By Ian Oland
With the Washington Capitals losing five consecutive games in regulation coming into Thursday’s game against Anaheim, their chances of making the playoffs were approaching single digits. Dealing away pending unrestricted free agents at the trade deadline seemed like the most logical decision, but with the franchise promising Alex Ovechkin to go for the Stanley Cup every year, that scenario was not certain.
Thursday evening, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan gave Capitals fans the first sign of what’s to come over the next week, trading away the team’s best overall defenseman, Dmitry Orlov, and chippy, high-impact depth forward, Garnet Hathaway, to the Boston Bruins for draft picks.
In the press release announcing the deal, MacLellan signaled the direction the Capitals are going moving forward.
“This trade allows us to acquire draft capital, infuse youth and restock our system. While this season has proven challenging with injuries to our significant players, we are in a position to use some of our current assets to retool our club and build a competitive team moving forward.”
Here what this means to me:
“This trade allows us to acquire draft capital, infuse youth and restock our system”
The Washington Capitals acquired three draft picks (and one expiring contract) from Boston for Orlov and Hathaway:
Those picks are unlikely to turn into players who would have an impact during the Alex Ovechkin Era (through the 2025-26 season), except maybe the 2023 first-rounder. Here, MacLellan is acknowledging that the team’s pipeline in Hershey and South Carolina is depleted. Meanwhile, at the top of the organization, the Capitals have traded or frittered away much of its young, NHL-ready talent during Laviolette’s reign for one reason or another: Jakub Vrana, Daniel Sprong, Jonas Siegenthaler, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Brett Leason, Ilya Samsonov, and Vitek Vanecek. One might assume, if the Capitals are to pivot to youth, that Peter Laviolette may not be brought back next season to coach. Laviolette is in the last year of his contract.
(Also- GMBM needs to learn how to use the oxford comma.)
“While this season has proven challenging with injuries to our significant players…”
Here MacLellan blames the end of the Capitals’ eight-season streak of postseason appearances on various injuries. This conveniently absolves him of blame for how he managed his roster and the hand-picked head coach who has been unwilling to develop young talent.
In May 2022, Brian MacLellan said that the team needed a “youth injection” to keep up with a league that’s trending younger and faster. But during the offseason he added veteran NHL forwards: Dylan Strome (25), Connor Brown (29), and Marcus Johansson (31). Those are good players, but they also deprived the team’s top prospects the opportunity to grow at the NHL level, especially as the team already had a glut of aging veterans already on the team like Conor Sheary (30). Keeping third-line center Lars Eller (33) in particular prevented Connor McMichael, Aliaksei Protas, and Hendrix Lapierre from getting NHL minutes at their natural position.
These older players are more prone to injury and take longer to heal, and with an average age of 31.0 the Capitals are the the oldest team in the league. That seniority is result of MacLellan’s decisions, and injuries are its occasional and unfortunate byproduct.
“we are in a position to use some of our current assets to retool our club and build a competitive team moving forward”
This is the fun part… I hope. The Capitals have promising talent in Hershey, including McMichael, Protas, Lapierre, and Vincent Iorio, who each could find their way into the big club’s full-time lineup next season. And the Capitals will have a lot of money to spend during free agency with only one defenseman signed (John Carlson) and eight forwards. Ivan Miroshnichenko could make his NHL debut as soon as the 2024-25 campaign.
Lastly, it’s possible that Brian MacLellan could deal some of his six 2023 draft picks in exchange for roster players who could make the Caps competitive next season. The team promised Ovechkin to surround him with a good team, and dealing picks might be how they keep that promise.
Either way, the decision has been made. The team is immediately worse without Orlov and Hathaway. And while the next two months will be painful, this transition needed to happen. Now it’s on MacLellan to improve his team for the final years of Ovechkin’s career.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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