Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan told reporters on Friday in his mid-season meeting that the team wants to begin negotiating a contract with forward Jakub Vrana, who can become a restricted free agent July 1, soon, and discussed more.
While MacLellan said locking Vrana, 22, up could happen in the offseason, the team wants to see where Vrana and his representatives are at this point. He said the Capitals were open about giving him a long-term contract.
1. The #Caps want to start negotiating with Jakub Vrana on a new deal this month, just to see where Vrana and his camp are. It could still become an offseason negotiation, of course. He’s a big priority to lock up.
— Adam Zielonka (@Adam_Zielonka) January 11, 2019
Vrana’s 15 goals are second on the team behind captain Alex Ovechkin‘s 32, which also led the league. His +16 rating leads all Capitals forwards and his 25 points, which are two behind is total output in 73 games last season, is fifth on the team. He has three goals and four points in his last two games.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) January 11, 2019
MacLellan also said that defenseman Christian Djoos, who has missed the past 13 games after undergoing surgery on his thigh on December 14, has begun off-ice workouts and hope to know when he’ll return to the lineup in two weeks.
On center Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s recent struggles, MacLellan said “I thought he started the year at a very high level and then basically tailed off after that injury. I think sometimes coming back from injuries guys have to find their way. They need a little time to get comfortable in the games. For him, it’s always he plays the game at such a high level how hard he wants to compete out there dictates … He could be one of the best players in the league if he chose to be.” In October, Kuznetsov said, “To be MVP, you have to work hard 365 (days) a year, but I’m not ready for that.”
On the NHL Trade Deadline, which is on February 25 at 3 PM Eastern time, MacLellan said that the Capitals were open to swap players though he also said that he doesn’t see any glaring holes he needs to fix.
Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said he’s open to a “player-for-player” deal before NHL trade deadline. Also – D Christian Djoos is beginning off-ice workout in his return from scary compartment syndrome.
— Brian McNally (@bmcnally14) January 11, 2019
He stated the team and captain Alex Ovechkin have yet to decide which game he will miss for skipping the All-Star Weekend in San Jose from January 26-27. He has to miss either one of the Capitals’ games at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday, January 23, the game preceding the All-Star Break, or against the Calgary Flames on Friday, February 1, the game following the All-Star Break.
On goaltender Pheonix Copley, who’s arguably been the Capitals’ biggest surprise this season, MacLellan said “I think he’s pretty much continually gotten better. You watch him work in practice, you watch what [goaltending coach Scott Murray] does, I mean I talk to Scott constantly on where’s he at, where’s he going and there’s a comfort level with him that he’s not going to get worse, he’s going to get better.” He added that his strong play isn’t really a surprise but has just come sooner than expected. MacLellan was optimistic about goaltender Ilya Samsonov despite the fact that he’s gone 5-11-0 with a save percentage of .862 and a goals-against average of 3.83 in 16 games with the AHL’s Hershey Bears this season.
He was surprised about how far the Tampa Bay Lightning are ahead of the whole pack, sitting on a 10-point cushion for first place in the NHL, saying “Just that Tampa Bay has separated themselves from everyone else. I would have had them right with us with the whole group, but they continually seem to be at a different level than the rest of the league right now with their depth and with what they’re accomplishing offensively and defensively too. In a league that’s really close and there are probably 8-10 teams that are [up] there, Tampa has separated themselves from everybody, which is a surprise to me.”
By Harrison Brown