Progress Report For Brian MacLellan’s Off-Season To-Do List

Back in May, I outlined a to-do list for Capitals’ General Manager Brian MacLellan in order to address the gaps in the roster construction leading up to the start of the 2023-24 regular season. While MacLellan has not been nearly as aggressive in his  “retool-on-the-fly” strategy that many have speculated he’d take on this summer, he’s made some progress on the to-do list.

Roster Construction and Cap Management

To start off, and to set the stage for the progress on MacLellan’s to-do list, I want to show what the Capitals’ current NHL roster looks like, according to CapFriendly. As it currently stands, the Capitals have 10 forwards on the active roster, seven defensemen, and two goaltenders. Max Pacioretty, who is recovering from an Achilles injury, is currently on the injured reserve, which opens up a roster spot, but his contract still counts towards the salary cap.

With 19 players on the active roster (one short of icing a full lineup for a game), the Capitals have $888,333 in cap space. If the Capitals were to call up three more forwards from Hershey, like Connor McMichael, Aliaksei Protas, and Beck Malenstyn, to round out the full roster, the Capitals would be $1,526,667 over the salary cap ceiling. Here’s what that potential lineup looks like:

Obviously, the Capitals would need to clear the cap space to remain at or under the salary cap ceiling for the 2023-24 season of $83.5M. The Capitals would have a potential option of moving Max Pacioretty to the long term injury list, which would free up both a roster spot and add his $2M cap hit to the cap ceiling the Capitals can utilize to ice a full roster.

With that move, the Capitals wouldn’t have to make any other corresponding moves, and would still be able to have a seventh defenseman and a thirteenth forward. The issue, though, is when Pacioretty is able to return to the lineup, you’re right back in the thick of a cap crunch.

Since there’s plenty of time to go until the regular season kicks off, the Capitals do have some time to figure out a way to remain salary cap compliant while having a full roster with some healthy scratches around as insurance in case of short term injuries.

To-Do list items that have been completed

We’re going to start this off by going through the completed items from our initial to-do list, and then we’ll work into where we’ll need to see some movement from MacLellan prior to the regular season starting.

Hire a new head coach and fill out the coaching staff

The Capitals have gone ahead and hired former Hershey Bears head coach and Toronto Maple Leafs’ assistant Spencer Carbery to be the bench boss in Washington. That part of the checklist is complete. The Capitals have only one spot open on the coaching staff after hiring two-time AHL Coach of the Year, Mitch Love, to coach defensemen. The unfilled spot on the staff is going to be focusing on the power play, which is one of Carbery’s specialization areas. This one seems like it’ll take a bit longer since Carbery will have to trust the scheme and direction that the new power play coach will want to employ.

Sign Martin Fehervary to a new contract

On July 4th, the Capitals re-signed Fehervary to a three-year bridge contract that carries a $2.675M cap hit. Fehervary will have one year remaining of restricted free agent status at the conclusion of that deal, which will give the Capitals the opportunity to lock Fehervary up on a long-term contract when he’s only 27 years old in the off-season prior to the 2026-27 season.

Fehervary has gotten ample opportunity to solidify himself as a top four defenseman on this roster, and the $2.675M cap hit is certainly affordable in the short term. The question will be, at the end of his new contract, will he demand a substantial raise if his performance continues to improve? That’s the main trade-off of agreeing to bridge contracts with restricted free agents.

Explore options for proven left-handed defensemen

MacLellan did a bit more than explore his options in the market for left-handed defensemen by acquiring Joel Edmundson (with 50% salary retained) from the Montreal Canadiens in return for Minnesota’s 2024 third round pick and Washington’s 2024 seventh round pick.

All in all, it’s pretty good value for a big-bodied, physical defenseman that this defensive group has been really missing. Edmundson didn’t have the greatest season last year, but with a smaller role on a better team, he might bounce back. The worst case scenario is that the Caps flip him at the trade deadline for future assets if they’re out of a playoff spot at that point.

To-do list items that are still in progress

There’s a few nebulous items on the initial to-do list that seem like there isn’t an immediate resolution to. We’ll get to those first, and then go through some of the areas where MacLellan has made some progress in addressing.

Make an assessment on Kuznetsov and Mantha’s contracts

It seems like MacLellan is rather unwilling to just dump Kuznetsov or Mantha’s contracts on a willing team just to clear cap space. We’ve seen some other teams, like the Philadelphia Flyers, take meager returns for players on bad contracts (like Kevin Hayes with 50% salary retained for a 6th round pick from the Blues). The Capitals are in a bit different of a situation than the Flyers, who are looking to really sell off the roster to kick start an aggressive rebuild.

At this point, I don’t see the need to dump Kuznetsov solely for cap space. Elliott Friedman recently reported that the Capitals and the Nashville Predators were engaged in discussions around Kuznetsov, potentially in a one-for-one trade for Matt Duchene (prior to his buy-out). That kind of move would make sense, since the Capitals would receive a top six caliber center back in that trade.

The issue with dumping Kuznetsov without receiving a similar caliber player back is two-fold. One, Kuznetsov is still a good player that has some extreme effort issues and a lack of passion for the game, and with resolution there, could be an extremely impactful player for the Capitals. Two, the Capitals don’t have a proven top six capable center waiting in the wings to slot into Kuznetsov’s vacancy.

For Mantha, though, I was wondering about the possibility of trading him to a team with 50% of his salary retained for a meager return. The value for the receiving team would be that they get a player that could have a bounce-back season at a lower cap hit that could be flipped at the deadline for more assets. The Capitals, even with 50% of Mantha’s salary still on the books, would have enough cap space to ice a full roster.

I think at this point, we might make the assumption that MacLellan has made an assessment on both players’ contracts and futures with the team, but nothing has been made official by the team. I wouldn’t consider this one resolved until MacLellan comes out and says they’re both staying, we see a trade of one (or both), or we see them in training camp.

Assess the future of Nicklas Backstrom

For this one, it feels like this is bound to last until the end of training camp. MacLellan will give Backstrom the opportunity (and now luxury) of having a full off-season to train pain-free for the first time in years to see where he’s at in terms of his playing ability. Backstrom has earned that opportunity, even if he’s not worth his current price tag of $9.2M a season.

The real question will be, if Backstrom does decide to retire (which will mean going on LTIR, because he’s not forfeiting all the money he’s owed), what will the Caps do with that now available cap space?

Acquire two top six forwards

This one is 50% completed, with the signing of Max Pacioretty to a one-year deal that carries a $2M cap hit this season, but with bonus incentives, can result in an extra $2M cap hit in the 2024-25 season. Pacioretty, when he’s healthy, can still be a force on the ice. I don’t mind the more frugal route of signing Pacioretty to a rather low-risk contract, but it’s clear that this team needs a bit more top six help.

Now, are we looking at the possibility of a player like Connor McMichael making an entrance into the top six? Or maybe Sonny Milano? Time will tell, especially when Carbery has his opening night roster available.

Looking ahead

While it is clear that MacLellan’s job isn’t quite done this off-season, there’s still time to address some of the concerns in regards to the construction of the Capitals’ roster. With MacLellan’s rather conservative approach to the off-season, it certainly feels like he’s making smaller moves to try to supplement the team, but isn’t willing to move first or second round picks and prospects to really improve this team.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. If we’re looking at the state of the Capitals realistically, we’ve likely seen the sun setting on the Capitals’ current competitive window. MacLellan might want to adhere to the promise made to Alex Ovechkin to continue to contend for the playoffs for the remainder of his contract, he’s not going to mortgage the future unless the Capitals are right on the cusp of being a Stanley Cup competitor.

We’ve seen this in the past with Ken Holland when he was the general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. They had a two decade playoff streak that they weren’t willing to let end, and it has resulted in the Red Wings missing the playoffs for the past seven seasons.

At this point, you might bank on a healthier season from your veteran core that might result in a playoff spot come the trade deadline, where you can add some players to help improve your roster going into the playoffs. With that, it’s a more shrewd strategy to see how the roster, as it currently stands, fares until the lead-up to the trade deadline.

By Justin Trudel

About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager. Justin enjoys geeking out over advanced analytics, roster construction, and cap management.
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19 Responses to Progress Report For Brian MacLellan’s Off-Season To-Do List

  1. redLitYogi says:

    This is a thoughtful piece. And I pretty much agree with everything regarding Kuznetsov, Mantha, and Backstrom here. .We’re not going to give up futures unless it’s for a very good young player now. (Elias Lindhom, I’m looking at you.) I think GMBM will make an honest effort to get Lindholm and, failing that, to field a team with a middle-of-the-pack in the playoffs ceiling. If, as is more likely, it won’t be able to reach the playoffs, we can then trade some of the newer acquisitions (Paccioretty and Edmonson) for futures. And let’s not forget that the Chase is a priority and will be a giant feather in the cap not only for Ovechkin but the entire franchise and the rock-the-red era. That plays into the roster construction. Yes, we may not be very good at the moment but at least we’ll have players that can get Ovechkin his goals.

    • Yeah, I agree that there’s probably only a handful of players around the league that the Capitals should even remotely consider trading significant futures for (and Lindholm with an extension in place is one of them).

      My view is, the Capitals should get better when it makes sense to. I think future firsts are completely off the table until the trade deadline, where the Caps might trade their 2024 first if they’re in a playoff spot. I don’t really foresee that being the case with the state of the roster versus the rest of the division, but it’s a possibility if we see some bounce back years and a generally more healthy roster. I don’t know if we can bank on a group of aging core players to be healthier at this point, though.

    • Anonymous says:

      This is the most pathetic excuse for a team in the Ovie era. GMBM should be embarrassed, he f’d up and he knows he did.

      Look at the 3rd line, poor Milano one of the most valuable players on the team is stuck on a line with Backstrom (who needs to go away, whatever we can do to make that happen) and Mantha who should not have an NHL Jersey at all, ever for any team.

      Then we have Kuznetsov whom I fully expect to mail it in once again this season. Why push and play hard and risk injury when your GM is not even taking building a competitive team seriously. Your income won’t change. I’d sit back enjoy the ride, have fun and collect my check too.

      Last night I spent a few hours checking out teams rosters in the NHL, this upcoming season is going to be rough for a lot of teams because currently talent is very much evenly dispersed between teams leaving large holes on every roster. Short of Edmonton, Jersey, Tampa and maybe Toronto (depending what happens after Nylander is gone) there are not many teams with full solid rosters like years prior. My purpose in doing this was to identify a new team to follow next year since the Caps have decided to suck next year and I won’t be supporting GMBM’s dumpster fire.

      Still with that being said GMBM has major moves he should make but I doubt he has the balls to make them.

      I for one will consider GMBM’s off season a failure of EPIC proportions if come opening night we still have Backstrom, Mantha and Kuznetsov on the roster. Getting rid of those three is price of admission for me to even re-consider supporting this team next year.

      Backstrom is done, appreciate all he has done for us, but if he remains selfish and wants to continue playing and GMBM is not good enough of a GM to tell him “no”. If this is not done there is zero point in wasting time watching Caps games next year.

      Mantha – get rid of him however you can with cap in mind. He is a cancer on the ice. Dude should be boo’d by Capitals fans each time he gets on the ice. Waive him if you have to and hope someone claims him.

      Kuznetsov – tell him to drop his attitude perform to his potential and we promise a trade at trade deadline. However I can’t see Kuzy really being inspired to give it his all with he current roster and I don’t blame him. Maybe not having to wear rainbow bright jerseys will change his attitude because justifiably Russians don’t like to play the American game of pretending to be arrogantly prideful of the rainbow people who have severe mental health problems. Pretty sure Orlov had an issue with that too. Ovie has to pretend to like it but we all know he does not because Putin would disown him if he really supported it. Stop enabling poor mental health and normalizing pedophilia and child abuse by supporting pride.

      Outside of that expect Oshie to be injured frequently, sit MaxPac in ltir and let the ridiculous contract we signed him to lapse.

      Carlson – should be traded asap to get max return because after this upcoming season his production will drop due to the lack luster roster and we will not get as much for him. That is if he can even remain healthy.

      Kuemper – I have said it before let Lindgren take over he is more than capable, trade Kuemper we are no where close to needing a goalie with his contract size and his level of play does not equate to our need to fix what is in front of him.

      Last but not least the most important aspect of fixing this team is the 6th man on the ice. The fans. The Capitals fans need to pull their heads out of their @55e5, make noise on line, not go to games and slander GMBM and this Frankenstein team as much as possible to get the point across. Do it to the point where Ovie feels embarrassed to step out on the ice and pulls rank on GMBM and says “fix your mess or trade me”.

      It would help if instead of articles like this one there was a heavily negative attitude towards the incompetence of the Capitals front office, Even if it means the Caps organization distances itself from sites like this and them out of their exclusive circle of media management.

      It is going to be hard watching Alan May clench his but cheeks tight each night on air to keep his job by not saying his true thoughts on this failure and embarrassment of a roster.

      GMBM has about 3 months to figure this out it is his responsibility to fix it and it is ours as fans to make it known the moves he has made suck and hold him accountable.

      • Anonymous says:

        I understand your point of view on Mantha and Kuzy. But Nicky has earned the right to play out his contract here and retire on his terms. We don’t win that Cup without him, nor does Ovi even remotely approach Gretzky’s goals. Your attitude towards him is unwarranted and harsh.

      • dwgie26 says:

        I was intrigued that you went to all the rosters and gave your assessment on parity but shallow depth. Was sad to see you takeaway from that was to go find another team. Makes sense that you would suggest selling every player including Backstrom. No loyalty.

        • Anonymous says:

          No loyalty in sports. Players leave when it suits them. Worst thing you can do is to reward players for past performance. This roster is perfect example of that!

          • Jon Sorensen says:

            I get what your saying, but it’s a business first and foremost. If the business is not successful, it’s done. Players have a relatively small finite window to make a bulk of their life earnings. Most will go on to very,low,paying jobs. Teams can’t be loyal either.

      • VA-Norm says:

        I don’t know what the analysis under Kuznetsov is based on.

      • RTR says:

        Regarding Kuzy, I think he might actually have a good year since it’s a contract year for him. He’s gonna want to show he can still play.

        • RTR says:

          Nm. He’s got 2 years. But I wld expect him to audition for other teams.

        • RTR says:

          Nm. He has 2 years. Still, I expect that he will want to audition for a potential trade to a new team that will pay him.

  2. Prevent Defense says:

    I concur with redLitYogi that JT’s analysis here is thoughtful and accurate. Thanks to both of you

    Please, a few observations to go with this:

    – The Caps are Healthy, very much so, for the first time in many years. Counts for a lot (+5 wins)

    – Coach Pete Lavi coached his final Caps’ season like he Didn’t Want To Be Here. His players were manifestly aware of this. They didn’t Put Out for LaVi and it was clear as a pimple in a Clearasil commercial. The Carbery Administration looks poised to improve both morale and “making it all work.” I bet IN FAVOR of Newcoach Carbery’s ability to succeed this season

    – Both GM Mac and predecessor GM Poile reminded press and fans that, frequently, the best trades and deals are the ones you DON’T make. GM Mac has shown remarkable discipline in this regard, throughout his tenure, and this season is no exception. No Panic disasters, no Marty Erats, no Mike Ribeiro’s, no Joe Murphys

    High hopes I have for GMBM to “fill out” the rest of his “Checklist” in a successful manner. Even the NBackstrom Nine Million Dollar Quandary

    • Thank you!

      I’m cautiously optimistic about the impact of Carbery’s communication and coaching style will have on the performance of the roster as a whole. If the most important players on the roster can stay healthy, maybe the Caps can make some noise, or at least look a little bit more like the team they looked like in December last season.

      The biggest wild card for me (outside of Backstrom) is Pacioretty. When he’s healthy, he’s still a very good player. If he can play in around 60 games and be the player he has been the past two seasons, the Caps should be in pretty good shape.

    • dwgie26 says:

      Love this post. Agree with some. Disagree with some.

      Agree that while its hard to believe this, the Caps will be healthy. And what if injured and old play to value of their contracts. I think Wilson, JC74, Oshie could play to their contract values. Mantha a complete wildcard and if Backstrom plays to a $5-6M value, this will be a good team. And can Patches and Edmunstun exceed their value contracts. It feels like a lot that needs to go right, but it could!

      I don’t believe Lavi was checked out last year. I left running sales org for one company for another. I was helping reps till 9pm on my last night. I didn’t do it for the money, i did it for my reputation and because I cared. Lavi’s reputation is important to him. If there was a problem, we would have heard it from the players and they all had good things to say, even if they agreed he should go.

      Agree some of the best trades are the ones we didn’t do (or hear about). I hear you on Panik, Erats, etc and agree. But i do think GMBM filled necessary holes with value in Patches and Edmundson.

      I like GMBM. Many would have fared much worse given the situation and I always feel like there is a calculated plan. But there is always risk in those plans and really hasn’t been anything go the Caps way since COVID season. It’s a lot to overcome and no way to predict all of that.

  3. franky619 says:

    Not impressed by Maclellan at all. This reminds of Mcphee. Unless Ovy has a hart trophy caliber season, this is gonna be another wasted year. This team was dead last in the league after Backstrom came back and yet he brought back the same line up. No trade, no buy out. 5 years without winning a playoff round but let’s give it another try with this group. Holy S***t.

    • hockeydruid says:

      This team won despite the best efforts of the Gm to have them fail. Now they are paying the price for drafting low, making bad trades, paying players to much and signing them to long term deals and not trading some when they should have.

  4. hockeydruid says:

    Enjoyed the progress report, thanks! I am rather disappointed as I thought for sure that finally the owner would get rid of GMGM 2.0 GMBM. Thought it was time to usher in a new era with the Caps with both a new GM and a new HC. A few thoughts: trading Kuzy: trading him will not make much difference in the team as they would have to take back a bad contract and therefore should just keep him and if he does exceptional early in the year maybe someone would want him by the trade deadline and offer decent picks or players; Mantha: trading is not an option as he has no value at this time and his salary also means getting back a bad salary; Backy: offer him the choices of retirement, outright release or going on LTIR for 2 years and he can stay at home; McMichael needs to play C not R or LW; Pacoretty: was a useless and silly signing as he not only is on LTIR but also has an NMC so basically the Caps spent money to have a guy sit on IR and not know when or if he will come back this year and if he does how many games will he play as he has a Bonus clause for games played:10, 15, 20….wow must not expect him back until Feb and a wasted over $4 mil in salary and signing bonus and other bonuses if they have to pay them and cannot trade him if he comes back and plays well as there is interest in him at the trade deadline; someone on here mentioned trading Carlson, once again at his age and salary going to have to take just a bad a contract; it is honorable to try and get Ovie the record but at what cost to the team and getting a record is nice however it is not playoff win nice!! So the marketing strategy for this team the next 2 or 3 years will be come and pay us lots of money to see Ovie score and watch other teams that are winners and have a chance to get to the playoffs and The Cup!. Been there done that as before Ovie and if I remember his first 2 or 3 years that was the strategy of the marketing team. But I guess that Ovie and his enormous ego need that. Honestly I would rather watch the Caps with lots of rookies and younger players than the crew of has been or dumpster dive players and then lose. Sad to say and I honestly don’t want to see anyone get hurt however if a few of the players on this team (Mantha, Oshie, Backy, Carlson) got hurt for a very long period that would be of great benefit to this team.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Mac has his hands pretty much tied at this point. As soon as the organization said player a and player b will end their careers with the Capitals, the fate was sealed.

  6. Anonymous says:

    It seems this year will be another year just to watch OVI chase… disappointing. Disappointing in GMBM bc he hasn’t moved off Mantha or make any changes outside Pacioretty that could be significant. He hasn’t (atleast publicly) tried to make an offer for Nylander or Debrincat etc.. 2 players that would seriously upgrade the caps for now and future. Instead Debrincat goes to Redwings and they become more formidable playoff potential team

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