Capitals still have work to do
After a productive draft, Caps GM Brian MacLellan discusses his priorities for the offseason.
sunrise, fla. — Once the final pick of the 2015 NHL draft had been announced and the suits began scattering, Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan weaved through the crowd and, with an uneventful Saturday afternoon behind him, looked ahead toward the next checkpoints of summer.
He had made four selections over two days here at BB&T Center, tied for the fewest in a draft in franchise history, and engineered one trade that boosted the Capitals into the second round in order to land someone they had ranked in the first. He had worked the telephones, searching for a top-six forward on the trade market, and felt talks might continue into next week. Now, there were contracts to consider, offers to extend and a free agency period for which to plan. Four prospects, including three defensemen, had been added to the organization, but the work was far from over.
“We’ll go back to Washington, we’ll do some free agent meetings, and then try to get a good handle,” MacLellan said. “We already do, but we’re trying to get a better handle on what the cost is, what players are going to be available for free agency.”
After drafting Russian goaltender Ilya Samsonov at No. 22 overall on Friday night, swapping two picks to draft Swiss defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler at No. 57 and selecting Regina Pats teammates Connor Hobbs and Colby Williams in the fifth and sixth rounds, respectively, MacLellan’s attention will turn to securing Washington’s three restricted free agents.
According to MacLellan, the Capitals have “talked in rough terms” with winger Marcus Johansson, but haven’t yet made a formal offer, which Johansson’s agent confirmed. They have also been “actively working” on an extension for forward Evgeny Kuznetsov, who blossomed during the team’s run to the Eastern Conference semifinals, according to Kuznetsov’s agent.
But the widely assumed first domino to fall will come inside the crease, where starting goaltender Braden Holtby is expected to command a long-term contract worth at least $5 million in average annual value. Once Washington settles that deal and learns how much money it can apportion to other pieces, the rest of the offseason will began to take shape. MacLellan called the Capitals’ offer to Holtby “good,” “competitive” and “fair,” and expressed hope that resolution would come fast.
“Probably the right order is getting your RFAs and knowing what you’re going to spend on them, so you know what you can spend on anyone else,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s the evolution of our game now. You have to make some harder decisions on good players.”
The uncertain contract situations — Holtby and Johansson are both eligible for arbitration — will likely leave the Capitals idle come July 1, the day unrestricted free agency begins. While still hunting for that topsix forward, Washington expects to enter next season close to the salary cap ceiling and MacLellan said he cannot afford to overpay on the open market.
“I anticipate not being active right off the hop,” he said. “I don’t know if we have the money to be able to do that, but we’ll see what goes on the first day. We’re going to monitor the market, see what the levels are at financially and see where we could fit in.
“If you’re evaluating both markets, the trade market’s the way to go for improving your club.”
At the draft itself, the Capitals moved into the second round by flipping their third- and fourthround picks to the New York Rangers for the 57th selection, which they used to draft Siegenthaler. Assistant general manager Ross Mahoney and his scouting staff felt the big-bodied blue-liner belonged in the mid-first round, but had rated Samsonov even higher. They spent a decent chunk of the second round trying to trade up for Siegenthaler, 18, who has two seasons of experience in the Swiss A-League, and finally found a buyer in their divisional rival.
After sitting out the third and fourth rounds altogether, they added Hobbs and Williams, who skated together as a defensive pair in the Western Hockey League and became the first Canadians drafted by Washington since Tyler Lewington in 2013.
“We obviously take the best player available to us, but all things being equal, I was really happy that we had an opportunity to put a little more young defensemen in the system,” Mahoney said. “I was very happy with that.”
MacLellan held a similar upbeat attitude when discussing his pending free agents. Forward Eric Fehr, forward Joel Ward and defenseman Mike Green are all expected to test the unrestricted open market on July 1, according to their agents, but center Jay Beagle could be nearing a multiyear extension, likely carrying a significant raise from his $900,000 cap hit in 2014-15. But Holtby, Johansson and Kuznetsov remain the top three priorities, their contracts next up on the agenda.
“We haven’t talked as much this weekend, because we’ve been busy doing other things, but I think we’re all progressing well,” MacLellan said.