After yet another disappointing season for the Washington Capitals, general manager Brian MacLellan spoke to the media in regards to the team’s future.
Though many would expect that the team would see major changes this offseason, MacLellan had a different take on things.
“I think it’s a lot easier to make this team worse than it is better,” MacLellan told the media in a press conference Tuesday. “If you make a major change, what’s it going to involve? Trading a franchise player, blowing the whole thing up? I don’t know that that makes sense.”
While MacLellan brings up a good point, something’s got to give when it comes to the team’s failures in pursuit of the Stanley Cup. With that being said, should the Capitals avoid making too much noise this offseason, or is it time for the team to take drastic measures?
Changing the Franchise
It is incredibly hard to blow up a roster and start from scratch. The Capitals have seen regular season success and obviously, the team knows how to win. Not only have the Capitals won the President’s Trophy in back-to-back seasons, they appear to have no trouble scoring and have some of the league’s best players on their roster. Considering the team already has a winning culture, and a formula for success that gets them through 82 games per season with an outstanding record, big changes are not necessarily in order.
Sure, getting new players would definitely end that mentality and guide the team in a new direction. Starting a whole new system at this point and time, though, could be a step back. The team would have to form a new chemistry and balance and completely rebuild.
Washington has not missed a playoff campaign since 2014, and they haven’t experienced failures during the regular season. Therefore, there is no point in changing the entire look and roster of the team now. All of the pieces are there — Washington just needs to put them together.
However, for Washington, there appears to be a problem in the team’s culture and teamwork. The Capitals’ transition from regular-season domination to postseason woes doesn’t make much sense.
During the regular season, Washington’s players have great chemistry, and nothing negative truly comes out of the locker room. Every player has the same will and determination to win. But when it comes to getting past the second round, that cohesiveness wanes. That is not necessarily the fault of the players, nor is it truly a coaching problem. There is an elephant in the room for the organization, and that is the mentality that looms going into the second round.
Washington has been through a carousel of coaching changes, and while the team has adopted a new culture, they can never get past that one hump. That stigma is still there and that can be put on the shoulders of players, especially longer-tenured Capitals. In order to break that mentality, the team may have to consider bringing in new players and getting rid of old ones in order to completely change their culture moving forward.
What Lies Ahead for the Caps
MacLellan made more comments regarding the team’s future, and according to the Washington Post, he plans to re-sign Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Brett Connolly, Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt, Brett Connolly and Philipp Grubauer. MacLellan also emphasized how these players will move into bigger roles, with Connolly joining the third line, Burakovsky moving to the top six and Orlov, Schmidt, Matt Niskanen and John Carlson making up the team’s top-four defense corps.
These moves indicate that Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk will not be returning to the team next year, and though that’s somewhat of a change for the direction of the organization, MacLellan is still relying on long-time players in the system.
This can be seen as a blessing and a curse — though these players will certainly see a boost in confidence, considering the team still has faith in them to win, it doesn’t indicate major changes ahead. These pieces haven’t worked in the past, and there’s no telling if they will work in the future. However, having these players move into new roles and build on a new foundation may help the team trend in the right direction.
When speaking on Alex Ovechkin, MacLellan said he will remain the captain. However, he told NESN Sports he would “maybe” consider trading him if a “legitimate” deal came about. That indicates some sense of change coming — if Ovechkin cannot step up, and if the right deal comes along, MacLellan could trade away a longtime centerpiece of the franchise. That, of course, would mark a huge change in direction for the team and change the face of the franchise.
While the thought of an Ovechkin trade is intriguing, and would certainly bring about a change in attitude in Washington, it would be risky. Washington would be losing a consistent goal-scorer and a franchise player who has given a lot to the organization. Without Ovechkin, the Capitals would likely not be where they are today. Not to mention, his teammates have spoken highly of him, and that alone proves that he is not detrimental to the culture in the locker room.
Barry Trotz will remain with the team, which is absolutely the right move for the organization. Trotz has worked to create a “buy-in” culture and has true care for not only the players but the franchise as a whole. In three seasons, he has helped establish Washington as an elite, winning team in the NHL. Considering the team’s numerous coaching changes through the years, there is proof that Trotz is not the problem when it comes to their postseason woes, which again circles us back to the debate as to whether or not Washington should blow up the roster this offseason.
Washington’s roster has a lot of substance, and they have many moving parts that work well together. However, the same roster and same mentality each season clearly isn’t working, and something has to give. Major change is not the answer, but some change is. The Capitals have tried to find those missing pieces, such as a puck-moving blueliner and third-line center, to solve their woes, but the team’s depth is not the issue.
The problem lies in the team’s culture and mixing things up slightly. There is no point in rebuilding from scratch and starting over now, especially when the current roster holds major promise and the team still experiences success in the regular season. That being said, the team should focus on breaking the stigma and getting rid of players that aren’t cohesive when it comes to moving past their playoff problems.
Overall, a major shake-up is the last thing this team needs. In fact, they must start with changing the culture from within. If the players have more confidence and opportunity to move up, and if the team stops trying to solve problems with different transactions (i.e. trading for Eller and Shattenkirk), they will head in the right direction moving forward.
Sammi Silber covers the Capitals beat for The Hockey Writers and is an NHL contributor with Sporting News. She has also contributed to USA TODAY College, Huffington Post, FanSided and the Nation Network. Silber has written four books and recently worked on graphics for the film, The California Golden Seals Movie.