Prior to the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver, Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan spoke to the media via conference call on Thursday afternoon. He touched on numerous topics such as injury updates, trade talk around the NHL, contract negotiation updates, and more during his call.
While it has been reported that there has been a lot of trade talk around the league, MacLellan downplayed that as he said that there has been a “normal amount.” He said “[A] lot of teams” check in on one another to see about fixing areas of improvement and finding a trade partner to do that with. He was not sure if the trade talk around the league is “above normal.” Regarding how active that his team was in trade discussions, he just said “[we] try to check in with other teams as much as possible.”
There have been a few reports saying that the Capitals have been among the league’s most aggressive teams in trade talks and that they are in a “win-now” window. MacLellan responded to those reports by saying that he “doesn’t know” when and if his team is ever not in that mode and that he wants to put together the best possible team for the upcoming season. “[It is the] same mode [that] we’ve been in the last five years.,” MacLellan said.
MacLellan stated that the upcoming decisions on the respective futures of center Nicklas Backstrom and goaltender Braden Holtby (each can sign a contract extension as soon as July 1) will “not [have] a huge impact” on the contract discussions with impending restricted free agent Andre Burakovsky. MacLellan acknowledged that Backstrom and Holtby have been “[a] big part of what we’ve accomplished so far” and said that he will continue to talk to both over the summer.
The Capitals would like to keep Burakovsky even if qualifying him will be expensive as he has to be offered a cap hit of at least $3.25 million for the team to retain him. While MacLellan acknowledged that Burakovsky had a “frustrating year,” he also said that he played well during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and that the organization likes him. He said that the Capitals will not trade Burakovsky unless the return appeals to the team.
MacLellan told the media that it is “frustrating” to continue waiting for the salary cap ceiling to come out. While he said that it does not look like the salary cap will go up by “a lot of dollars, it impacts teams that are up against [salary] cap.” He and the rest of the General Managers around the league are hoping to find out what the salary cap ceiling is on Saturday.
MacLellan said that he has been “in contact with [forward Jakub Vrana’s] agent” and that he has had “a few conversations” him. Vrana, who finished second on the Capitals with 24 goals during the regular season, can become a restricted free agent on July 1. MacLellan said that the two sides will keep talking and that a decision on Vrana will likely come after the salary cap is released.
MacLellan described defenseman Radko Gudas, who was acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for defenseman Matt Niskanen on June 14, as “competitive, [a] good defensive defenseman, physical, and [someone of] high character.” He said that the fact that Gudas can help the penalty kill attracted the Capitals to him.
MacLellan called defenseman Nick Jensen “a candidate” to slide into Niskanen’s spot on the second defensive pairing with Dmitry Orlov and said that head coach Todd Reirden will have “multiple options” to fill in that hole vacated by Niskanen’s departure.
The Capitals will talk to forward Brett Connolly, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, about a new contract but MacLellan said that bringing him back could be hard. He said that the team will have to wait and see what the salary cap ceiling is to figure out if they can retain Connolly, who notched career-highs with 22 goals and 46 points this past season. MacLellan told the media that Connolly “brought stability to his game” with the Capitals and that his linemates, center Lars Eller and forward Carl Hagelin, “complement each other very well.” He felt that it was a good fit for both parties and that Connolly played well over his three years in Washington.
MacLellan said that he has talked to both agents of forward Devante Smith-Pelly and defenseman Brooks Orpik. Each can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. MacLellan told the media that he will “continue to converse with them” and make a decision on both of them after the free agency interview period.
The Capitals will make decisions on the restricted free agents that they will not qualify once they find out what the salary cap ceiling is and talk to each of their agents. Despite saying that he wanted Burakovsky back, MacLellan said that he will make a decision on him after he checks both of those boxes.
Regarding captain Alex Ovechkin, MacLellan said that he “continues to amaze me” and that “[the performance that he put together] last year was outstanding.” He called Ovechkin “great for the organization” and doesn’t expect to see any drop-off from him this upcoming season.
MacLellan told the media that forward T.J. Oshie, who missed the last three games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs due to a broken collarbone, will be ready for the start of training camp. MacLellan said Oshie has resumed work-outs and was doing well the last time that he checked.
He said that defenseman Michal Kempny, who missed the last eight games of the regular season and all seven Stanley Cup Playoff games because of a torn hamstring, is “progressing well” and should be ready by the time training camp starts but described the process with him as “wait-and-see.”
Defensive prospect Alexandar Alexeyev’s knee injury “is not as bad as we thought,” MacLellan said. He told the media that Alexeyev is healthy and will participate in the team’s development camp next week.
MacLellan told reporters that the team is nearing a decision on who they will take in the first round of the NHL Draft on Friday. He said that the Capitals are expected to take a forward as the team is thin in terms of forward depth down the pipeline. Although, he did acknowledge that there are “quite a few good defensemen” that appealed to the team. He said that this year features a “deep draft.”
MacLellan was “disappointed” in center Evgeny Kuznetsov after a video of him with cocaine a few feet away was released. He said that the Capitals went through a “thorough investigation” of the situation and talked to Kuznetsov. MacLellan felt comfortable about the conversations that the two have had about that and is confident that Kuznetsov learned a lesson. He said that both sides are moving on from that incident now.
MacLellan liked “everything” that forward Carl Hagelin brought to the team after they acquired him from the Los Angeles Kings on February 21, including “the fit, experience, what he brings on [penalty kill], [and] speed.” He felt that the Capitals needed to have a penalty-killer of Hagelin’s caliber, someone who drives five-on-five play like he does, and the leadership that he brings with two Stanley Cups under his belt in case both Orpik and Niskanen left. “[The] fit was perfect for us.”
By Harrison Brown