Capitals’ GM Brian MacLellan Looks to Improve Top-Six Forwards

It’s been almost exactly a year since Brian MacLellan became general manager of the Washington Capitals. The season was successful even though it ended in agonizing heartbreak.

“It’s been a whirlwind. It’s flown by. Warp speed. It’s been fun,” MacLellan told reporters Monday. “There’s a sense of accomplishment. There’s an empty feeling after the New York series. There’s a hole to fill there. But I feel we’re on the right path.”

Joel Ward and Brian MacLellan
Joel Ward is the current RW on the Caps’ first line

Indeed, the Capitals are a much better team this season over last. The team has more depth and the defense is stronger. Nearly every player on the team improved in their points total and plus/minus rating, and goalie Braden Holtby enjoyed the best season of his career.

MacLellan: Stanley Cup in ‘Next Three, Four Years’

MacLellan was wise to hire Barry Trotz as his head coach and most of the credit should go to Trotz because the system he introduced worked extremely well and superstar Alex Ovechkin fit seamlessly into that system. MacLellan noted Monday that “the next three, four years is the window” for Ovechkin to hoist the Stanley Cup. “From what I’ve observed,” continued MacLellan, “he’s done what’s been asked of him. He bought in to what Barry has asked him to do and he’s been successful. And consequently our team has.”

However, the Capitals once again fell at the final hurdle after sitting 101 seconds away (in Game 5) from their first Conference Final since 1998, they ultimately fell in Game 7 to the New York Rangers in the second round. Since 2005, the Capitals, nine of their 11 postseason matchups have gone seven games – and they’ve lost six of those nine Game 7 series.

This year was a much better showing as the Caps lost 13-12 on aggregate against the Rangers in an extremely tight series, but MacLellan still hinted that he’s looking to strengthen the top-six forwards prior to October by inking a new first-line right wing.

The Future of Joel Ward and Mike Green

Such speculation may spell trouble for crowd favorite Joel Ward who is set to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer. Ward was the last of many players to slot into the first line alongside mainstays Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom. According go MacLellan, it’s possible that Ward may sign a new contract before free agency, but his contract length is “going to be an issue.”

MacLellan says that he expects the salary cap to be about $70 million and mentioned that the future of defenseman Mike Green remains up in the air, saying that the blue-liner’s situation is “going to come down to if he’s comfortable with [his] role and what do you pay for that role moving forward. It’s probably going to be a little complicated.”

However, I think it’s going to be extremely complicated without much wiggle room. I don’t see Green taking a ‘hometown’ pay cut, and – let’s face it – if MacLellan is serious about improving the top-six depth, then Green has to move on. And maybe Ward too. D-Man Dmitry Orlov is fit again and could take Green’s place on the third defensive pairing.

MacLellan saved his most positive statements for Trotz:

“He set the tone for the culture, put in a structure and a system of accountability,” said MacLellan of his head coach. “The whole coaching staff was incredibly good. Barry’s been in the league a long time and knows what it takes to be successful. He got everybody to buy in to what he was doing, philosophically and off the ice. It’s amazing the change in environment that’s happened from last year to this year.”

When all is said and done, MacLellan breathed a breath of fresh air into the Capitals’ organization over the past 12 months. The fans, players and coaching personnel would do well to trust their GM’s instincts and tactics, and that’s a sentiment that was lacking within the franchise for the many years prior to MacLellan’s arrival.