Twenty days after his team was eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs — another premature exit after a Presidents’ Trophy-winning season — Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan spoke to the media about the off-season outlook for his team.
Among the talking points, MacLellan addressed the Alex Ovechkin trade speculation that tends to swirl when the Capitals fall short of their goals. Ovechkin scored five goals and eight points in 13 playoff games this season, but after another Game 7 loss and second-round exit, much of the blame from outside has fallen on Washington’s highest-paid player.
MacLellan (mostly) shot down the idea of trading Ovechkin. But he curiously left the door open, if only slightly.
“He’s been a big part of where we’re at as an organization and just to casually say ‘Let’s trade him for what for who?’ I don’t think it makes sense from an organizational point of view,” MacLellan said. “Maybe at some point if there’s a legitimate hockey deal that came available, but I don’t know that that’s where we’re at right now. I just think he’s got a history here, he’s a big part of this franchise and he’ll continue to be going forward.”
Ovechkin is coming off a 33-goal, 69-point season, but the most alarming element of his production was the sharp downturn he took in five-on-five contributions. Whether that’s the start of a decline or a blip on the radar that he’ll bounce back from is for the Capitals to consider. But it makes the decision on whether or not to keep a player who will be 32 at the start of next season and making $9.5 million against the cap for another four seasons a little trickier.
For the immediate future, MacLellan said the team would not strip Ovechkin of the team captaincy.
Here are some other areas the Caps GM addressed:
THE FUTURE OF HEAD COACH BARRY TROTZ
In the days immediately following the team’s elimination, MacLellan talked about doing a “thorough evaluation” of the organization, which seemed to include the future of head coach Barry Trotz. In three years behind the Washington bench, Trotz has led the team to terrific regular season success, but hasn’t been able to get past the second round of the playoffs.
On Tuesday, MacLellan said Trotz will return as the team’s coach next season, the last on Trotz’s contract, but that he hasn’t started negotiations yet on an extension. The two also had a difference of opinion on how the team’s past affected their approach and execution in key games.
This would seem to put Trotz squarely in the hot seat and that another early exit, or even slow start, could spell the end of his time in Washington.
WASHINGTON’S EXPANSION DRAFT PLAN
MacLellan also briefly touched on the team’s plan for the NHL Expansion Draft, without naming specific players. The GM said the Capitals would opt to protect seven forwards, three defencemen and a goalie, rather than a combination of eight skaters, plus a goalie.
The Caps don’t currently have seven forwards on the pro roster under contract for next season, although they have a few RFAs to sign in Andre Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Brett Connolly. The GM said he expects Burakovsky to be a full-time top-six player next season, wants Connolly to return and that he’s open to long-term deals for Kuznetsov and defenceman Dmitry Orlov.
As for the blue line, we would expect Brooks Orpik to be left available to Vegas and since MacLellan spoke about a top four that included Orlov, Matt Niskanen, John Carlson and Nate Schmidt next season, it doesn’t appear as though pending UFA Karl Alzner will return to the team in 2017-18.
WILL OSHIE RETURN?
The most impactful pending UFA on the Capitals is T.J. Oshie, who is coming off a career-best 33-goal season alongside Ovechkin. A year like that will certainly bring out plenty of suitors searching for goal-scoring punch, but the Capitals are also hoping to get him back — preferably before he hits the open market.
The likelihood of that happening, according to MacLellan, depends on where the salary cap ends up. With a $73-million cap this season, the Caps need that number to get up around $77 million next season if they are to keep Oshie.
On Monday, Gary Bettman spoke to the media ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final and addressed next season’s cap. The NHL and NHLPA are meeting this week, so no numbers have been finalized, but it is expected to end up somewhere between $73-$77 million.