Those moves diverged from what had appeared to be the Capitals’ planned strategy last month, when general manager Brian MacLellan signaled that the team intended to get younger this offseason.
MacLellan seemed to confirm on Sunday that the last week hasn’t gone as hoped. The Caps failed to trade up at the draft and the team tried to trade for younger players but couldn’t reach a deal.
“Ideally, I think our strategy going into draft time period was to make a trade, to identify the age group we’re targeting and trying to make a trade, bring in a top-six forward, trade one or two guys,” MacLellan said Sunday. “We were open to possibilities, pursued a number of things, but unfortunately it didn’t come through for us.”
Though MacLellan didn’t provide specifics, one of those rumored trades could have sent Evgeny Kuznetsov out of Washington. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Saturday that the Capitals had spoken with Nashville about a Kuznetsov trade, but talks had since quieted. A trade with Nashville could have afforded the Capitals the assets and cap space they needed to be more aggressive this summer.
Instead, the Capitals took a big gamble on Pacioretty, who will not start the season while recovering from an Achilles tear. MacLellan thinks the bet on Pacioretty will pay off.
“I think we’ve got to find a way to score more goals. That’s what he does. I really like the player,” MacLellan explained. “Obviously he’s one of the top goal-scorers over the past number of years. A good player. Beyond the injury, I think he’s still probably better than he was in the later years. We’re excited to get him healthy and in our lineup.”
With Edmundson, the Capitals dealt a third and seventh round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft to add depth to the left side of their defense. Edmundson adds a physical element the Capitals D-core is missing, but he provides little offense, has trouble staying healthy, and is a net negative in his own zone. The former Hab could also end up taking playing time away from prospect Alex Alexeyev. The team opted to add Edmundson via trade instead of trying to overpay for someone in free agency.
“I think when we were going through the free-agent market, the trade market, it’s an element that we wanted to add to our lineup” MacLellan said. “So we got a sense of what free agency for that type of player – physical, net front presence, a good leader, has a good size. Looked at the free-agent market, what the cost was. Decided to go that way and spend (two picks) on it.”
Both the Pacioretty deal and and the Edmundson trade feature measures to limit their respective cap hits. Montreal retained half of Edmundson’s salary, while Pacioretty’s bonus structure means he only makes $2 million against the cap this year. That, too, appealed to MacLellan.
“We had limited cap space and we were trying to add certain elements to the team,” he said. “You know, that opportunity within the CBA to have a lower cap hit [for Pacioretty] and carry over if those bonuses are achieved, it was appealing to us. We got him at a $2 million cap hit instead of a higher cap hit which you might not have been able to afford.”
MacLellan later added that talks were still ongoing with RFA defenseman Martin Fehervary and that the team will soon begin negotiations with Tom Wilson on an extension.
Without a trade for a splashy young talent, the Capitals will rely on their prospect pool to get younger. MacLellan suggested that Connor McMichael, Beck Malenstyn, and Aliaksei Protas would all likely make this fall’s roster, with more players to come in the pipeline.
“I think we added young guys last year,” he said. “We added young guys this year. I thought we had a good draft. I think some of the guys that are playing at Hershey this year are good young players that’ll be a year away, two years away. So I think our pipeline is filling up with some good possibilities. And we’ll continue to look for opportunities [for] younger, or that age group of players available to trade; we’ll pursue it.”
But there was no sugarcoating it — this summer hasn’t gone as planned for Capitals management who were looking to retool their roster in a bigger way after missing the postseason in 2022-23.
“I think we’ve had an aggressive approach at the draft and nothing’s panned out,” MacLellan said. “We’ll continue to have the conversations going forward. I’m assuming you get to mid-July and things will quiet down and then back in the training camp things might pick up again.”
RMNB is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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