The Washington Post
Caps quiet at deadline after much retooling
Sheary, van Riemsdyk stay put after busy stretch that made team younger
san jose — As Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan charted the course he wanted to take before this year’s trade deadline, he sat down with captain Alex Ovechkin and filled him in on what was about to happen. In his previous eight seasons in the role, Maclellan had typically spent deadline week adding to the fringes of his roster for a playoff push. But with the aging Capitals mired in a losing streak and in danger of missing the playoffs, he explained to Ovechkin why he was going in a different direction.
Maclellan’s motives were boldly revealed over the past week as he traded away five veterans on expiring contracts in four deals.
Maclellan made no moves in the final hours before Friday’s deadline largely because he had already accomplished his objective: to inject youth into the league’s oldest roster by adding future assets and quickly return the Capitals to contender status by keeping the lineup around Ovechkin competitive as the 37-year-old Russian continues his chase of Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record.
“We had some good guys, some good players that you really don’t want to part with, but we ended up parting with because ... I don’t know if we were showing the consistency that we needed to show to become a team that we’re going to go for it,” Maclellan said of the Capitals, who have lost seven of nine, a slump that has made them a long shot to make the postseason. “We had to straddle a line of what is best for the future . . . and still add players to stay competitive.”
Washington’s boldest move was its first, shipping veterans Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway to Boston for a package of picks, including a 2023 firstrounder, along with 33-year-old winger Craig Smith. Washington then flipped that first-round pick, along with defenseman Erik Gustafsson, in a deal with Toronto for 22-year-old defenseman Rasmus Sandin.
Maclellan was also focused on acquiring future draft capital for other expiring contracts on the roster. He sent forward Marcus Johansson to the Minnesota Wild for a 2024 third-round pick and traded center Lars Eller to the Colorado Avalanche for a 2025 second-round pick. The Capitals now own 22 picks in the next three NHL drafts, including five selections in what is expected to be a deep draft this June.
“We have some draft capital that we can use,” Maclellan said. “We’ve acquired some picks. I think [the 2023] first-round pick will be a good pick; we should get a good player there. And then moving forward in the offseason and going into the draft, we have a lot more flexibility to trade for players.”
Maclellan worked the phones all week, fielding offers on unrestricted free agents and negotiating contracts for some of those players to stay, including defenseman Nick Jensen, who re-signed with the team on a three-year deal Wednesday.
Washington agreed Friday with forward Nicolas Aube-kubel on a one-year extension, and it opted not to move winger Conor Sheary and defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk despite receiving offers. Maclellan said the team has interest in bringing both players back next season, and he’s also eying an extension for defenseman Martin Fehervary, 23, who could form a strong pairing with Sandin for years to come.
“We want to be competitive next year. I still think we want to be competitive this year. We have a pretty good team. Our back end has been decimated a little bit,” Maclellan said after the Capitals had finished practice in San Jose.
With 19 games remaining, the remodeled Capitals (30-27- 6) took the ice Friday with a roster that looked nothing like the one that had started the season. Still missing was star defenseman John Carlson, whom Maclellan said is on a “time frame” and could return this month after being hit in the head with a puck in December. And both Jensen and Fehervary, still nursing injuries suffered in an overtime win over Anaheim this week, watched in street clothes.
And then there was Smith, who will be a free agent this summer, and Sandin, who had his immigration paperwork cleared this week and is set to make his Capitals debut Saturday against the Sharks.
“It’s different because there was a lot of change in the personnel,” Washington Coach Peter Laviolette said. “But we’ve had a lot of change in personnel the entire year. It’s different because of the trade deadline, and guys get an opportunity because there’s spots in the lineup that need to be filled.”
Maclellan’s first experience as a seller at the deadline began earlier than normal. “It feels like it’s been going on for three weeks,” he said — and it had been difficult saying goodbye to so many veterans in such a short span. Orlov was an underrated part of the franchise for more than a decade. Hathaway was a heart-and-soul type of player. Johansson was one of the fastest skaters on a team lacking speed. Gustafsson revived his career with a strong season. And Eller scored arguably the biggest goal in franchise history, the gamewinner in Game 5 against the Vegas Golden Knights to clinch the Stanley Cup title in 2018.
“We have guys that we’ve been with for a long time, that have been good players, good people,” Maclellan said. “To have to move on from them is difficult. It’s difficult for our players. It’s difficult for us.”
But Maclellan viewed the moves as necessary, and it was important for him to be transparent with Ovechkin, whom owner Ted Leonsis reportedly promised last year that the Capitals wouldn’t rebuild while the captain was still playing. Maclellan’s work this week didn’t constitute a full teardown. But while the veteran core is expected to remain intact, it nonetheless is a significant overhaul that probably remains unfinished.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve always gone for it. We’re always adding, looking for ways to improve your team,” Maclellan said. “It was unusual this year that we went the other way.”