season. The Capitals brought him into training camp on a PTO as a safety net in case the Capitals’ rookies did not show MacLellan and coach Barry Trotz much.
Chiasson, 27, was in and out of the lineup during his tenure with the Capitals, playing in 61 games and recording nine goals and 18 points during the regular season and tallying and one goal and two points in 16 playoff games, primarily playing on the fourth line with Beagle and winger Chandler Stephenson/Smith-Pelly. After getting benched for a few games, Chiasson usually responded by scoring in his first game back.
Chiasson provided valuable depth and secondary scoring for the team. Chiasson is currently an unrestricted free agent.
With center Lars Eller on a stretch where he recorded six goals and 11 points in a span of 13 games, the Capitals decided to re-sign the “Tiger” to a five-year contract worth $17.5 Million ($3.5 million AAV), since the Caps had no replacement for a third-line center set for next season. Eller elevated his game and recorded 11 goals and 28 points in the 54 games before he signed his contract extension.
The Capitals were able to sign Eller for the same cap hit as he was making from his previous contract while he was on pace to set new career-highs. It’s guaranteed he could have made more money if he hit the open market after posting seven goals, 18 points, and a +6 rating in 24 playoff games, including the Game 3 overtime winner against the Blue Jackets that gave the Capitals a series-saving win, the game-winning goal in Game 2 against the Lightning that gave them a 2-0 series lead heading home, and the Stanley Cup-winning goal in Game 5 against the Golden Knights.
Eller was a great fit for the Capitals, and the Capitals were a great fit for him. In addition to centering the third line, Eller played valuable minutes on the penalty kill unit as well as the second power play squad. Eller said that after years of struggling to break through in Montreal, he finally felt like he knew what his role was and he was able to excel.
In need of defensive depth, the Capitals acquired defenseman Michal Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for the better of Washington’s two third-round picks in the 2018 NHL Draft.
Unlike MacLellan’s past in-season moves for a defenseman at the trade deadline, he approached this year’s deadline looking for the right fit rather than adding a physical defenseman or the biggest name on the market. His approach worked as Kempny proved to be one of the best deals at the deadline even though it did not involve a big name.
Most people projected Kempny, 27, to be a third-pairing defenseman since he was in and out of the lineup with a non-playoff team, but he was slotted in with Carlson on the second pair and fit perfectly. He tallied two goals, three assists, and a +1 rating in 22 regular season games with the Capitals and had two goals, five points, and a +1 in 24 playoff games.
Kempny was set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1 and the team ended up re-signing him to a four-year contract worth $10 million ($2.5 million AAV).
Trade – Capitals Acquire Jakub Jerabek From Canadiens For 2018 Fifth Round Pick on February 21
The Capitals made an effort to upgrade their defensive depth even more when they traded a fifth-round pick to the Montreal Canadiens with defenseman Jakub Jerabek.
Jerabek had a goal and four points in 11 games with the Capitals, equalling his offensive output in his 25 games with the Canadiens. Though he was a -1, Jerabek averaged 13:57 of ice time and tallied 14 hits with the Capitals and played well most of the time. Jerabek played primarily on the third pair with Orpik when in the lineup. He rotated in and out with rookie defenseman Christian Djoos and did not play in the playoffs after Game 2 of the First Round.
Jerabek was a solid pick up as an insurance policy. He is currently an unrestricted free agent.
Cumulative Grade: A-
By Harrison Brown