Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan did his annual, post-trade deadline presser on Friday and in it, he tried to detail why exactly he steered the Caps more in the direction of sellers. It’s a position he has never been in before while in charge of the team’s roster.
That was clear when he answered questions about the process. MacLellan was clearly not happy with having to deal away what were once key cogs in a winning machine but also expressed the desire to still compete this season despite adding more future assets than anything else.
It was almost like the team was caught in two minds.
The Capitals started their sell-off this season on February 23 when they sent Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway to the Boston Bruins. That sell-off continued and eventually went on to include Marcus Johansson, Erik Gustafsson, and Lars Eller. All five players are pending unrestricted free agents.
“I think we had to make some tough decisions probably a little sooner than we would have liked to make them,” MacLellan said. We had some good guys, good players that we didn’t really want to part with but we ended up parting with. I don’t know that we were showing the consistency that we needed to show to become a team that was going to go for it. I think we had to straddle a line of what’s best for the future and try and still add players and stay competitive.”
The Capitals did certainly add more assets for the future. In return for those five names, they ended up with four additional draft picks and 22-year-old talented defenseman Rasmus Sandin. However, MacLellan adds that the team still has an eye on this season.
That is perhaps most seen in the fact that the team also brought in veteran forward Craig Smith, extended Nick Jensen and Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and did not include Conor Sheary or Trevor van Riemsdyk in their sale of upcoming unrestricted free agents.
“I still think we want to be competitive this year,” MacLellan said. “I still think we got a pretty good team. We’re going through some injuries. Our backend is decimated a little bit. We’ve tried to add a good, young defenseman in Sandin so we’ll see where we are when we come out of it here.”
A team still trying to be competitive this season does not trade away a player like Dmitry Orlov as his contract demands for the future do not matter until it’s over. That is where the lines get a little blurry and confusing. It may even just be lip service. It’s clear MacLellan was aware he needed to mortgage some of the “now” in favor of the future as this year’s Caps are going nowhere.
MacLellan spoke about being able to flip some of those futures for a more impact roster player over the offseason. The confusing part is: They would have more of those futures if they committed more to a full-on sale. But MacLellan seems satisfied with what they got.
“Our strategy was to try and get some assets or draft picks that we could use going forward to acquire players that we like,” MacLellan said. “We try and get in players that we have interest in and you need players and draft picks to trade to get these guys. I think we increased our ability to do that and going into the draft we have a chance to make it happen.”
MacLellan echoed some of those same sentiments when asked if it was important to wave the white flag this season in order to build a more competitive team for the near future as both Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom’s contracts continue to run down. Ovechkin is signed through the 2025-26 campaign while Backstrom’s deal expires after 2024-25.
“We have some draft capital that we can use going forward,” MacLellan said. “We’ve acquired some picks – moving into the offseason and into the draft we have more flexibility to trade for players.”
It’s clearly a very strange time for both team staff and fans alike. The Capitals haven’t been put into this sort of situation in almost two full decades. MacLellan was asked about how the process could be unnerving and a bit difficult to gauge for fans and if he had any sort of message now that the deadline has passed.
“Hopefully, it’s not confusing,” MacLellan started. “We have an older core that we’re still going to move forward with. We could make some changes in that. Our goal is to add some younger players. We did that with Sandin. Marty Fehervary is coming. We’ll see where [Alex] Alexeyev is down the stretch. We called up [Vincent] Iorio. We added [Sonny] Milano. We added [Dylan] Strome. And you complement them with [Tom] Wilson. You complement them with Kuzy, Ovi, and [TJ] Oshie. I think it’s still a competitive team. I don’t look at it as we’re taking a huge step back. I think we might even be taking a step forward.”
Time will tell.
Screenshot via Capitals
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