From afar, Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette has seemingly butted heads with countless young players during his tenure in Washington and has struggled to develop many of them — players who are important to the Capitals’ immediate and longterm future as the team’s core ages.
After several Laviolette-inspired trades and lineup decisions, the Capitals have the oldest roster and have been the most injured team in the NHL during the 2022-23 season. Their chances of making the postseason are low and their developmental system is more barren than it was before.
Because of this, Laviolette has earned a reputation from Capitals fans that he does not like young players or prospects and is unwilling to put time into developing them.
In an interview with DC101’s Elliott In The Morning on Monday, general manager Brian MacLellan did not refute this belief.
Here’s what was said:
Elliott Segal: Can I ask you an uncomfortable question?
Brian MacLellan: Sure.
Elliott Segal: Is it an unfair belief that Peter Laviolette does not like playing kids?
Brian MacLellan: [Stammers] I think it’s tough for all coaches. I think there’s pressure to win now in the NHL. You could talk to most coaches. On competitive teams that are trying to win a championship, you don’t have a lot of time or space to develop young players. So it’s a difficult balance if players need a little more time to get to the point you think they’re going to get to.
Laviolette’s history with prospects and young players is checkered. He benched Jakub Vrana and Jonas Siegenthaler in 2021, leading both grumbling players out of town. Siegenthaler is now one of the best defensive defensemen on one of the top teams in the league. Meanwhile, Anthony Mantha, who got brought in for Vrana from Detroit, ended up being scratched off and on during the 2022-23 season, moving up and down the lineup.
The team’s former young goalie tandem of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek didn’t pan out and were moved, but both are playing well on two top-five teams away from Washington (Toronto and New Jersey respectively).
This season, Laviolette essentially forced top prospect Connor McMichael to Hershey in November after refusing to play him consistently when he made the Opening Night roster. Later in the season, defense prospect Alex Alexeyev found himself benched in favor of veteran minor leaguer Dylan McIlrath. The biggest head-scratcher of all might be Aliaksei Protas, who has been healthy-scratched for most of the entire calendar year of 2023 despite being one of the team’s best process players at five-on-five in 2022.
Laviolette is unsigned heading into the offseason and is in the final year of a three-year contract. MacLellan was asked about his future with the Capitals and when the team might have a conversation with him on what’s next.
“I think given our injury situation, all the stuff we’ve gone through here this year and last year, we’re going to sit down at the end of the year, take an evaluation, talk to ownership, see where we’re at, and move forward from there,” MacLellan said.
MacLellan also shared in the interview that he believed John Carlson’s long-term injury suffered in late December was something the team could not recover from.
“I think [the injuries were] a bit much,” MacLellan said. “We’ve got a couple guys coming back from ACLs that takes a long time (to recover from). Backstrom coming back from hip resurfacing. We missed a bunch of time with Orlov. The Carlson injury I thought really hurt us. You can survive that for two or three weeks because our guys playing behind Carlson played really well, but you just can’t replace Carlson. So when it becomes a longer-term injury, it catches up with you as a team.
“You just can’t continue to replace those minutes with guys lower down the lineup,” he continued. “We’ve been constantly changing. We knew at the beginning of the year it was going to be tough because we had a number of guys out. Brown went down. I thought that hurt us in the beginning. Then we found a rhythm in December and both of our top two defensemen got hurt. It feels like the whole year we were continually chasing the game on the injury front. I don’t think we found a really good rhythm except the month of December.”
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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