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Breaking down the Johansson trade: MacLellan explains why a top-six player netted such a low return

Breaking down the Johansson trade: MacLellan explains why a top-six player netted such a low return

Marcus Johansson is a top-six forward who set career highs with 24 goals and 58 points last season. He is only 26 years old and over the past four seasons averaged over 48 points. What was he worth on the trade market? Apparently only a second and a third round draft pick.

The Johansson trade has come under some scrutiny for its return and it’s not hard to understand why.

Why was the team only able to get a second and a third round pick for him? Why not trade him earlier in the offseason when the team could get a higher return? If he was expendable, why not expose him in the expansion draft or offer him to Vegas in exchange for staying away from Nate Schmidt?

All of these are fair questions which general manager Brian MacLellan tried to explain.

RELATED: Caps re-sign Grubauer to one-year deal

When the eight-year, $62.4 million deal for Evgeny Kuznetsov was announced on Sunday, a trade became unavoidable. The team had to shed salary and MacLellan’s options were limited.

“You have to find a team that has a roster spot, cap spot and draft picks and we had contacted a few of the teams that were in that situation,” MacLellan said to reporters in a conference call Monday. “We weren't in the ability or in the area where we could have the ability to take a player back for trading Marcus so we tried to do the best we could with the picks that were presented to us.”

Washington needed to shed salary so they could not take a player in return. That means they had to find a trade partner with draft picks to spare and enough cap space to add Johansson without sending a player back to Washington. Already, that limited the team’s options.

But a second and a third round pick? That’s hard to swallow considering the trade frenzy that happened in June around the expansion draft and entry draft. The Pittsburgh Penguins had to give up a first round pick and a prospect for enforcer Ryan Reaves – a player whose career high is 13 points – and a second rounder from St. Louis.

The problem ultimately was leverage. The Caps had none. Everyone knows the Caps had a salary crunch this offseason, including the other teams in the NHL. No one was going to do Washington any favors. The difference between the Reaves and Johansson situation is that Pittsburgh wanted an enforcer. They wanted Reaves. That gave the upper hand to St. Louis. Washington needed to shed salary so they had to take the best deal available from the limited number of teams that could afford to add his nearly $4.6 million cap hit.

Teams are allowed to go up to 10-percent over the salary cap until the season starts so perhaps MacLellan could have waited for a better deal, but how much better would that deal have gotten? The Caps are the team with the need here. They had to shed salary. To think their leverage would somehow go up as the deadline to get under the cap drew nearer is wishful thinking.

If the Caps had to get rid of Johansson, then why not do it earlier in the summer? There certainly would have been more of a market for a player like Johansson. They even could have exposed him to Vegas or perhaps worked out a deal to send him to the Golden Knights in order to keep Schmidt, a player whose loss has seemingly thrown Washington’s offseason into disarray.

The reason MacLellan did not seek to move Johansson, as he explains, is because he did not know he would need to.

“[Johansson] was making the money that we needed to shed in order to sign Kuznetsov,” MacLellan said. “I think the decision at the end was do we let Kuznetsov go off to Russia and become a UFA in two years or do we trade Marcus?”

The biggest priority for MacLellan heading into the offseason was to re-sign the team’s restricted free agents. The coast of signing those players as well as the re-signing of T.J. Oshie seems to have caught MacLellan off guard, Kuznetsov’s especially. The Johansson move did not happen when he would have yielded the highest return because that option was not on the table for MacLellan until the salary cap necessitated it.

Should he have anticipated the high price tag for players like Kuznetsov and Oshie? Should he have anticipated the team needing to tighten the belt more this summer and made a proactive move to shed salary? Those are fair questions.

MORE CAPITALS: Why MacLellan felt he had no leverage with Kuznetsov

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Best 2017 Black Friday gift ideas for the Capitals fan in your life


Best 2017 Black Friday gift ideas for the Capitals fan in your life

Are you looking for the hot holiday gift for the Capitals fan in your life? Well, look no further because we have the best ideas right here. 

Nothing looks better under the tree than red, white and blue gifts. And the best part about hockey season being in progress, your friends and family (don't forget to treat yourself, too) can use these gifts right now.

We've complied the top-ten must have Caps items for you to put in your shopping cart Friday.

1. Caps' Greatest Plays Coasters

Price: $50

Where to buy: Amazon

Why they'll love it: This set of four slate coasters showcase some of the greatest plays in Caps history. Each coaster includes player movements, date, score, and relevant play details, in addition to being super stylish.

2. Caps Ugly Christmas Sweater

Price: $69.99

Where to buy:

Why they'll love it: They'll be the talk of the ugly sweater party with this one. The knit sweater is not only midweight, so they can wear it in comfort, but it also has the Caps logo woven into it. They'll be sure to stand out at the holiday party in addition to being warm and toasty.

3. Hockey Puck Phone Charger

Price: $29.99

Where to buy:

Why they'll love it: Well first of all, it's cool. Second of all, everyone needs a phone charger so why not have a Capitals one and be the envy of all your hockey friends?

4. Pet Leash

Price: $14.99

Where to buy:

Why they'll love it: This gift is great for both a friend or family member AND man's best friend. The bright red chain with embroidered Caps logo with certainly be a hit at the local dog park.

5. Caps Flask

Price: $54.98

Where to buy: Amazon

Why they'll love it: The holiday's and being around family can cause people to drink, so why not do it in style. This stainless steal flask has a hand-stitched needlepoint design and holds 6 fluid ounces of your favorite beverage.

6. Tie

Price: $18.74

Where to buy:

Why they'll love it: Rock The Red everyday at work with this Capitals woven poly check tie. It will go great with a black or blue suit, not to mention they'll be the envy of everyone in the office.

7. Personalized Caps Wine Glass

Price: $22.49

Where to buy:

Why they'll love it: Your friends and family will love to sit down and watch the Caps while drinking a glass of their favorite wine in this personalized Caps wine glass. Not only does it incorporate sophistication and hockey, but they'll no longer have to worry about someone stealing there drink.

8. Fidget Spinner

Price: $3.99

Where to buy:

Why they'll love it: Get in on the trend with this Caps Fidget Spinner. Not only does it relieve stress, but it will keep the children (or adults) in your family occupied.

9. Camo Beanie

Price: $17.99

Where to buy:

Why they'll love it: Keep your loved ones warm with a camo beanie. Camo is so hot right now and it will keep your loved ones heads warm while watching Ovi and company at Capital One Arena. 

10. Custom Built Cornhole Set 

Price: $195

Where to buy: Etsy

Why they'll love it: These handmade cornhole set is made to order and will be the envy of everyone at the beach or their next tailgate. With purchase, they'll receive a free set of corn bags and a free carrying case for the boards.

11. fuboTV Subscription

Price: $19.99/month for 2 months

Where to buy:

Why they'll love it: What better gift than the games themselves? Perfect for the cord-cutting Capitals fan on your list, fuboTV offers 80 streaming channels from sports to news to movies and more. Watch on all of your favorite devices including Roku, Apple TV, Amazon FireTV and AndroidTV or take it anywhere with the fuboTV app, available for both Android and iOS. If you're on the go, take advantage of fuboTV's cloud-based DVR service to record your favorite programs and watch them wherever you'd like. Even better? There are no hidden fees or long-term contracts and you can cancel anytime.

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Is it time to reunite the Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie line?


Is it time to reunite the Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie line?

The Caps are struggling of late and the top six is a big reason why. Washington has lost three of its last four games and has been outscored in those four games 17-9, but the top six’s problems have been lingering for longer than just these past four games.

Nicklas Backstrom has only two even strength points in his last 13 games and no goals since Oct. 14. T.J. Oshie is producing well on the power play, but he is also struggling five-on-five with one goal and four assists in his past 17 games.

Likewise, the second line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Devante Smith-Pelly is also struggling. They have not scored an even-strength point in six games.

A team cannot be successful if its top players are not producing offensively. Do these recent struggles show that it is time for Washington to go back to the Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie line?


Despite their past success, the trio has not started together at any point this season. Head coach Barry Trotz denied on Tuesday that he has any hesitancy towards putting those three back together and pointed out that he did actually use that line in the team’s loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

“In Colorado I tried to do that,” Trotz said, “Put Ovi, Osh and Backstrom against their second line and they allowed that and they didn't get any production so I'm trying it. Their top line outplayed our top line.”

When asked why he had not used the line from the start of a game, Trotz essentially dismissed the question saying, “Just don’t feel like it.”

Despite Trotz’s denial, there does seem to be some hesitancy from him to go back to a line that has been incredibly successful in the past. Backstrom and Ovechkin have been on the ice five-on-five for a grand total of 16:46 this season. In addition to Oshie who has been his consistent linemate, Backstrom has spent more even-strength ice time with Andre Burakovsky, Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson and Tom Wilson than he has with Ovechkin.


One reason is Trotz remains unconcerned with Backstrom’s slump. While he may not be generating points, the chances are still there.

“Against Minnesota [Backstrom] could have had a hat trick and they're not going in easy for him,” Trotz said. “I think you have more concern when you're not getting any chances than when you are getting chances. When you're getting chances, you're obviously getting the good spots, you're doing lots of good things, they're just not going in for you. When you're not getting any chances and any looks, then it gets frustrating for you.”

Another reason is Backstrom’s defensive responsibilities. He is one of the team’s top shutdown forwards and defense is not a strong part of Ovechkin’s game. It is hard to put Backstrom in shut down situations if his line is not suited for those responsibilities.

Let’s say the Caps do unite Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie. What would the rest of the forward lines look like?

Here’s a possible projection:

Stephenson – Kuznetsov – Vrana
Connolly – Eller – Wilson
Smith-Pelly – Beagle – Chiasson


You can make your own lineup, but you can see there’s not a whole lot of depth behind that top line. This team is not nearly as deep as it has been in years past and the forward lines look even thinner when you put Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie all together on the top. This would be an incredibly top-heavy lineup and it is hard to find success that way.

Then again, they top-six is not having much success now.

Oshie admitted after practice Thursday he would like to see that line reunited, but he remains confident in Trotz’s lineup choices.

“Whatever [Trotz] thinks,” Oshie said. “My game doesn't change much from playing with one player to the next. We've played together at times this year, we've had a couple shifts together so I think he's just still trying to see what works and what he can use. I think we know that we can have success playing us three together. Whatever the lines are is just fine with me.”