Scoring GM Brian MacLellan’s Moves Since The Capitals Won The Stanley Cup In 2018

Photo: @Capitals

The Washington Capitals 2019-20 roster saw significant changeover during the last offeseason. Changes included a new coaching staff, tweaks to the bottom-six forward group as well a substantial overhaul of the Capitals’ defense.

Unfortunately, the changes did very little to improve the Capitals postseason success, as the team was once again eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As a result of the disappointing postseason showings over the last three postseasons, NoVa Caps wanted to review all of the transactions made by Brian MacLellan since the Capitals hoisted Lord Stanley. The following is a detailed analysis of each transaction made since June of 2018, which is then followed by a grade of 1 to 10 for each transaction.


Grading Methodology

Four of NoVa Caps staff members graded each of Brian MacLellan’s transactions since the Capitals won the Stanley Cup on June 7, 2018. Each transaction was given a grade on a scale of 1 (the worst) to 10 (the best) and scored to the nearest 0.5. Then all four scores were averaged for the final score for each transaction, which is noted in this post.


2020-21

Fired Head Coach Todd Reirden, Hired Peter Laviolette As Replacement, Kevin McCarthy As Assistant Coach 

Three days after losing in Game 5 of the first round in Toronto to the New York Islanders, MacLellan fired Reirden after six seasons on the Capitals’ coaching staff and expressed the need for an experienced coach who could press buttons to get the most out of his players. 23 days later, he signed Laviolette to a three-year contract that will pay him $5 million per season.

Laviolette got the Capitals off to a 6-0-3 start to the season, a league-best 17-3-1 record from February 16 to March 29, and an admirable 11-4-1 finish to the season. The Capitals were not able to continue their five-year streak of division titles, but that was only because of the third tie-breaker of regulation and overtime wins, where they trailed the Pittsburgh Penguins by a margin of just 34-33.

In Laviolette’s first season, the Capitals averaged 3.36 goals-per-game (fourth in the NHL) and 2.88 goals-against per game (17th), an improvement from the 3.32 goals that the team allowed over the final 38 games of the 2019-20 season. After the Capitals converted on 15.6% of their power play opportunities over that period last season, they finished the season third in the league with a 24.8% efficiency. The Capitals also improved from 82.6% on the penalty kill (sixth) in 2019-20 to 84% this season (fifth) under Laviolette, who brought in McCarthy to take charge of the Capitals’ defense.

Score: 8.8

Re-signed F Daniel Sprong To Two-Year Contract ($725,000 Cap Hit)

The 24-year-old inserted some much-needed scoring depth into the lineup despite making league minimum this past season and next. Sprong finished with 13 goals (tied forward Tom Wilson for fifth on the team and came close to averaging half a point-per-game (20 in 42) despite being in and out of the lineup.

His 20 points set a career-high while his 13 goals were one short of his career-best set in 47 games in 2018-19 with the Anaheim Ducks. Sprong’s 1.59 goals-per-60 minutes this season was tied for 13th best in the NHL.

Sprong was in and out of the lineup at times this season due to the Capitals’ strong forward depth and his lack of defensive play but the team got excellent contract value out of Sprong.

Score: 8.8

Re-signed LHD Brenden Dillon To Four-Year Contract ($3.9 Million Cap Hit)

The 30-year-old benefited under Laviolette’s system, tallying two goals, 19 points, and a +15 rating while averaging 18:57 per game (including 1:47 while shorthanded) in 56 games. Dillon recorded a 50.40% Corsi-for percentage, a 51.56% expected goals-for percentage, and a 51.97% expected goals-for percentage at five-on-five.

He averaged 8.08 hits-per-60 minutes, 3.45 blocked shots-per-60 minutes, 1.52 giveaways-per-60 minutes, and 0.73 takeaways-per-60. Dillon fits into the Capitals’ physical style of play and had an admirable season.

Score: 6.3

Signed RHD Justin Schultz To Two-Year Contract ($4 Million Cap Hit)

The 31-year-old also reaped the benefits from Laviolette’s system, posting three goals, 27 points, and a +12 rating in 46 games after a down season plagued by injuries with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2019-20.

Schultz’s production went down after a fast start and injury, and was not the best defensive player, posting a 49.14% Corsi-for percentage, a 48.25% expected goals-for percentage, and a 49.25% scoring chances-for percentage at five-on-five. He also recorded 1.92 hits-per-60 (last among Capitals’ defensemen), 3.36 blocked shots-per-60, 1.71 giveaways-per-60, and 0.82 giveaways-per-60.

Score: 6.9

Signed LW Daniel Carr To One-Year, $700,000 Contract

The 29-year-old spent most of the season on the Capitals’ taxi squad but played six games where he recorded an assist, a -2 rating, a 48.25% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 41.79% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 48.15% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage. Carr also appeared in one Stanley Cup Playoff game.

While Carr did not have much of an impact, it was necessary for the Capitals to add some more depth with any player at risk of COVID-19 and more injury-prone due to the shortened season. For league minimum, this was a low-risk move.

Score: 6.0

Signed RHD Trevor Van Riemsdyk To One-Year Contract At $800,000 

The 29-year-old did not get a jersey much but notched one goal, three points, a -1 rating, a 52.49% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 54.94% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and 53.7% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 20 games. Van Riemsdyk averaged 15:15 per game, including 1:37 on the penalty kill when he did come into the lineup.

Signing Van Riemsdyk was a necessary move as teams had to prepare to dig deep into their systems this season and add more defensive depth after the Capitals gave up an average of 3.44 goals-per-game from December 22 onward during the 2019-20 regular season (the most among the 24 teams that were invited to the NHL’s return-to-play plan).

The Capitals signed him to a two-year contract extension that carries a $950,000 cap hit on March 21.

Score: 8.1

Re-signed LHD Jonas Siegenthaler To One-Year, $800,000 Contract

The Capitals re-signed the 24-year-old after a solid 2019-20 season where he earned a +11 rating and established himself as the team’s top penalty killer.

However, Siegenthaler became the odd man out after the team signed Zdeno Chara, who appeared in all but one game this season, and played in just seven games with the Capitals this season before getting dealt to the New Jersey Devils on April 10.

Siegenthaler posted just a -3 rating, 46.21% Corsi-for percentage, a 45.66% expected goals-for percentage, and a 44.23% scoring chances-for percentage before getting traded this season. However, re-signing him is viewed as a depth move due to his role and low cap hit.

Score: 7.1

Signed LW Conor Sheary To One-Year, $735,000 Contract

The 29-year-old was one of the Capitals’ most consistent producers this season where he finished with 14 goals (fourth on the team) and 22 points in 53 games. He provided more scoring depth in a third-line role and gave the team a younger forward with most of their star forwards north of 30-years-old.

He inserted some much-needed speed into the Capitals’ forward group. After sitting for three of the Capitals’ first 11 games due to being a healthy scratch or injured, Sheary never gave up his spot again and played in all of the team’s remaining games.

Sheary signed a two-year contract extension that carries a $1.5 million cap hit on April 14.

Score: 9.3

Signed D Zdeno Chara To One-Year, $795,000 Contract

The 44-year-old was everything the Capitals wanted him to be and more this season. He recorded two goals, 10 points, a +5 rating, a 49.5% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 52.33% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 51.63% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 55 games. Chara averaged 18:19 per game, including a team-high 2:41 on the penalty kill.

Chara added to an already strong leadership core and help rub off on the players, especially the younger ones, with his training and health regime.

It could be argued that Chara took up Siegenthaler or Fehervary’s spot but for a team that was trying to make the most of its dwindling Stanley Cup window.

Score: 8.3

Signed G Craig Anderson To One-Year, $700,000 Contract

After goaltender Henrik Lundqvist announced he would undergo heart surgery and not play this season, the Capitals signed Anderson to be on the taxi squad as a safety net with a first-time No. 1 goalie in the NHL and a rookie back-up netminder.

The 40-year-old appeared in just four regular-season games but performed well, going 2-1-0 with a .915 save percentage and a 2.13 goals-against average. Anderson tallied a .926 save percentage, a 1.87 goals-against average, a 0.47 goals-saved above average, and a .833 high-danger save percentage at five-on-five.

He also went 1-1 with a .929 save percentage and a 2.67 goals-against average in two Stanley Cup Playoff games after Vitek Vanecek went down with a lower-body injury in Game 1 against the Boston Bruins and while Ilya Samsonov was getting his conditioning back following a stint on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol.

Score: 8.4

Traded D Jonas Siegenthaler To Devils For Arizona Coyotes’ 2021 Third-Round Pick

After Siegenthaler requested a trade to get more playing time, the Capitals dealt him to the Devils to satisfy his wish and make more room under the NHL salary cap with the trade deadline a day away.

With Chara anchoring the third-pair this season and Martin Fehervary expected to take over that spot next season, it made sense to part with Siegenthaler and the Capitals got back a good draft pick in return.

Score: 7.0

Traded Vegas Golden Knights’ 2021 Fifth-Round Pick To Philadelphia Flyers For F Michael Raffl (25% – $400,000 – retained)

The Capitals acquired the 32-year-old for more forward depth in the bottom-six. After missing the first four games due to an upper-body injury at the beginning of his Capitals’ tenure, Raffl recorded one goal, three points, and a +1 rating in 10 games with the team and played well in a bottom-six role.

With two fifth-round picks this year and since the Capitals parted with what is likely to be the lower one, that makes the deal better for them.

Score: 7.6

Traded RW Jakub Vrana, RW Richard Panik, 2021 First-Round Pick, 2022 Second-Round Pick To Detroit Red Wings For LW Anthony Mantha

With a waning Stanley Cup window, the Capitals went “all-in” by acquiring Mantha but it came at a steep cost by trading Vrana and two high draft picks. While it is understandable they had to give up a second to offload Panik’s $2.75 cap hit for the next two seasons after this one, MacLellan overpaid by parting with a first-round pick in addition to Vrana. Though, there is less certainty to the value of a first-round pick this year due to shortened seasons and less ability to travel and scout.

Mantha, 26, recorded four goals, eight points, and an even rating in 14 games after the trade and became the first Capital ever to score four goals in his first four games with the team. While his production dipped after that with just three assists in 10 games at the end of the season, that was not because of his play or a lack of opportunities.

The Capitals were willing to part with Vrana, 25, because he was in the midst of a down season as he recorded 11 goals and 25 points in 39 games and did not seem to fit into Laviolette’s system. MacLellan saw a frustrated player in Vrana and wanted to satisfy his wish of more responsibility and more cost certainty with Mantha under contract for three more seasons after this season and Vrana set to become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. He also had issues under both Reirden and Barry Trotz during their tenures in Washington and was scratched for two games prior to the trade. In 11 games after the trade, Vrana recorded eight goals and 11 points.

Panik recorded a goal and four points in 12 games following the trade to Detroit after recording three goals and nine points in 36 games with the Capitals. He was also scratched for five of his last seven games with the team before getting dealt.

While the Capitals gave up a lot to acquire Mantha, this is a trade that will have its outcome determined with more time. With Mantha and Vrana expected to remain in their new homes for the long haul, more evidence is needed before declaring a winner and loser of this trade but the Red Wings appear to be winning it so far. Part of it will also be how the Red Wings use the 23rd overall pick, which was supposed to be the Capitals’ before they traded it.

Score: 6.0


2019-20

Traded RHD Matt Niskanen To Flyers For RHD Radko Gudas Trade: June 14, 2019

To shed some cap space to re-sign forward Carl Hagelin after he fit in well with the team after being acquired at the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline, the Capitals opted to trade Niskanen, 33, to the Philadelphia Flyers for Gudas, who can become an unrestricted free agent after this season and will unlikely be brought back. The Flyers retained $1.005 million of Gudas’ $3.35 million cap hit.

Gudas got off to a strong start as his +16 rating in his first 37 games of the season was 10th in the NHL but declined as he posted a +4 rating after that as he was the Capitals’ seventh defenseman for most of February and March. He was scratched for six of the final 14 regular-season games and Capitals’ three of the eight Stanley Cup Playoff games. Gudas would have likely been scratched more had John Carlson not missed the round-robin tournament with an undisclosed injury. The 30-year-old finished the regular season with a 51.43% Corsi-for percentage and a 49.44% expected goals-for percentage.

Meanwhile, Niskanen shined in his first season with the Flyers, averaging 21:54 per game (the second-most on the team) while helping Ivan Provorov develop into a top defenseman. Niskanen tied his career-high in goals (eight) while he was with the Capitals (set last season) in 12 fewer games this season and recorded 33 points and a +15 rating. Also, he had a 52.2% Corsi-for percentage and a 53.93% expected goals-for percentage.

While Gudas got off to a strong start with his new team, he ended up to be the Capitals’ seventh defenseman while Niskanen bounced back from a tough 2018-19 season and turned into the Flyers’ top shutdown defenseman. He played a vital role during the team’s breakout season. Even though Gudas was not bad for the Capitals, the deal would look fair had Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher threw a mid-to-high draft pick into it. While the Capitals figured Niskanen was not going to be what he once was after a poor season as he got a year older, Niskanen proved the doubters wrong this season and made MacLellan look like he got robbed. However, no one expected Gudas to be as good as Niskanen was for the organization anyway.

Score: 7.0

Signed LW Carl Hagelin to Four-Year Contract ($2.75 Million Cap Hit): June 16, 2019

After a slow start as he recorded just seven assists and a +5 rating in his first 30 games of the first season of his deal that included 11 games missed due to a lower-body injury, the 32-year-old finished with eight goals, 18 points, and a +7 rating in his final 31 games. played a vital role on the Capitals’ penalty kill, averaging 2:55 per game (the most among the team’s forwards and second on the team behind defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler: 3:11), which ranked sixth in the NHL with an 82.6% penalty-killing rate. 

In 2020-21, Hagelin was part of the team’s shut-down line and played a critical role on a penalty kill that ranked fifth in the NHL with an 84% efficiency, where he averaged 2:34 per game (most among Capitals’ forwards). He recorded six goals, 16 points, and a +7 rating in 56 games.

He may be getting a little on the older side, but that is a problem for later. The Capitals opted to sign him for four seasons to get him at a cap hit lower than his market value. He should still be productive next season at least, and turned in a solid season.

Score:6.5

Traded RW Andre Burakovsky To Colorado Avalanche For 2020 Second-Round Pick, Coyotes’ 2020 Third-Round Pick: June 28, 2019

After months of trade speculation, the Capitals pulled the trigger on the 25-year-old, acquiring second and third-round picks in the 2020 NHL Draft from the Colorado Avalanche. The Capitals also acquired the rights to pending unrestricted free agent forward Scott Kosmachuk, but he never signed with them.

Despite missing some time due to injury in 2019-20, Burakovsky had a career season with the breakout Avalanche as he set career-highs with 20 goals, 25 assists, and 45 points in just 58 games while getting opportunities to play in the Avalanche’s top-six forward group, including with center Nathan MacKinnon. In 2020-21, Burakovsky earned 19 goals, 44 points, and a +4 rating in 53 games.

While this trade is looking like a steal for the Avalanche, it seemed like a good one at the time for the Capitals since he struggled to live up to his potential for years with the team. Burakovsky broke out this season, but had he stayed in Washington, he would probably have not gotten an opportunity next to centers Nicklas Backstrom or Evgeny Kuznetsov, meaning his production would have likely been down compared to how it has been in Colorado. Burakovsky struggled in most instances where the Capitals plugged him in the top-six forward group and fitted the best alongside Lars Eller and Brett Connolly. When the Capitals acquired Hagelin, he took up that spot on the left side of that line and Burakovsky was demoted to the fourth. Though, that would most likely be different today. The bottom line is that the Capitals were patient with Burakovsky and while he showed signs of potential during his tenure in Washington, he continuously struggled keeping his production consistent and was benched by both Trotz and Reirrden when they were with the team. It was clear that Burakovsky did not fit into the Capitals’ system.

The Capitals flipped the second-round pick acquired in this deal to the San Jose Sharks in the trade that sent defenseman Brenden Dillon to the nation’s capital.

Score: 5.9

Signed RW Richard Panik To Four-Year Contract At $2.75 Million Per: July 1, 2019

To fill the left open by Burakovsky’s departure, the Capitals signed Panik intending to play him on the third line. The 29-year-old ended his first season in Washington with nine goals, 22 points, and a +16 rating, the best among the team’s forwards and behind only defenseman Michal Kempny (+19) on the Capitals. He finished the season with seven goals, 19 points, and a team-high +11 rating in his final 34 games.

Panik’s tenure in Washington got off to a rocky start with poor play out of the gate and a lower-body injury that cost him ten games out of the lineup at the end of October. But he eventually found it and led the Capitals in assists (five) and was second in points (seven) behind only captain Alex Ovechkin (eight) in seven regular-season games after the team acquired forward Ilya Kovalchuk from the Montreal Canadiens on February 23.

While Panik gained ground, it appeared that he fit in better on the fourth line, and $2.75 million might be too expensive to pay a fourth-liner in the long run. Laviolette started Panik out on the third line this season but he was unable to refind the level he was able to towards the end of 2019-20.

Panik’s strong play was not able to carry over to the 2020-21 season as he scored just three goals, nine points, and a -9 rating in 36 games with the Capitals. He had some good moments but ultimately did not fit into the team’s system and was a healthy scratch for six of the Capitals’ final eight games before the trade with the Red Wings.

While every GM cannot hit a home run on every signing, it ultimately cost the Capitals a second-round pick just to offload Panik’s contract due to the flat salary cap. With an already weak prospect pool, that may hit the Capitals hard in the long run.

Score: 4.0

Signed RW Garnet Hathaway To Four-Year Contract At $1.5 Million Per: July 1, 2019

The 28-year-old was signed to make the Capitals’ fourth-line harder to play against. Hathaway finished the season with nine goals, 16 points, and a +6 rating in 66 games in his first season with the Capitals. Like Panik, he heated up towards the end of the regular season as he posted three goals and four points in his final seven games after the NHL Trade Deadline.

Hathaway posted 189 hits (second on the Capitals and 16th in the NHL) during the regular season. He went through a mid-season slump as he posted just one assist in a 24-game span but got off to a solid start and finished even better. Hathaway chipped in on the penalty-kill, averaging 1:23 per game.

In his second season, Hathaway turned in another solid season with six goals, 18 points (just one shy of his career-high), and a +7 rating in 56 games. His 179 hits ranked ninth in the NHL this season and Hathaway has been strong defensively. He averaged 1:19 on the penalty kill this past season.

After seeing the difference Hathaway made on the penalty kill and defensive play, the Capitals got him at a reasonable price. He brought the sandpaper and physicality that the Capitals needed for their fourth line. At $1.5 million per, this deal looks pretty good.

Score: 8.0

Signed LW Brenden Leipsic To a One-Year, $700,000 Contract: July 1, 2019

Leipsic got off to a strong start as his feistiness and speed fit in well with the Capitals at first. In November, the 26-year-old recorded three goals, five points, and a +4 rating in a 12 game-span, but he only tallied six assists the rest of the season. While he was never expected to put up substantial offensive numbers and instead was there to provide physicality and defensive play, his play started to go down in February, forcing the team to acquire Kovalchuk.

Leipsic earned pretty strong possession numbers during the regular season, recording a 52.97% Corsi-for percentage and a 55.25% expected goals-for percentage. He was also among the team leader in hits (57), so he definitely did what he was brought in town to do.

While he played well to start with, he never played another game for the Capitals after the trade deadline and had his contract terminated after screenshots of an Instagram group chat were revealed where he and other natives of Winnipeg trashed girls in the area and called his linemates losers. Leipsic’s character was flawed, which is on MacLellan for bringing into the locker room. If not for Leipsic’s strong underlying stats and if the deal was not for league-minimum, this score would be even lower.

Score: 3.4

Signed Jakub Vrana To A Two-Year Contract With $3.35 million Cap Hit: July 16, 2019

The 25-year-old followed his first 20-goal season in the NHL with a breakout one after getting a bridge deal as he set career-highs in goals (25), assists (27), and points (53) in only 69 games but had only two goals, 10 points, and a -5 rating in his final 19 games.

Vrana got off to a hot start in the second season of the deal where he recorded 10 goals and 21 points in his first 28 games.

After that, he ran into problems with Laviolette and his production declined to one goal and four points in 11 games before getting dealt to the Red Wings as part of the trade to acquire Mantha.

While Vrana did not fit into Laviolette’s system, the Capitals got good value out of him in the first year of his deal and was average at the start of this season. He was benched under Trotz, Reirden, and Laviolette but for the way he produced, there is not much fault at MacLellan’s expense.

Score: 8.0

Signed C Chandler Stephenson To One-Year, $1.05 Million Contract: July 27

The Capitals signed Stephenson to a prove-it deal after the 26-year-old’s production declined last season, and his plus-minus rating went down by a difference of 26. He got off to a nice start with the Capitals this season, earning three goals, four points, and a +5 rating before getting traded to the Vegas Golden Knights when the team had to make room under the NHL salary cap to activate Hagelin off of injured reserve.

The team shipped him to the Golden Knights in exchange for a 2021 fifth-round pick, which was later dealt to the Flyers to acquire Raffl. In 41 games with his new team in 2019-20, Stephenson has broken out as he recorded eight goals, 22 points (seventh on the Golden Knights), and a team-high +19 rating. He has earned opportunities he would have never gotten in Washington, getting time next to forwards Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone in Vegas, so it is not like he would have lit it up had he stayed with the Capitals.

After a solid season, Stephenson got a big raise of $2.75 million for the next four seasons, a contract that the Capitals would have had to make room for or could not afford.

Score: 7.4

Traded F Chandler Stephenson To Golden Knights For 2021 Fifth-Round Pick: December 2, 2019

Stephenson recorded a 54.34% Corsi-for percentage and a 56.18% expected goals-for percentage last season, both among the NHL’s best. This season, he recorded 14 goals, 35 points, and a +22 rating in 51 games but played most of the time with Stone and Pacioretty, the Golden Knights’ top two players in goals and points.

The Capitals’ season fell off a cliff less than a week after the trade as they went 19-4-5 (second-best in NHL) while the Golden Knights were 14-11-4 (12th) at the time the trade was made. After the deal, the Capitals went 22-16-3 (18th) while the Golden Knights were 26-13-4 (fourth).

They had the option of trading Stephenson or center Travis Boyd, who posted three goals, 10 points, and a +9 rating in 24 games during the regular season. He was on pace for 27 points, one more than Stephenson in that span. Boyd was not tendered a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent in the offseason by the Capitals and signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was waived at midseason.

Even though the trade looks terrible now, players thrive in specific environments and under certain systems, just like with Burakovsky in Colorado. You can look at it like the Capitals got a fifth-round pick for their 13th forward, which would seem pretty good. Since Stephenson had four points in 24 games that season before the trade and tallied were a team-worst -13 rating in 2018-19, the Capitals could not demand a massive return. However, they definitely did not win this trade.

Score: 4.6

Signed C Nicklas Backstrom To Five-Year Contract Extension With $9.2 Million Cap Hit: January 14, 2020

In a deal that initially had many people scratching their heads, the 33-year-old led the team in assists (38) and points (53) in 55 games during his first season of the contract.

While the Capitals were without Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, the Capitals looked up to Backstrom for leadership and to replace their production and he delivered as he was the team’s most consistent player.

While Backstrom’s production almost certainly will dip over the course of the contract, the Capitals had him at a $6.7 million cap hit for 10 years, one of the league’s most team-friendly deals. As the franchise’s all-time assist leader (722) and only one of two to play 1,000+ games in a Capitals’ uniform, it was fair to have Backstrom call his price.

MacLellan just called Backstrom one of just two untouchable players (Ovechkin) last month. For now, this contract looks good but there is nowhere to go but down.

Score: 7.9

Acquired D Brenden Dillon From Sharks For Coyotes’ 2020 Second-Round Pick, 2021 Third-Rounder: February 18, 2020

The Capitals acquired the 30-year-old defenseman in a trade with the Sharks to bolster a defense that gave up an average of 3.44 goals-per-game, the most of the 24 teams that participated in the NHL’s return-to-play plan, since just before Christmas.

While giving the Capitals a more formidable top-four defensive unit, Dillon recorded no points, a -2 rating, a 51.12% Corsi-for percentage, and a 54.44% expected goals-for percentage in 10 regular-season games with the Capitals and fit in well, giving the backend some bite to it. He averaged 20:02 worth of ice-time per game with the Capitals, including 2:40 on the penalty kill.

The Capitals would sign Dillon to a four-year contract extension before he could have become an unrestricted free agent.

Score: 7.3

Acquired F Ilya Kovalchuk From Montreal Canadiens For 2020 Third-Round Pick: February 23, 2020

The Capitals made the deal to add more scoring punch to the bottom-six forward group.

Even though he put up one goal and a respectable four points in seven regular-season games with the Capitals, he only recorded one assist in eight Stanley Cup Playoff games, arguably a disappointment.

Kovalchuk earned a 54.6% Corsi-for percentage and a 60.92% expected goals-for percentage with the Capitals. He averaged 1:41 on the power-play.
Kovalchuk signed with the KHL’s Avangard Omsk after the season.

If the Capitals wanted to add more scoring punch, perhaps they should have inserted center Travis Boyd, who recorded 10 points in only 24 regular-season games, into the lineup more. Instead, they gave up a third-round pick for a player that did not work out for them. Looking back on it, it was a bit of a hefty price to pay and unnecessary but he averaged more than half a point-per-game and did not have bad underlying stats.

Score: 4.3

Traded LHD Christian Djoos To Anaheim Ducks For RW Daniel Sprong: February 24

Sprong was one of the Capitals’ most consistent goal scorers all season after not playing a game during the 2019-20 season with the team.

Meanwhile, Djoos recorded one goal, three points, and a +2 rating in nine games with the Ducks at the conclusion of last season but was lost via waivers to the Red Wings on January 9 and played this season in Detroit. EV Zug of the Swiss National League signed Djoos to a two-year deal on May 12.

Basically, the Capitals inserted one of the NHL’s leaders in goals-per-60 who is young and carries just a $725,000 cap hit for free.

Score: 8.8

2018-19

Barry Trotz Resigns As Head Coach on June 18 And Todd Reirden Gets Promoted On June 29

After a contract dispute with the Capitals, Trotz became the fifth coach in NHL history not to return to their team after winning the Stanley Cup. Trotz wanted a five-year contract worth $25 million ($5 million AAV) while the Capitals wanted him to stick to the two-year contract extension worth $3.9 million ($1.8 million AAV) that kicked in after the team had won the Stanley Cup, an agreement the two sides had reached when Trotz joined the Capitals in 2014. The Capitals agreed to let Trotz go after he refused to honor his original commitment.

Despite losing captain and star center John Tavares, Trotz’s system got the Islanders within one point of the Capitals for the Metropolitan Division title in his first year as head coach. He also transformed a defense that allowed the most goals in the NHL (3.57 goals-against average per game in 2017-18) to the fewest (2.33 this season) despite the fact that the Islanders also lost defenseman Calvin de Hann in free agency. Trotz and the Islanders swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs before getting swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round. Trotz won Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL’s coach of the year in his first season with the Islanders.

Despite a turbulent regular season in 2019-20 that saw the team finish seventh in the Eastern Conference in large part of a 15-0-2 run. If you take the run out, the Islanders were 20-23-8 last season. However, the NHL pause helped them arguably more than any other team as they came just two wins shy of the Stanley Cup Final as they ran circles around Reirden’s Capitals in five games in the first round and defeated the first-seeded Flyers in seven in the second. This season was arguably the Islanders’ best under Trotz as they went 32-17-7 in the regular season (their .634 points percentage was the highest of the three seasons under Trotz). Their goals-against average of 2.23 per game and penalty-killing rate of 83.7% this season were also their best out of three seasons under Trotz. They advanced to the third round for the second time in as many seasons.

Reirden led the Capitals to a fourth straight division title and came within a point of matching the team’s 2017-2018 point tally, but the Capitals defense saw a significant drop off despite having the same lineup (and perhaps an even better defensive corps on paper after the team acquired Nick Jensen from the Detroit Red Wings on February 22). The 2018 Capitals finished with the fourth-best defense in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs (2.54 goals-against per game) but ended the 2018-19 regular season tied for 17th with the Vancouver Canucks, who were 23rd in the NHL with 81 points. The Capitals had the third-worst among teams that made the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs (3.02 goals-against per game). While the offense improved, jumping from 3.12 goals-per-game in 2017-18 to 3.34 goals-per-game this season, penalty-killing efficiency dropped from an 80.8% efficiency to a 78.9% this past season. The power-play also saw a decline, dropping from 22.5% last year to 20.8% this year. With weapons like Ovechkin, center Nicklas Backstrom, center Evgeny Kuznetsov, and defenseman John Carlson, the Capitals’ top power-play unit was too talented to finish 12th in the league. The Capitals also didn’t make the second round for the first time since 2014.

In 2019-20, the Capitals got off to a league-best 26-6-5 start under a system that saw them take but also give up a lot of chances. When teams cracked the code of that system, the Capitals went 15-14-3, including 7-9-3 in their final 19 games before the NHL Pause where they gave up a league-high 3.58 goals-per-game.

With four months to sculpt a new plan, Reirden was unable to do so as the Capitals went 2-5-1 in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs and fired after a second consecutive first-round exit.

Score: 4.9

Sent G Philipp Grubauer And RHD Brooks Orpik To Colorado Avalanche In Exchange For 2018 Second-Round Pick On June 22

Needing cap space to re-sign Carlson, who was set to become the best defenseman on the unrestricted free agent market, the Capitals traded Grubauer and Orpik to the Avalanche to clear $8.83 million in cap space.

While the Capitals could have gotten more for Grubauer after he recorded a save percentage of .937 and a goals-against average of 1.93 post-Thanksgiving in 2017-18, it was important to clear Orpik’s $5.5 million cap hit to re-sign Carlson and defenseman Michal Kempny. The Capitals were offered the 42nd overall pick by the Hurricanes for Grubauer and Orpik, but it was important not to send a potential No. 1 goalie to a division rival who the team could face in the playoffs.

Orpik was bought out by the Avalanche the next day and returned to Washington on a one-year contract worth $1 million later in the summer. The Capitals were able to keep Carlson, Kempny, and Wilson, a restricted free agent, because of the much-needed cap relief the trade gave them.

Since a rough start to his tenure in Colorado as he went 9-7-3 with an .890 save percentage and a 3.47 goals-against average, Grubauer has been one of the NHL’s best goaltenders. He ranks fifth in the NHL in wins (57) in addition to save percentage (.925), third in goals-against average (2.14), and tied for second in shutouts (12) with Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. Though, Grubauer, who is a Vezina Trophy finalist for the NHL’s top goalie this season, has had issues staying healthy in each of the past two seasons. He has gone 18-9-1 with a .920 save percentage, a 2.31 goals-against average, and two shutouts in 29 Stanley Cup Playoff games since the trade as the Avalanche’s starter.

While Grubauer has shone in Colorado, the Capitals could not afford to keep him with the team needing to sign those three free agents and could not trade Braden Holtby after he led them to the Stanley Cup in 2018. After Grubauer played the first two games of that run, Holtby never gave up the net again and the rest is history.

Score: 7.4

D John Carlson Signs Eight-Year Contract Extension Worth $64 Million ($8 Million AAV) on June 23

A few hours after dipping his toe into free agent talks, Carlson opted to stay with the Capitals and become the second-highest-paid player on the team behind Ovechkin ($9.5 million AAV).

After setting career-highs in goals (15) and points (64) in the regular season and a five-goal, 20-point postseason, Carlson proved that he was worth that big contract as he led the Capitals in assists (57) and power-play points (33). Carlson set a new career-high in points (70) and plus-minus (+21). He led the Capitals in ice-time (averaged 25:04 per game) and blocked shots (164) and finished second in takeaways (55). Carlson backed up his career year by besting it and establishing himself as one of the league’s top defenseman.

Carlson finished in second for the Norris Trophy in 2019-20 after he led defensemen with 60 assists and 75 points. He also finished with a +12 rating while averaging 24:38 per game (tied for ninth with Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter).

The 31-year-old’s production dipped slightly this season as he posted 10 goals and 44 points in 52 games but improved defensively as his 51.24% expected goals-for percentage this year was his best since 2014-15. Overall, Carlson has proved his worth three years into the deal and made it look like a bargain for the Capitals.

Score: 7.4

RW Devante Smith-Pelly Signs One-Year Contract Extension Worth $1 Million On June 28

Despite a seven-goal, eight-point performance in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Smith-Pelly did not get a qualifying offer from the Capitals as a restricted free agent but signed a one-year contract a day later.

While many expected Smith-Pelly to improve after his breakout performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he posted just four goals, eight points, and a -6 rating in 54 regular-season games before the Capitals put him on waivers prior to the NHL Trade Deadline. He got called up for the final three games of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs after forward T.J. Oshie suffered a broken collarbone, but he was held scoreless.

MacLellan told the media on breakdown day that there would be certain requirements to re-sign Smith-Pelly as it appears that he came into training camp out of shape. He was scratched for the first five games of the preseason.

While Smith-Pelly did not bring the same magic that he had in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, you cannot fault MacLellan for bringing back one of the team’s heroes during that run on a cheap deal.

Score: 7.8

LHD Michal Kempny Signs Four-Year Contract Extension Worth $10 Million ($2.5 Million AAV) on June 29

After playing a key role alongside Carlson on the team’s top defensive pair during the Capitals’ run to the Stanley Cup last spring, Kempny got a big raise. Reirden helped Kempny establish himself as a top-four NHL defenseman the past couple of years and it paid dividends for Kempny and the Capitals.

Kempny’s +24 rating this season was the best on the Capitals and the 17th best in the NHL. In addition, he set career-highs in games played (71), goals (six), assists (19), and points (25).

While averaging 19:11 (the sixth-highest average ice-time on the Capitals), including 1:39 shorthanded, Kempny recorded 135 blocked shots (the third-highest on the team) and 84 hits (the ninth-highest) in a solid campaign for the 28-year old.

Kempny’s season-ending hamstring injury required surgery and left a massive hole on the Capitals as their defense struggled without him in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, allowing an average of 3.00 goals-per-game.

The 30-year-old did not return to his pre-injury form but posted a team-leading three goals, 18 points, and team-leading +19 rating in 58 games during the 2019-20 season. Though, he struggled towards the end of it as he finished with a 49.93% Corsi-for percentage, a 49.54% expected goals-for percentage, and a 48.95% scoring chances-for percentage in 58 games. He was a healthy scratch for one regular-season game and three first-round Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Kempny suffered a torn Achilles tendon during offseason training last fall and underwent surgery on October 6. He did not play this season. Kempny could be on the outside looking in by the time training camp comes around in October with prospect Martin Fehervary ready to make a jump.

While he has not lived up to his 2018 form since his first surgery, it is not MacLellan’s fault that surgery threw him off track. He was one of the Capitals’ best players prior to his first one.

Score: 6.5

C Nic Dowd Signs One-Year Contract Worth $650,000 on July 1

After fourth-line center Jay Beagle signed a four-year contract worth $12 million ($3 million AAV) with the Vancouver Canucks, the Capitals signed Dowd to compete with center Travis Boyd for the fourth-line center spot in training camp. He would begin the season as a regular after Boyd suffered a lower-body injury that he took more than a month to recover from.

He turned in a career season where he tallied eight goals, 22 points, a +10 rating, and an average of 1:39 worth of penalty-killing ice-time in 64 games.

The addition worked out so well that the Capitals gave him a three-year contract extension that carries a $750,000 cap hit just prior to the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Dowd was just the latest low-risk, high-reward addition for MacLellan that has only gotten better over time.

Score: 8.9

Signed C Travis Boyd To Two-Year Contract Extension Worth $1.6 million ($800,000 AAV) On July 1

A lower-body injury that cost Boyd 14 games in the preseason and regular season set back the 25-year old’s rookie season in the NHL.

He left quite the impression in his first full NHL season despite rotating in and out of the lineup with his playmaking ability and point production. He recorded five goals, 20 points, and a +6 rating in 53 games.

In the second season of his deal, Boyd did not crack the lineup much as he played in just 24 games but made the most of his opportunities as he tallied three goals, 10 points, and a +9 rating.

Though, he played just five out of 15 Stanley Cup Playoff games over the two seasons of his contract, recording one goal over that time. For an extra forward who produced, this was a solid signing by MacLellan.

Score: 7.5

Signed RHD Madison Bowey To Two-Year Contract Extension Worth $2 Million ($1 Million AAV) On July 19

Following a rookie season where the 24-year old posted just 12 points (all assists) and struggled defensively, earning a -3 rating, the Capitals signed Bowey to a lucrative deal as he was one of the Capitals’ top defensive prospects. Projected as the team’s seventh defenseman, Bowey appeared in the first two games of the season when Kempny was out due to a concussion.

While averaging 13:02 of ice-time per game with the Capitals, Bowey was credited with just five takeaways while he also had 18 giveaways. He also recorded 41 blocked shots and 47 hits.

Bowey appeared in only one game in a span of 11 just prior to getting traded along with a 2019 second-round pick to the Red Wings in exchange for Jensen on February 22. Giving a sophomore a rich deal after he failed to impress during his rookie season was not a good choice by MacLellan and the Capitals.

Score: 5.6

Signed D Brooks Orpik To One-Year, $1 Million Contract On July 24

After the Capitals were forced to move Orpik’s $5.5 million cap hit to accommodate the signings of Carlson, Kempny, and Wilson, they brought him back on a much cheaper deal to anchor the third-defensive pair. Orpik’s leadership and strong postseason performance in 2018 were enough to convince the Capitals to bring him back.

While Orpik is not known for his offense, he scored two goals after scoring none in each of the past two regular seasons and climbed to within one point of last season’s total despite playing in 28 fewer games. His plus-minus rating increased from a team-worst -9 in 2017-18 to a +8 this past season. Defensively, he recorded 131 hits and 78 blocked shots but also had 31 giveaways while having only five takeaways. Only defenseman Matt Niskanen (2:46 average time on ice per game on the penalty kill) earned more PK time than Orpik (average of 2:37 per game) on the Capitals.

Getting a pivotal part of the leadership role during last year’s Stanley Cup run at a much lower price to keep key pieces from that run was brilliant work by MacLellan. In fact, it was so good that the NHL questioned the Capitals and Avalanche about whether there was an unwritten understanding that buying Orpik out so he could return to Washington.

Orpik retired after the 2018-19 season but has worked in the organization in a player development role.

Score: 8.3

Signed F Tom Wilson To Six-Year Contract Extension Worth $31 Million ($5.17 Million AAV) On July 27

After Wilson set new career-highs with 14 goals, 35 points, and +10 rating in 78 games in the 2017-18 regular season and played a key role in the Capitals’ Stanley Cup run with five goals, 15 points, and a +11 rating in 21 Stanley Cup Playoff games in 2018, the Capitals gave him a big payday in one of the most talked-about moves around the NHL last summer.

Wilson proved the skeptics wrong. Despite missing 19 games due to suspension and injury, the 27-year old enjoyed a breakout year, topping his career-highs with 22 goals, 40 points, and a +11 rating while primarily playing with Ovechkin and Backstrom/Kuznetsov on the Capitals’ top-line. He has only improved since, coming one shy of his career-high with 21 goals and setting it in points (44) in 2019-20. This past season, Wilson tallied 13 goals, 33 points, and a +1 rating in 47 games but his production dipped from an average of 0.81 points per game in his first 21 games to 0.62 after returning from a seven-game suspension.

Wilson turned into one of the league’s top power forwards and cemented himself among the Capitals’ core after his big season in 2018-19. Though, he needs to find a way to be effective without getting in hot water with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety and the Capitals knew they were taking that risk when both sides inked pen to paper.

Score: 8.5

Claimed LW Dmitrij Jaskin Off Of Waivers From St. Louis Blues On October 2

Bracing for life without Wilson for a while to start the season, the Capitals were the only team to submit a waiver claim for Jaskin to add some physicality and depth that they would miss with Wilson out after Jaskin was waived by the Blues the day prior.

In only 37 games with the team, the 26-year old posted two goals, eight points, and a -5 rating in a fourth-line role, though he did get some time on the top trio with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov early in the season. Defensively, Jaskin’s 87 hits were the eighth-most on the Capitals and he also posted 14 blocked shots. He was credited with 13 takeaways and only six giveaways while averaging 10:05 worth of ice-time per game, the second-lowest on the team among those who appeared in at least 35 games.

While Jaskin did not match the 17-point plateau that he managed to hit with the Blues a season ago, he played well defensively. The fact that the Capitals did not have to give up anything for him also helps MacLellan’s case for picking him up. With Wilson slated to miss nearly a quarter of the season, Jaskin was a nice low-risk, high-reward option to replace the physically and the offensive upside that the Capitals were missing with Wilson out. Additionally, the team had to pay only 50% of his $1.1 million cap hit as they acquired him via waivers.

Score: 7.3

Signed G Pheonix Copley To Three-Year, $3.3 Million ($1.1 Million AAV) Contract Extension On February 4

While the move ensured that the Capitals would have a goalie to expose in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, Copley turned into a solid backup goalie with a 10-5-3 record, 2.98 goals against average, a .903 save percentage, and one shutout prior to signing the deal. The 27-year old finished his rookie season with a 16-7-3 record, .905 save percentage, 2.90 goals-against average, and one shutout in 27 games, arguably exceeding expectations.

After Grubauer was sent to Colorado at the draft in June, back-up goaltending was the Capitals’ biggest question mark going into the season, but Copley solidified that position with a strong first season.

Unfortunately, Copley has not played in a game since due to the emergence of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek and has stayed with the AHL’s Hershey Bears in each of the first two seasons of the deal. While Copley provides more organizational goalie depth in goal, having him there has the Capitals on the books for $25,000 in cap space. That is not much but for a team up against the salary cap and that needs to keep their core players, they could use every penny they can get.

Score: 4.8

Acquired F Carl Hagelin From Los Angeles Kings In Exchange For 2019 Third-Round Pick On February 21

Looking for another depth forward who could help a struggling penalty kill that was 22nd in the NHL with an efficiency of 78.4% at the time of the trade, the Capitals acquired a speedy forward in Hagelin. A conditional sixth-round pick in 2019 was part of the deal but did not go to Los Angeles since the Capitals failed to reach the Eastern Conference Final.

After posting two goals, eight points, and an even rating in 38 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Kings at the time of the trade, Hagelin beat all of those numbers in just 20 games with the Capitals, recording three goals, 11 points, and a +7 rating. He added a point — an assist — in seven Stanley Cup Playoff games. The 30-year old averaged 2:21 of ice-time on the penalty kill, a team-high among forwards. Following the trade, the Capitals improved to 80% on the penalty kill and their 88% efficiency with a man down during the postseason remains the third-best among all 16 teams. His 2:56 of ice-time on the penalty kill during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs was second among Capitals forwards behind only center Lars Eller (3:19). His nine takeaways in the postseason were second on the Capitals behind Eller (11) and 15 hits were tied with Smith-Pelly and defenseman Dmitry Orlov for the fifth-most.

The acquisition, which cost just a third-round pick, bolstered the Capitals forward depth and was a remedy for an ailing penalty kill just before he got here. Hagelin was promoted to the top-six when Oshie went down with a broken collarbone and missed the final three games in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the second straight year, MacLellan nailed the trade deadline.

Score: 8.5

Acquired RHD Nick Jensen From Red Wings In Exchange For Madison Bowey, 2019 Second-Round Pick On February 22

Looking for more help on the penalty kill, the Capitals acquired the best defensive defenseman on the trade market and extended him for four years shortly after. Like the contract Kempny got last summer, Jensen’s was worth $10 million ($2.5 million AAV).

Jensen recorded five assists and a +3 rating in 20 regular-season games after the trade but no points and a -2 rating in seven Stanley Cup Playoff games. Defensively, Jensen posted 26 blocked shots and 21 hits while playing an average of 15:32 of ice-time per game next to Orpik on the third-pair, including 1:27 on the penalty-kill. After Kempny went down for the remainder of the season, Jensen got more time on the top-pair with Carlson. Jensen struggled in the team’s seven-game loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs where he recorded no points, a -2 rating, a 43.32% Corsi-for percentage, and a 39.23% expected goals-for percentage.

While the deal seemed expensive when it was announced, the fact that Jensen’s contract was extended and gave the Capitals more depth when Kempny went down made it a necessary one.

Bowey has bounced around and has been on three teams since the Capitals parted with him. He recorded three goals and 17 points in 53 games in his first full season with the Red Wings but tallied a -16 rating and was not tendered a qualifying offer as a pending restricted free agent. He tallied an assist and a +1 rating in two games with the Chicago Blackhawks this season before getting dealt to the Vancouver Canucks, where he did not play a game despite numerous regulars out due to COVID-19.

Jensen has improved in each of his first three seasons in Washington but has continuously proven that he is better suited for the third-pairing, which is underwhelming for giving up a second-round pick for.

Score: 7.1

Signed D Nick Jensen To Four-Year Contract Extension At $2.5 Million Per Season On February 22

Jensen had a rough start to his first full season in Washington  Jensen struggled for most of the 2019-20 season as he was a team-worst -7 rating and had only four assists through 54 games until he was scratched for the first time as a Capital. He improved after that, equalling his point output from the first 54 games of the season in just 14 games and led the Capitals with a +8 rating. Jensen had an admirable 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs where he posted a 54.64% Corsi-for percentage.

The 30-year-old turned in his best season as a Capital in 2020-21 where he tallied two goals, 14 points, a +5 rating. He recorded a 50.24% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 53.58% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 52.5% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage while averaging 17:18 per game, including 2:38 on the penalty kill in 53 games. After sitting three games as a healthy scratch at the end of January, Jensen never gave up his spot when he earned his spot in the lineup back.

This deal keeps looking better for the Capitals after they tried to move it at the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline and Jensen reaped the benefits after the team hired Laviolette and McCarthy.

Score: 6.1

Extended Dowd To Three-Year Contract At $750,000 Per Season On April 11

Dowd posted seven goals, 15 points, and a +11 rating in 56 games during 2019-20 while averaging 2:29 on the penalty-kill (second among Capitals’ forwards, Hagelin: 2:55).

This past season, he has recorded a career-high 11 goals, 15 points, and a +15 rating while primarily playing against the opposition’s top players in a shutdown role. His average of 2:17 of penalty-killing ice-time ranked second among the team’s forwards again (Hagelin: 2:34).

Dowd keeps improving and keeps making his cap hit look like a bargain.

Score: 9.1


Summary

Total average grade of a 7.1.

Score sheet

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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4 Responses to Scoring GM Brian MacLellan’s Moves Since The Capitals Won The Stanley Cup In 2018

  1. Anonymous says:

    GMBM got off to a good start during early Trotz years, but a number of the moves since the Capitals won the Stanley Cup have been flat duds. As to the the salary cap troubles and it leaves one scratching their head.

  2. Pingback: Tuesday Caps Clips - Baltimore Sports Today

  3. Anonymous says:

    GMBM has wiffed on the most important aspect of why the Caps won the Cup…. Trotz…. Since Trotz left, the Caps have exited the playoffs in each of the first rounds. Islanders are in their second conference finals. Moreover GMBM has traded away young legs for old. Should have made some really hard decisions on Backstrom, Kuznetsov and Ovechkin (trade perhaps) for youth and speed. Chara was a mistake. Boston new what they were doing letting the old man go. Caps need speed and youth. The era of Ovi and Backy are at an end.

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