Tuesday, the Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga spoke to Brian MacLellan. Svrluga described the Capitals general manager as “rankled — ticked off, really” at the notion that he didn’t have a plan coming into the offseason, which saw the team lose a big chunk of its veteran depth (Marcus Johansson, Nate Schmidt, Justin Williams, Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Daniel Winnik).
Many of the free-agent losses were expected by the fanbase as the team went all-in for a Stanley Cup, but several complications during contract negotiations, most notably Evgeny Kuznetsov’s, made things worse. The Capitals were forced to salary-dump their third best goalscorer, Marcus Johansson, to the New Jersey Devils.
The most debatable move the Capitals made during the offseason was re-signing 30-year-old first-line forward TJ Oshie to an eight-year, $46-million retirement deal. MacLellan had some strong feelings about anyone who doubted the signing.
“The decision becomes: Do we want Oshie or not?” MacLellan said. “I don’t know what the stink is. Oshie, he’s a big part of our culture. He drives the team. We felt it was necessary. People like Williams at 36, but they don’t like Oshie at 36?”
Plus, MacLellan argues, the salary cap will be up in five or six years. “It better be, or the league’s in trouble,” he said. So that means Oshie’s $5.75 million annual cap hit will be less of a problem going forward, not more of it.
Oshie’s 137 percent increase in 5-on-5 scoring from last season was exhilarating, but it was the function of a near-tripling of his shooting percentage (26.1, up from 9.2 a season ago). Oshie’s underlying numbers – his actual individual shot rate – actually declined, but maybe that’s to be expected when you score on one of every four shots.
I mean – don’t get me wrong: Oshie is a deadly sniper, but no one is this deadly. This is not a repeatable performance. Oshie did not all of a sudden figure out how to literally double his accuracy (his all-situation shooting percentage over the last 7 seasons is 11.8, but it was 23.1 this year). Oshie’s finishing will regress hard next season. That coupled with a likely age-related decline in volume will make it difficult for Oshie to score even 20 goals.
Sportsnet’s Dimitri Filipovic put it simply:
If TJ Oshie had converted the same % of his shots into goals as he had in his 1st 8 NHL seasons he’d have scored 17 goals last season.
— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) June 23, 2017
Oshie will soon be entering the backend of his career, when steep regression often occurs.
Oshie just re-upped with WSH long-term.
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) June 23, 2017
“People are reverse-engineering stuff,” MacLellan said to Svrluga. “They’re saying, ‘Well, why didn’t they expose Johansson in the expansion draft?’ Why would we do that when we don’t know if we could sign Oshie or Kuzy? It doesn’t make any sense.”
But in late May before the expansion draft, Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported that a new deal between Oshie and the Capitals was “all but done.” The Capitals also controlled Evgeny Kuznetsov’s rights as a restricted free agent — though the star center was heavily pursued by SKA St. Petersburg. Kuznetsov was rumored to have been offered a two-year, $20 million contract to return to the KHL.
MacLellan also described the loss of top-four defenseman Nate Schmidt as “not as huge a deal as people are making it out to be.”
The Capitals will enter next season with their head coach, Barry Trotz, as a lame duck and a handful of rookies and young players on league minimum contracts. One Goals Above Replacement model still projects the Capitals to be one of the Eastern Conference’s best next season, but middle-of-the-pack team among the entire NHL.
“People make it sound like we’re a lottery team,” MacLellan said, not naming names. “I’m shocked by that. We’ve got good players. I want people to know: We’ve got a good team.”
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