Cap­i­tals still have work to do

Af­ter a pro­duc­tive draft, Caps GM Brian MacLel­lan dis­cusses his pri­or­i­ties for the off­sea­son.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY ALEX PRE­WITT alex.pre­witt@wash­post.com

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.

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