In what has seemed like an annual ritual for the Washington Capitals — suffering another playoff collapse — general manager Brian MacLellan had his work cut out for him leading into the 2015-2016 season. He faced some tough decisions regarding key pieces to the franchise in free agency because, by making those hard choices, he faced changing the direction of the franchise and possibly causing uproar amongst Caps fans by going away from fan favorite players.
The GM started out the offseason by signing restricted free agent goaltender Philip Grubauer to a two-year, one-way contract worth $650,000 in 2015-2016 and $850,000 in 2016-2017.
The value of Grubauer’s new deal is a steal as the 23-year-old will likely be the Capitals’ backup goaltender moving forward. This likely spells the end of former backup goaltender Justin Peters’ time in Washington, D.C. As a backup, Peters made $950,000 a year.
Free agent target No. 1 was 25-year-old goalie Braden Holtby. Holtby was due for a raise as a restricted free agent and he got a big one when he agreed to a deal while awaiting his awarded contract through a National Hockey League arbitrator.
The Holtby five-year deal benefits both team and Holtby. Had he gotten a higher average salary, it wouldn’t have been surprising based on the stats he put up during the 2014-2015 season. Both sides knew they wanted a reasonable term for stability at the goaltender position so that the franchise wouldn’t struggle with a long contract that hurt their finances in the later years. Agreeing on five-years was key.
The next big move involved unrestricted free agent Defenseman Mike Green.
Having played in Washington for 10 years where he put together some of the best offensive seasons in NHL history for a defenseman, Green’s productivity declined due to his injuries in later years. Did he still fit in the Capitals future plans?
The president of the agency that represents Green made it clear in correspondence that there was no dialogue between Washington and Green.
No. 52 signed to a three-year-deal worth $18 million with the Detroit Red Wings.
The departure of the defenseman in free agency wasn’t a favorite move of fans but it was the right one… D.C. needed a change from the “Young Guns.”
Green didn’t stand a chance of returning if the Capitals hoped to keep the likes of 23-year-old emerging star center Evgeny Kuznetsov (which they did), left winger Marcus Johansson (they did that too), Holtby, center Eric Fehr or right winger Joel Ward (who both eventually departed).
Collectively, the Kuznetsov, Holtby and Johansson (the latter through an arbitrator) deals came in at very reasonable values. There was no overpaying there.
In the early parts of the offseason and right after re-signing Grubauer, MacLellan also got center Jay Beagle to sign on the dotted line on a three-year deal worth $5.25 million.
It was an expensive deal for a fourth (maybe third) line guy whose career-high in goals, assists and points is 10, 10 and 20 respectively (2014-2015). However, the center is an integral part of the Capitals depth lines. Teams typically have paid more for depth players recently because they have become so important in today’s version of the NHL.
MacLellan also assured that defenseman Nate Schmidt would stay in Washington D.C. for another two seasons on a deal that will pay him $750,000 in 2015-2016 and $875,000 in 2016-2017. This is an inexpensive contract for an up-and-coming defenseman who will see much more ice time at the NHL level.
After Washington’s exit from the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, MacLellan acknowledged while meeting with the media that the team needed to find a first line right winger. In a move that caught the hockey world by surprise, he was able to ink free agent right winger Justin Williams to a two-year deal. Williams makes his line mates better.
However, signing Williams wasn’t enough for MacLellan. On July 2, the Capitals acquired right winger TJ Oshie from the St. Louis Blues in a trade. The Oshie acquisition was a major move by MacLellan and was a clear sign the he is really going for it by getting a productive scorer and playmaker.
Oshie is a scoring, play-making, physical player that fills that first line right wing role and then some. Adding Williams meant even more depth at a position of need.
During this busy offseason, Brian MacLellan did exactly what he wanted to do; make the Washington Capitals better. He has done his part in giving the franchise a good chance at winning the Stanley Cup. It is now time for the players and coaches to step up, do their part and execute with what the GM surrounded them with.