The Washington Capitals are no stranger to painful losses, but falling – again – to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round cut especially deep this time around because this was their best shot.
That doesn’t mean this is their last shot, mind you.
Still, GM Brian MacLellan admitted something he alluded to before: the franchise loaded up to make a big run in 2016-17. Now they pick up the pieces, which means making painful decisions, like re-signing T.J. Oshie while ultimately needing to give up Marcus Johansson for picks instead of players.
“We maxed it out both player-wise and salary-wise, and we were expecting to run into some issues going forward,” MacLellan said during an unusually fascinating press conference. “It’s no different than teams that won in the past. We have the same kind of hangover but we haven’t won a championship and we’re dealing with it now.”
MacLellan emphasized that he believes that the Capitals have a “good team still,” and even with some agonizing omissions, he might be right.
It’s easy to bash MacLellan for going all-in with the benefit of hindsight, yet grabbing the likes of Kevin Shattenkirk made the Capitals heavy favorites going into the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They just couldn’t get it done.
Now, the clearer source of criticism comes down to how MacLellan is nursing this hangover.
Some wonder why he didn’t buy out Brooks Orpik, for instance. You can quibble with the decision, but at least MacLellan was candid with his reasoning:
The Capitals GM also admitted that Evgeny Kuznetsov maximized his considerable leverage in landing that big extension.
You could almost feel the doom-and-gloom during this press conference. The hangover still hurts, something that seemed clear when MacLellan hesitated to speak with the media immediately after the Penguins eliminated his Capitals.
All is not necessarily lost … but this latest defeat – and the fallout from taking a big swing for the fences – still stings to this day.