With the 2022-23 campaign in the books for the Washington Capitals, NoVa Caps grades GM Brian MacLellan’s moves since Game 6 of the 2022 Stanley Cup first-round series against the Florida Panthers.
July 8: traded G Vitek Vanecek, 46th overall pick to New Jersey Devils for 37th, 70th overall picks
With the organization needing a fresh start in net, Washington kicked the offseason off by dealing the 26-year-old after he went 20-12-6 with a .908 save percentage, 2.67 goals-against average (tied for 17th in NHL), and four shutouts, including a stretch where he recorded a 11-7-4 record, .935 save percentage (third), 1.96 goals-against average (third), and three shutouts (tied for league lead) from December 16-March 6.
Vanecek entered the postseason as the Capitals’ No. 1 in net but coughed it up after posting an .863 save percentage and a 4.21 goals-against average in the first five periods of the team’s first-round series against Florida before Ilya Samsonov took the job again and never looked back.
During his first season with New Jersey, Vanecek tied seventh in wins (33) and 12th in shutouts (three), ranked 16th in save percentage (.911) in addition to eighth in goals-against average (2.45), and placed 18th in five-on-five goals-saved above average (5.62).
Though, Vanecek just coughed up the starting job to Akira Schmid after posting an .827 save percentage in the first two games of New Jersey’s first-round series vs. the New York Rangers.
While Vanecek’s save percentage doesn’t scream elite, feeding a Metropolitan Division rival, let alone first place contender, their starting goaltender is something to learn from.
July 11: did not tender pending RFA G Ilya Samsonov qualifying offer
The 25-year-old finished the 2021-22 regular season 23-12-5 with an .896 save percentage, a 3.02 goals-against average, and three shutouts, despite an 11-1-1 start where he posted a .916 save percentage, a 2.42 goals-against average, and three shutouts through December 9. After Washington did not extend a qualifying offer to him, he became an unrestricted free agent.
Two days later, Samsonov signed a one-year deal worth $1.8 million with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Samsonov tied for 11th in wins (27) and fifth in shutouts (five) in addition to finishing sixth in save percentage (.919), fifth in goals-against average (2.33), and 12th in five-on-five goals-saved above average (12.23) in 42 games.
Samsonov has an .878 save percentage and 3.70 goals-against average through three games of Toronto’s first-round series vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Even though a fresh start in the crease was warranted, perhaps giving Samsonov, the 22nd overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, a shot with a veteran would have been the way to go instead of losing a young goaltender with high upside for nothing.
July 13: signed G Darcy Kuemper to five-year contract ($5.25 million cap hit)
Coming off of a Stanley Cup victory with the Colorado Avalanche, the 32-year-old went 22-26-7 (tied for 21st in wins) with a .908 save percentage (tied 19th), 2.87 goals-against average (tied 22nd), five shutouts (tied second), and -2.6 five-on-five goals-saved above average (73rd).
Though, Kuemper faced an average of 31.2 shots-per-game behind a team that averaged just 2.75 goals-per-game in front of him, suggesting that he did not get a ton of run support.
While we can always see how the contract looks today, we need to see how Kuemper looks in front of a better, healthier team to truly assess this contract.
July 13: acquired RW Connor Brown from Ottawa Senators in exchange for 2024 second-round pick
With right-wing Tom Wilson set to miss half of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL, the team acquired the 28-year-old to lessen the blow.
However, Brown was held scoreless and posted a 41.35% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage before tearing his ACL four games into the season. He did not play after October 17.
While losing a second-round pick in this instance is tough, it would not be fair to grade this move.
July 13: signed G Charlie Lindgren to three-year contract ($1.1 million cap hit)
Washington signed the 29-year-old to back up Kuemper after Lindgren had a successful run with the St. Louis Blues, which lasted just five games, last season.
In 31 games, Lindgren posted a 13-11-3 record, .899 save percentage, 3.05 goals-against average, and -7.63 five-on-five goals-saved above average. In his final 10 starts, Lindgren recorded an .876 save percentage and 3.80 goals-against average.
Giving seven figures to a goalie that spent a majority of the season in the AHL carried some risk, which ultimately did not pay off. Washington did not trust Lindgren late in the season, starting Kuemper for the second time in as many nights at the Buffalo Sabres in February and Tampa Bay Lightning three weeks ago.
July 13: signed C Henrik Borgstrom to one-year, two-way contract
After the 23rd overall pick from the 2016 NHL Draft had his contract bought out by the Chicago Blackhawks, Washington swooped in and signed him for some forward depth. He appeared in one NHL game when the team was already eliminated from postseason contention and scored eight goals and 21 points in 55 AHL games.
July 13: re-signed LW Marcus Johansson to one-year, $1.1 million contract
The 32-year-old enjoyed a renaissance season, which included 13 goals (tied for third on team at time) and 28 points (sixth) in 60 games with Washington.
When it apparent the team was a seller, they dealt Johansson to the Minnesota Wild on February 28.
July 13: re-signed D Matt Irwin to one-year, $750,000 contract
The 35-year-old was forced into a regular role with Dmitry Orlov (before he was traded) and Martin Fehervary out for extended periods due to injury. While averaging 13:02 per game, including 54 seconds on the penalty kill, Irwin finished with two goals, five points, a -8 rating, 47.99% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 46.1% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and 46.67% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 61 contests.
While Irwin may not have had a good of a performance as he did in his first season in Washington, the team could have used all the help it could get defensively with Orlov, Fehervary, and John Carlson all missing significant time. For league minimum, it did not hurt to retain Irwin for depth.
July 13: signed D Erik Gustafsson to one-year, $800,000 contract
With Justin Schultz out the door, Washington took a low-risk, high-reward approach by signing the 30-year-old.
While skating an average of 20:22 (fourth among Washington defensemen) per game, including 2:19 on the power-play (second), Gustafsson tallied seven goals, 38 points, a +9 rating, 54.28% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 53.74% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and 54.36% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 61 contests before getting dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 28.
He took Carlson’s role when the 33-year-old was out before getting traded. Gustafsson fit in very well and the two sides were discussing an extension prior to the deal. It would not be a complete shock if Gustafsson returned to Washington in July.
July 14: signed C Dylan Strome to one-year, $3.5 million contract
With center Nicklas Backstrom set to miss a significant timeframe after undergoing a hip resurfacing procedure, the team scooped the 25-year-old third overall pick from 2015 after Chicago did not tender the pending restricted free agent a qualifying offer.
Strome was among Washington’s most consistent players this past season and set career-highs in goals (23), assists (42), and points (65). His previous career-high in points was 57, which was set in 78 games during the 2018-19 campaign.
Washington extended the contract around the NHL All-Star break.
July 20: signed D Gabriel Carlsson to one-year, two-way contract
Washington signed the 26-year-old, the 29th overall pick in 2015, for defensive depth and a small bet to get more out of a former first-rounder.
In six NHL games, Carlsson tallied two assists, a -1 rating, 39.84% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 33.6% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and 36.92% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage. He averaged 13:46 when up in the NHL, including 1:21 on the penalty kill. He also notched a goal, 15 points, and +22 rating in 59 AHL games.
October 10: lost RW Brett Leason on waivers (Anaheim Ducks)
In 54 games, the 23-year-old, who was picked 56th overall in 2019, tallied six goals and nine points.
October 10: lost LW Axel Jonsson-Fjallby on waivers (Winnipeg Jets)
In 50 NHL games, the 25-year-old finished with six goals, 14 points, and a 48.68% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage.
He averaged 53 seconds on Winnipeg’s penalty kill.
Jonsson-Fjallby was placed on waivers again in February but cleared.
October 16: signed RW Sonny Milano to one-year, $750,000 contract
The team signed even more insurance up front with Wilson out for months after losing Leason and Axel-Fjallby when they inked the 26-year-old and 16th overall pick in 2014.
Milano tied for eighth on the team with 11 goals and ranked sixth with 33 points in 64 games.
Washington inked him to an extension before resuming their schedule after the NHL All-Star break.
November 5: claimed RW Nicolas Aube-Kubel off waivers from Toronto
After getting held scoreless in six games with Toronto, the 26-year-old piled up four goals, 12 points, and a 52.91% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage in 47 games in DC, cementing a role on Washington’s fourth-line.
The team re-signed him to an extension just after the NHL Trade Deadline had passed.
February 23: traded Orlov, RW Garnet Hathaway to Boston Bruins for 2023 first-, 2025 second-, 2024 third-round picks, RW Craig Smith
With the team in the midst of a season-long six-game losing streak as the deadline was a week away, Washington traded two pending unrestricted free agents. The team retained 50% ($2.55 million) of Orlov’s $5.1 million cap hit and was reportedly far apart in contract extension negotiations with both players, who could become unrestricted free agents on July 1.
Orlov, 31, tallied four goals (one more than he had in 20 more games with Washington), 17 points (two fewer), a +10 rating, 56.83% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 58.3% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and 61.04% five-on-five in 23 regular-season games after the trade. He was just 15 seconds behind the lead among Boston blueliners in average time on ice per game (22:13) from his team debut onward, including 1:54 on the power play and 2:43 on the penalty kill (both third). Orlov has four assists through three postseason games.
Hathaway, 31, earned four goals, six points, and a 38.03% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage in 25 games with Boston to close out the regular campaign. He has yet to find the scoresheet in three postseason games.
Smith, 33, was a salary cap casualty ($3.1 million) but tallied five goals and six points in 22 games after the deal. He can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 as well.
While Orlov’s production ticked with Boston, Washington had to make this deal due to the team falling in the standings and contract negotiation status with both players. Although, getting a prospect out of this deal would have been nice.
February 28: traded Johansson to Minnesota for 2024 third-round pick
Johansson finished the regular season with 19 goals and 46 points (both his highest totals since 2016-17) in 80 games. He also has two goals in three postseason outings.
With the value the 32-year-old has provided this season and his versatility, it was a bit surprising that Washington could not milk a cow a little bit more.
February 28: traded Gustafsson, Boston’s 2023 first-round pick to Toronto for D Rasmus Sandin
With the team still hoping to be competitive next season, they got a young former first-round pick in the 23-year-old.
While averaging 22:59 per game (second among team defensemen), including 2:17 on the power play (tied second), Sandin posted three goals, 15 points, a -7 rating, 46.87% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 43.97% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and 42.82% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 19 games after the trade.
Gustafsson, a pending unrestricted free agent, played just nine regular-season games with Toronto, earning four assists, an even rating, 51.46% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 47.29% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and 51.11% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage. He averaged 15:45 per game (sixth), including 1:47 on the power-play (second).
March 1: traded C Lars Eller to Colorado Avalanche for 2025 second-round pick
The team dealt the pending unrestricted free agent and hero from the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, who recorded three goals, seven points, a 50.95% faceoff-winning percentage, and 49.89% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage in 24 regular-season games in the Mile High City.
Eller has yet to find the scoresheet in three postseason games.
The Capitals were able to get out of a commitment with a player who’s game fell off this season (seven goals from 13 last season, 16 points from 31 at the time of the trade) and got paid handsomely for it. The return in this deal made up for the slightly underwhelming one in the trade with Minnesota.
Washington ate $1.085 million (31%) of Eller’s cap hit for this season in the deal.
This may be the best trade MacLellan has made in a while.
Other Moves Made That Are Too Early To Call
- February 3: re-signed Strome to five-year contract extension ($5 million cap hit)
- February 4: re-signed Milano to three-year contract extension ($1.9 million cap hit)
- February 28: re-signed D Nick Jensen to three-year contract extension ($4.05 million cap hit)
- March 3: re-signed Aube-Kubel to one-year contract extension ($1.225 million)
- March 11: re-signed D Trevor Van Riemsdyk to three-year contract extension ($3 million cap hit)
- Not trading pending UFAs Irwin, LW Conor Sheary at trade deadline
Cumulative Grade: B
While Washington took a step backward this season, it was largely due to injuries to Wilson, Backstrom, Carlson, Oshie, Ovechkin and more. Overall, MacLellan had a move or two that he may like to have a do-over (Lindgren?, Samsonov?, Vanecek?) but he hit a lot of home runs (Strome, Milano, Gustafsson, Johansson, Aube-Kubel). He did a lot of good things but now faces his biggest challenge yet as Washington GM as he seeks to add to give the core of Ovechkin and Backstrom another chance at a deep postseason run while also integrating youth into the lineup and preparing for the post-Ovechkin era. This should be a very intriguing and perhaps exciting offseason.
By Harrison Brown
I think Lindgren deal will sink over time. Want impressed with his overall play. He’s an AHL-level goaltender.
Low key agree
I think the Caps get impatient with young goalies—they only called Fucale up for a few games. Both Kuemper & Lindgren looked good at the start of the season, but there were a lot of injuries to Caps defensemen and that cost the team games when they couldn’t hold leads.
Fair points, Stephen. I would have preferred that Hunter Shepard got an actual game, but who knows, they may have made a deck on on him in practices when he was called up, and decided he didn’t merit a game. Hard to really tell.
Shepard proibably didn’t get into the last few games since Caps were so crunched for cap space and had to use ATO goalies as backup
Was referencing the period he was called up, but didn’t get any game action.
Getting a second round pick for Eller was his greatest coup
BMac landed good value in draft picks for Bobby Orlov, Hathaway, Mojo, and Eller. But picks are just picks. Gotta turn those picks into star players.
The Caps D is soft. Until that gets turned around we’re going nowhere. Great defenses are hard to play against. They’re mean. I’m surprised BMac is missing that. Jensen and TVR are good character players but they’ll never be mean and shouldn’t try to be mean. Sandin brings some nastiness which is great but he’s not a guy you want fighting much.
Goal scoring, soft D and forwards who do not play a good defensive game—we have lots of problems.
GM Mac and Coach Trotz will always be “Saint Mac” and “Saint Barry” to this old Caps fan
Every June the fans of 31 NHL teams want to fire or hang the GM. Fair enough.
These three guys: Poile, McPhee and MacLellan. All far above average for NHL GMs.
Dave Poile was excellent, hamstrung by stingy and buffoonish Abe Pollin who spent all his bucks on basketball players. D Scott Stevens has three non-Caps Stanley Cup rings — thanks to Dishonest Abe, for whom I can’t use enough pejoratives I want to on a really good Blog. GM Poile could and would have erected several serious Stanley Cup contenders — if he were not limited by Dishonest Abe.
George McPhee conducted the “Get very bad to become very good” rebuilding operation, sold off the Caps’ vets in 2004, clearing the way for the “Young Guns” era. Won a bunch of President’s Trophies. Couldn’t overcome the Jinx of Cindy Crosby. Brought in Mike Ribeiro – a fire-able offense in itself. Did the famous Forsberg Flop panic-trade. Opinion: McPhee made many moves out of impulse and emotion – not enough from research and sound advice. I don’t miss him at all
GM Mac is outstanding at fleecing his fellow GMs. I know I’m outvoted here, but GM Mac has made very few outright blunders. Some of the higher-risk transactions haven’t worked out. That’s why they’re called High Risk.
I’m pleased to have GM Mac at the reins of the “Final Ovechkin Years.” He will do great work.
Yee-hah, I’m looking forward to merciless beatings from my fellow “commenters.” Happy Monday.
I may be the only other GMBM lover on here. he is a top 5 GM in the league. Even when they whiffed, I thought the logic was good.
Moving Todd Reirdon into HC role after cup made a lot of sense to me at time, but had the biggest negative impact. Some moves that didn’t work. Gonna have some of those. We never have dead cap except on retained this year, finds good value players that outperform their contracts. Navigated the flat cap very well.
I think he best calculated decision was decisively saying this year that it wasn’t our year and embarked on getting younger and getting assets. He surly made that point clear to Lavi forcing change which also needed to happen. How he handles this offseason with new coaching staff, trading players, getting FA’s, and drafting will be interesting. But I’m glad he is Caps GM to execute it.
Watch this year’s playoffs and see how physical the games are and imagine this dcorp. We would get slaughtered. BMac inherited a core. Found the final pieces for one cup. And has been responsible for the total collapse because of bad coach choices, bad trades and bad contracts.
Way too soft on BMac