After another second round playoff exit, just about everyone has an opinion on what direction he Caps should take this offseason. The one opinion that matters more than any other, however, is the man in charge of making those decisions, general manager Brian MacLellan. And, well, it doesn't sound as if he has quite made up his mind yet.
“I don't know that I have conclusions,” MacLellan told reporters Tuesday in his end of season availability. “I spent a lot of time interviewing players and coaches and then I talked to [team president Dick Patrick] and [owner Ted Leonsis] a lot. I don't have any obvious conclusions or specific issues to address. There's some internal stuff that we probably need to address to make things better going forward. … For me, for trying to address issues or problems that we might have, I don't know that any one thing stood out to be able to say, 'This is the one thing that we need to fix right now to get to that next level.'”
Without something clear to fix, that makes the process of putting a team together for next season more difficult.
But while MacLellan was not sure exactly what needed fixing, he did say he was not expecting to blow up the roster or make any major changes.
“I think it’s tough to make a major change…I think it’s a lot easier to make this team worse than it is better,” MacLellan said. “If you make a major change, what’s it going to involve? Trading a franchise player, blowing the whole thing up? I don’t know that that makes sense.”
For a team that has won the Presidents’ Trophy in each of the last two seasons, you can understand why he would be reluctant to make such sweeping changes. Yet, Washington has failed to advance past the second round of the playoffs since 1998. After a two-year self-imposed championship window in which the team ultimately has nothing to show for it, changes still need to be made.
MacLellan indicated that most changes would be internal rather than major roster changes, but even if he is loath to shake things up, he did acknowledge that the choice was not entirely up to him. The Caps were right up against the salary cap this past season and with restricted free agents Philipp Grubauer, Nate Schmidt, Dmitry Orlov Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky all in need of new deals, the Caps may be forced to watch unrestricted free agents T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Karl Alzner, Daniel Winnik and Kevin Shattenkirk leave for new teams.
“It’s going to be hard to bring all the free agents back,” MacLellan said. “We’re going to be getting younger, our prospects are developing and they’re going to take a bigger role. It’s just going to be a different feel to it.”
Ultimately what that will mean is that the Caps will take a step back in the upcoming season. The roster in 2016-17 was just too good and too expensive to replicate for another year. But just how big of a step back will that be?
“I don't know we'll be at this level,” MacLellan said referring to this season’s roster. “I mean, we'll be competitive. … I think we're going to be a good team still.”