That clattering sound you heard from the U.S. capital Monday night was Brian MacLellan splashing all of his chips on the table and giving his roster its greatest chance to win a Stanley Cup in its 43-year history.
This, of course, arrives on the heels of its last greatest chance to win a championship, 2015-16.
Washington (41-13-7, with an NHL-best .730 points percentage) is on target to capture its second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy, but that trinket might as well be a participation ribbon at this point.
Can this team get it done in the playoffs?
By swooping out of the shadows to swipe the rental market’s biggest fish, outbidding Penguins GM Jim Rutherford no less, MacLellan has eradicated any space for excuses this spring.
Mr. Shattenkirk goes to Washington.
“If there was one guy we were going to pursue that could make our team better, it was him,” MacLellan told reporters.
“He’s one of the top power-play guys in the league. He’s an offensive defenseman, a great puck mover. The power play breakout passes, the power play passes for one-timers for Ovi, the shot on the power play, those are his strengths.”
You know how front-office types always say things like, “We’ll do whatever it takes to upgrade our lineup, but we’re not going to mortgage our future”?
Well, MacLellan just took out a second mortgage on the Capitals’ future. And Capitals owner Ted Leonsis is so tickled, he’s tweeting about it.
MacLellan traded his 2017 first-round draft pick, a conditional* 2019 second-round selection, plus forward prospect Zach Sanford to the St. Louis Blues for Kevin Shattenkirk and goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley.
Washington has now spent its first-, second-, third- and (perhaps) fifth-round draft picks this spring. The 2018 second-rounder is long gone. Maybe the 2019 second-rounder, too.
Cap restraints say this is will be Washington’s best shot at a championship for years.
You want bold moves?
Since taking the reins from George McPhee in the spring of 2014, GMBM (as MacLellan is affectionately acronymed) has recruited a world-class coach in Barry Trotz and acquired core players Justin Williams, T.J. Oshie, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Lars Eller, and now Shattenkirk—he of the 42 points in 61 games.
Because his team is so close to the ceiling and clicking on all cylinders, we figured MacLellan was done dealing after he picked up depth D-man Tom Gilbert from L.A.
But Orpik’s injury in the 2016 post-season exposed a lack of blue line depth that ultimately cost them a second-round series to arch nemesis and eventual Cup champ Pittsburgh.
Even with superstar Alex Ovechkin ranking 19th in NHL scoring (low by his standards), Shattenkirk joins a Washington club with the third-best offence (3.31 goals per game), the No. 1 defence (2.10 goals against per game) and top-seven rankings in both special teams. Braden Holtby is a Vezina candidate, again, and his workload has been smartly eased by able backup Philipp Grubauer, keeping him fresher for the tournament grind.
By adding Shattenkirk, D.C. just emptied its cupboard and shatt deuces on the rest of the Metropolitan.
“This was the team that I didn’t envision to be here, in the race. Then out of nowhere, it just kinda came out of the blue,” Shattenkirk told the Capitals site. “Meeting some of the guys today makes it all real.”
Now the Capitals must win it all. The band will break up in the summer.
Shattenkirk will command too high a salary on the open market, and the “New Yorker at heart,” per his Twitter bio, is expected to ink with the Rangers.
Wingers Oshie (24 goals already this season) and Williams (19 goals) and depth centre Daniel Winnik (19 points) also turn UFA on July 1. MacLellan won’t be able to pay them and keep 24-year-old Evgeny Kuznetsov (48 points), who will be due a nice raise as a restricted free agent.
Oshie could cash in like a Loui Eriksson or Andrew Ladd this summer, squeezing Washington out of the bidding.
Next to Shattenkirk, dependable Karl Alzner, 28, may be the most coveted UFA defenceman this summer. His $2.8 million cap hit will get jacked up due to the number of buyers. RFAs Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt are also due raises. Ditto Grubauer. And, oh yeah, there’s an expansion draft to account for.
“We’re going to have some decisions to make as far as veteran players, and our young guys are going to be due for some pay raises,” MacLellan said around the 2016 deadline.
We are in Year 2 of what he described then as a “two-year window.”
Interestingly, Washington’s best shot to go all the way has coincided with Columbus and Minnesota’s best-looking teams in franchise history, and perhaps the Sharks’ last gasp in the Thornton-Marleau era, piling on the desperation for the upcoming playoffs.
As for Shattenkirk, MacLellan knows firsthand what a timely rental can mean to playoff run.
Back in his playing days, the left wing was traded from Minnesota to Calgary right before the Flames’ playoff push.
The year was 1989.
That franchise won its second straight Presidents’ Trophy, went all-in to add players in March, and went on to hoist its first Stanley Cup.
*Conditions (via CapFriendly): If Capitals re-sign Shattenkirk or advance to 2016/17 Eastern Conference Finals and if Shattenkirk plays in 50% of the first two rounds, Blues receive 2019 2nd round draft pick. If Capitals trade Shattenkirk on or before July 1, 2017; Blues receive a 7th round draft pick. However, should the return in a trade be a 4th round pick or earlier; instead of the 7th round pick, Blues receive next available pick two rounds later than the earliest pick received by the Capitals.