On Monday, the Washington Capitals promoted Brian MacLellan to general manager, inheriting the role of the man he previously assisted — George McPhee, who was dismissed last month after 17 seasons on the job.
Needless to say, MacLellan has a big job in front of him.
The Capitals are coming off a year in which they missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons and an offseason in which McPhee and head coach Adam Oates were swiftly shown the door. Former Nashville bench boss Barry Trotz will replace Oates behind the bench — a hire that’s chock full of storylines itself — but for the immediate future, all eyes will be on MacLellan.
On the free agent front, two veteran presences are twisting in the wind: UFA forwards Mikhail Grabovski and Dustin Penner, representing two of McPhee’s last acquisitions on the job. Grabovski sort of fell into Washington’s lap, inking with the club for a reasonable one-year, $3 million deal after getting bought out by Toronto last summer; he had a solid campaign, scoring 35 points in 58 games, but missed a good chunk of the season nursing an ankle injury that limited him down the stretch.
Penner also fell into Washington’s lap — Anaheim appeared to be clearing space for a bigger move that never came to fruition, and moved Penner for a fourth-round pick — but failed to find similar success. The big winger had just three points in 18 games in his first-ever stint in the Eastern Conference. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Penner was allowed to test free agency again.
In goal, MacLellan has more questions than answers as the only two netminders with NHL pedigree are Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer. Holtby struggled to hold onto the No. 1 gig last season and while Grubauer has impressed in stints, his resume still only consists of 19 big-league contests. One would think Washington’s in the market for a veteran presence to at least compete for the starting gig, and there are those types available (Ryan Miller and Jonas Hiller, most notably.)
At the draft, Washington will select 13th overall, marking just the second time in six years the Caps have picked inside the top-15. It’ll be interesting to see what MacLellan does here — a former pro scout that used to work in the Caps’ player personnel department, he could be keen to select a player at 13…but it’s also possible he’ll look to move the pick in the hopes of acquiring a roster player for a team that, despite last year’s poor performance, is built to win now.
Finally, there’s what MacLellan plans to do with that roster, one he helped construct as McPhee’s right-hand man. Jettisoning players by conventional methods may be tough, as seven core players carry either full or partial no-movement clauses, so it’ll be interesting to see if he uses the club’s remaining compliance buyout (McPhee used one on defenseman Jeff Schultz last year.) Center Brooks Laich, who’s been chronically injured over the last two years, turns 31 in June and still has three years left on his deal at $4.5 million per and is the most likely candidate.
So yes, there’s plenty to be done in Washington. Promises to be a busy summer for the new guy in charge.