Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan spoke at length with the media on Wednesday. The most talked about topic was the trade deadline and what the Caps might do to improve their team.
The Capitals, under MacLellan, have not been afraid to make aggressive moves at the deadline to load up and acquire more depth for playoff runs. This season, however, MacLellan revealed he will be a little more gun shy.
“My mindset would be we’re not as aggressive as we normally are. I think it really has to make sense,” MacLellan said when asked if the Caps would be buyers at the deadline. “At the beginning of the year, I’d say we were a legit contender. There are probably three or four teams at the next level but we’re at the high level of that next set of teams. Now I’d say we’re at the low level of that next set of teams. We need to improve. We need to get back to where we were.”
MacLellan is definitely not wrong about the Capitals’ direction since a hot start. The Caps are 8-12-2 since the calendar flipped over into 2022 and their percentage chance of making the playoffs, according to hockeyviz.com, has dropped eight percentage points just in the past two weeks. Some may assign a good portion of that to the team’s goaltending. MacLellan isn’t so sure a trade there is the answer.
“We’re going to make calls and see if something makes sense,” MacLellan said. “Overall we’ve got two pretty good goalies that are still finding their way in the league. The difficult situation I think is that it’s got to be an obvious upgrade for us for it to make sense. Otherwise, we go with our guys. Is this going to get us over the hump on the goaltending side? I don’t know if there are too many guys out there that are that quality. There might be one or two.”
One of those goalies may have been Chicago’s Marc-Andre Fleury, who the Caps reportedly put on a “full court press” to acquire but were shunned by Fleury due to his past Pittsburgh Penguins ties.
“We called around earlier,” MacLellan admitted.
MacLellan called Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek, who have struggled with consistency, two pretty good goalies that are still finding their way in the league.”
“[They] both have shown glimpses of what they can do,” MacLellan said. “Unfortunately I think we had Vanecek in a really good spot and on a roll. Then he got hurt. He missed probably too much time. I think we have to see where he’s at right here right now.
“They probably, overall, big picture, save percentage has been average five-on-five. 4-on-5 it’s been a little below average. The concerning thing for me is sometimes the goals, the timing of the goals, the game situation goals that some veteran guys would tighten it up and make that save. It’s not the overall save percentage, it’s when and how the goals happen. That’s another thing that can zap momentum from your team. You’re digging a hole and you have to dig out of it.”
In years past, MacLellan has focused his attention on adding defensemen at the deadline, such as Tim Gleason (2015), Mike Weber (2016), Kevin Shattenkirk (2017), Michal Kempny (2018), Jakub Jerabek (2018), Nick Jensen (2019), and Brenden Dillon (2020). The acquisition of Kempny in 2018, arguably put the Capitals over the top. But this year, MacLellan revealed he would not mess with the team’s defense, calling it the team’s strength.
“I think we’ve got good depth this year,” he said. “Usually I’m (like) ‘we need eight, we maybe need more than eight.’ You stretch it to add depth pieces, but I think we’re good this year. Irwin’s done a good job. Kempny’s done a great job. I think we got two young guys in Hershey, Johansen and Alexeyev, that we can call up. I think we’ve got 10 guys who can play. I’m not looking in that area.”
MacLellan was more concerned with the team’s collection of forwards. Beyond the first and fourth lines, the team has been a mess this season due to injury and COVID-19.
“Part of it has been our middle-six forward group,” the general manager remarked. “It’s in constant fluctuation. I don’t know if we have a good enough identity in that middle six. Getting Oshie back, getting Backstrom back, getting Mantha back should give us a clearer picture of where we’re at. I think we need to get Nick and Osh up to game speed. They are behind because of the time they missed and they’re working their way into a season in the middle of a season.”
The Capitals have been rumored to be looking for forwards on the trade market for the past two weeks. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman called out the Vancouver Canucks and Seattle Kraken in his reporting as possible fits for a trade. He specifically brought up the name Calle Jarnkrok from the Kraken. The Caps have also been heavily scouting Dallas Stars games. But, to make a real change in the forward group, the team may have to pay a price that MacLellan isn’t willing to make anymore.
“I’d be less inclined to trade prospects because they are going to be playing here sooner than later,” MacLellan said hinting a youth movement is on the horizon. “I don’t know if we’re going to be as aggressive as we’ve been in the past. Just to add depth pieces we might overpay a little bit because we have a good team and we thought we’d go a long way and need players. I don’t know if we’re in that mode, but we’d still like to try and improve the team.”
Screenshot via @Capitals
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.