Since he took over from longtime incumbent George McPhee in 2014, Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan has overseen the return of the team to a perennial Stanley Cup contender. An interesting anecdote on MacLellan’s resume as General Manager has been his hab of acquiring at least one defenseman around or on each trade deadline during his tenure, a pattern that continued with Tuesday’s acquisition of Brenden Dillon from the San Jose Sharks. In this piece, NoVa Caps takes a look at each and grades each on a number of factors.
Each player will be graded on a number of factors, including his contributions to the team, his performance during his time with the Capitals, performance of players traded in exchanfe, and tenure with the team, keeping in mind that many trade deadline acquisitions are rentals more often than not.
Player(s): Tim Gleason
From: Carolina Hurricanes
Full Deal: Gleason from the Hurricanes on February 28, 2015 in exchange for D Jack Hillen and a fourth-round draft pick in 2015 (originally acquired from Arizona
In his first trade deadline season at the helm of personnel decisions, MacLellan acquired physical, defensive defenseman Tim Gleason from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for defenseman Jack Hillen and a fourth-round draft pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The move was made to solidify the Caps’ blueline for a deep playoff run in their first season under then-Head Coach Barry Trotz. With a blueline that already featured names such as John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, and Mike Green, the hope was that Gleason could add a physical and veteran presence to help the Capitals overcome the infamous second round hump.
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A former United States Olympian, Gleason was slotted in on the third defensive-pairing upon his arrival in Washington. In 17 regular season games played in a Caps sweater, the former first-round pick recorded two assists, averaging 15:17 of ice time (the second-lowest number of his career), picking up 11 penalty minutes in the process. Defensively, Gleason blocked 20 shots and had a takeaway-giveaway ration of 5-6, a marked improvement from his time with Carolina, during which he had just six takeaways to 16 giveaways. During his 17 regular season games with the Caps, Gleason recorded a Corsi For % of 50.9, while the team’s On-Ice Save Percentage sat at .944 during those 17 games when Gleason was on the ice. While these numbers seem positive, Gleason’s PDO (Save Percentage plus Shooting Percentage) during the 17 regular season games with the Capitals was 104.2, an indication that his performance likely wasn’t as great as upon first glance.
Gleason’s postseason performance was likely more indicative of his actual performance during the regular season. In 14 games played, Gleason recorded one assist, averaging 13:08 a game, while finishing with a minus-3 rating, 14 blocked shots, two takeaways, and four turnovers. The Capitals ultimately fell in seven games against the New York Rangers in the second round. After the season, Gleason did not re-sign with the Capitals, and eventually signed a Professional Tryout Offer with Carolina, but ended it and has not played since.
Hillen, who had played 71 games in parts of three seasons with Washington, played just three games with the Hurricanes, averaging 28:36 a night while finishing with a minus-3 rating. Hillen ultimately retired from professional hockey in December 2015, following a career marked by numerous injuries. The fourth-round pick acquired by Carolina in the deal was eventually used on goaltender Callum Booth, who is currently playing for the Atlanta Gladiators, the ECHL affiliate of the Boston Bruins.
Overall, Gleason’s time with the Capitals was largely unimpressive. While his surface numbers indicate a solid performance in the regular season, analytics show they may not be entirely dependable. However, it could be fair to argue that Gleason’s regular season was better than his postseason play, and the lack of impact from Hillen and Booth on the Hurricanes’ end makes the trade a bit easier to swallow on the part of MacLellan and the Capitals.
Player(s): Mike Weber
From: Buffalo Sabres
Full Deal: Weber from the Buffalo Sabres on February 23, 2016 in exchange for third-round pick in 2017; 50% of Weber’s contract was retained by Buffalo.
In his second trade deadline season as General Manager of the Capitals, MacLellan acquired veteran defenseman (again a left-handed blueliner) Mike Weber from the Buffalo Sabres, in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Buffalo retained 50% of Weber’s contract in the trade. Much like Gleason’s acquisition, Weber was acquired to provide depth, a stay-at-home style of play, and veteran presence to a loaded Capitals’ team that was en route to the franchise’s second President’s Trophy and hoping to contend for a Stanley Cup.
Unlike Gleason, whose struggles were partly masked by overlying numbers, Weber struggled mightily during his time with the Caps. In 10 regular season games played, Weber recorded no points and finished with a minus-1 rating and 28 penalty minutes, averaging a career-low 13:59 of ice time and four giveaways. Weber finished his regular season stint with the Caps with a Corsi For % of 46.0, though the team’s goaltenders did hold a .926 Save Percentage at Even-strength while Weber was on the ice and he did block 25 shots. Weber played just two postseason games in a Washington sweater, recording a minus-2 rating while averaging 9:51 of ice time a game for then-Head Coach Barry Trotz,
The third-round pick sent to the Sabres in exchange for Weber was eventually used to select defenseman Oskari Laaksonen, who is currently playing for Ilves Tampere of the Finnish Liiga, and at 20-years old, has not yet made the jump to North America. Weber would not re-sign with the Capitals at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season, and the team failed to advance beyond the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After fialing to draw interest in free agency, Weber signed a Professional Tryout Offer with the St. Louis Blues in August of 2016, but was released from the agreement less than two-months later. He then signed a professional tryout agreement with the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League before eventually signed a deal with the Minnesota Wild of the NHL. However, Weber did not play with the NHL Wild. In November 2017, Weber signed a contract with Frolunda HC of the Swedish Hockey League, but would play in only 10 games before a knee injury forced him to retire from professional hockey.
Like his predecessor, Weber’s short stint in Washington was unimpressive and consisted of poor performance. Also like the Gleason trade, the draft pick exchanged has not yet had any effect on the “winner/loser” aspect of the deal. However, Weber’s resume in D.C. wasn’t worthy of a third-round pick that could have been used to solidify the team’s prospect pool.
Player(s): Kevin Shattenkirk
From: St. Louis Blues
Full deal: Shattenkirk and G Pheonix Copley from St. Louis Blues on February 27, 2017 in exchange for F Zach Sanford, F Brad Malone, a first-round pick in 2017, and conditional second-round pick in 2018; St. Louis retained 39% of Shattenkirk’s salary and bonuses as part of the trade
In what could be described as his “headliner” trade deadline season deal, MacLellan acquired big-name blueliner Kevin Shattenkirk from the St. Louis Blues, along with goaltender Pheonix Copley, in exchange for young forward prospect Zach Sanford, a 2017 NHL Entry Draft first-round pick, and a conditional 2018 second-round pick. With an already-loaded roster that was believed to be in the final prime year of contention, MacLellan hoped the addition of a top rearguard like Shattenkirk would help the Capitals get over the second round roadblock and into the latter stages of the playoffs.
Unlike the two previous defensive acquisitions, Shattenkirk’s arrival to Washington came with much more fanfare. One of St. Louis’ premier blueliners (42 points in 61 games played) and despite a stacked blueline that consisted of John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Karl Alzner, Dmitry Orlov, as well as Nate Schmidt, Shattenkirk was expected to add strength for a deep postseason run.
In 19 games played during the regular season (shortened by two games due to a two-game suspension), Shattenkirk recorded 14 points (two goals, 12 assists), with a plus-4 rating while averaging 20:12 a night. Shattenkirk’s most well-known moment as a Capital came during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. With the Caps down 2-0 in their Best of Seven second round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, they were facing a potential 3-0 deficit with Game 3 headed to overtime. With the Capitals on the power play, Shattenkirk fired the puck from the point past then-Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to seal the victory for the Caps and cut the series lead to one. However, the Capitals would go on to lose the series in heartbreaking fashion at home in seven games. Despite his goal, Shattenkirk finished the series with just six points (one goal, five assists) in 13 games played, with a minus-4 rating while averaging 18:27 of ice time.
The acquisition of Shattenkirk could perhaps be described as a mixed bag. While his regular season numbers were certainly up to par, his less-than stellar production in the playoffs was disappointing, given the expectations surrounding his arrival in D.C.. Copley, meanwhile, would go on to serve as the Caps’ backup netminder in 2018-19, and has shared netminding duties with the Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate Hershey Bears. The 2017 first-round pick was eventually dealt by the Blues to the Philadelphia Flyers in another trade involving Brayden Schenn, and was used to select Center Morgan Frost, who is currently a member of the Flyers. Sanford has played 120 regular season games with St. Louis, recording 51 points. Sanford also won the Stanley Cup with St. Louis in 2019, and has played in 12 playoff games over two seasons with St. Louis.
Player(s): Michal Kempny, Jakub Jerabek
From: Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal Canadiens
Full deals: 1) Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks on February 19, 2018 in exchange for a conditional third-round pick in 2018 2) Jerabek from the Montreal Canadiens on February 21, 2018 in exchange for a fifth-round pick in 2019
In what would prove to be the best end result season of his tenure as General Manager, MacLellan made moves for a pair of defensemen that played a part in the Capitals’ success. On February 19, 2018, MacLellan dealt a conditional third-round draft pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft to the Chicago Blackhawks for little-known blueliner Michal Kempny. Two days later, the team dealt a fifth-round selection in 2019 to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for rearguard Jakub Jerabek.
Kempny would be prove to be one of the best deals of MacLellan’s career as General Manager. Expected to add depth to the Caps’ blueline, the undrafted, Czech Republic native made an impact almost instantaneously. In 22 regular season games played with the Capitals, Kempny recorded two goals and one assist, while providing steady defensive play alongside John Carlson on the team’s top pair, averaging 16:45 a game. Kempny would continue his solid play in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, recording five points (two goals, three assists) in 24 games played en route to helping the Capitals capture their first Stanley Cup. Jerabek, meanwhile, played in 11 regular season games with the Capitals, scoring once and adding three assists for four points, while averaging 13:59 a game. Jerabek played in just two playoff games during the Capitals’ Cup run, but was on the ice to hoist Lord Stanley’s mug at the conclusion of the team’s Game 5 victory.
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Kempny’s strong play would be rewarded during the offseason, as the Capitals rewarded him with a four-year contract to keep him in D.C. through 2022, and he is currently one of the team’s top defensemen. Jerabek, meanwhile, departed in free agency, in which he signed a one-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers, who traded him to the St. Louis Blues before the season. He would play just one game for the Blues before being waived and assigned to the AHL. After the season, he signed a one-year deal with Kontinental Hockey League team HC Vityaz.
Overall, the 2018 trade deadline season proved to a fruitful one for MacLellan and the Capitals. While Jerabek’s acquisition wasn’t nearly as impactful as Kempny’s, it played a part in the Capitals’ run to their first championship. The conditional third-round pick turned into the higher selection of the Caps’ own third-round pick in 2018 or a third-round pick originally belonging to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and ultimately was dealt twice more before being used by the San Jose Sharks on Center Linus Karlsson. The 2019 fifth-round pick dealt to Montreal in the Jerabek trade was dealt to the Minnesota Wild who used the pick to select Center Matvey Guskov.
Grade (Kempny): A+
Grade (Jerabek): C
Player(s): Nick Jensen
From: Detroit Red Wings
Full deal: Jensen from Detroit Red Wings on February 22, 2019 in exchange for D Madison Bowey and a fifth-round pick in 2019
Much like his previous acquisitions, the addition of Nick Jensen was made to provide the Capitals with defensive depth and a potential Top 4 option with likely salary cap-forced moves coming in the subsequent offseason. In exchange for Jensen, the Caps dealt young defenseman Madison Bowey and a fifth-round pick in 2019 to the Detroit Red Wings.
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In his one year with the Capitals, Jensen has struggled to find consistent play and establish himself as a Top 4-caliber blueliner. In 78 games played in Washington, Jensen has recorded 10 assists, with a minus-3 rating, while averaging 17:28 of ice time a night for Head Coach Todd Reirden. Jensen has struggled to a takeaway-giveaway ratio of 29-49, and a Corsi For % of 49.4. The Capitals re-signed Jensen to a four-year, $10 million contract after acquiring him, betting on him finding his game in Washington. While he has the rest of the 2019-20 season to find his game, the jury is still partially out on Jensen given the relatively short time since his acquisition.
Grade (so far): C-
Overall, the MacLellan has looked to address defensive depth come trade deadline season. Of the seven defensemen (including Brenden Dillon) MacLellan has acquired around or on the trade deadline, five (Gleason, Weber, Kempny, Jerabek, Dillon) have been left-handed defensemen, while two (Shattenkirk and Jensen) have been right-handed blueliners. Of the six prior to this season, only Kempny and Jensen have remained with the team beyond the season in which they were acquired. With the Caps a team normally near the salary cap ceiling, and Dillon an unrestricted free agent following this season and yet to play in a game with the team, it remains to be seen whether or not that number will rise to three. Additionally, the team has often dealt conditional picks in several of the deadline deals for blueliners, with Dillon’s acquisition being the most recent.
By Michael Fleetwood