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What is Brian MacLellan's plan as the Vegas expansion draft approaches?

What is Brian MacLellan's plan as the Vegas expansion draft approaches?

This offseason will be one of the most fascinating in recent memory because of Vegas and the expansion draft. This will be the first expansion draft of the salary cap era meaning it will be a new process for every general manager. Every team, based on its roster and goals for next season, will approach the expansion draft with a different plan.

So what is Brian MacLellan’s plan?

First, he has to decide who to protect. Each NHL team has the option of protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight skaters and one goalie. MacLellan told reporters in his final media availability of the season that he will be taking the first option.

Here is a projection of what the Caps’ protected list may look like.

Philipp Grubauer, Nate Schmidt, Jay Beagle and either Tom Wilson or Lars Eller will likely be exposed, all players the Caps would hate to lose.

The question MacLellan will have to answer is whether any of these players are valuable enough for him to attempt any backdoor deals to try to encourage Vegas to take somebody else. The problem is guessing who Vegas General Manager George McPhee will want to take so you are not offering him something in order to avoid a player he was not really considering anyway.

RELATED: 20 questions: Which D prospects will make an impact?

In his final media availability of the season, MacLellan told reporters he would talk to McPhee sometime close to the draft just to get an idea of what he was thinking, but he also tempered expectations saying, “I’m not sure George is going to be willing to tell me what player he wants.”

Some have speculated that because MacLellan and McPhee are friends, McPhee may be more willing to make a favorable deal for the Caps. I’m not buying it. McPhee has a job to do building a roster from scratch. I do not see him going out of his way to help the team that fired him, regardless of he is now in charge.

So MacLellan will be left to guess what McPhee is thinking. The two most likely players to be taken based on the list above will be Grubauer or Schmidt. There is a case to be made that Vegas could try to sign away top free agent Kevin Shattenkirk, but if there is interest in him McPhee will almost certainly take his chances in free agency. I would be surprised if he takes any UFAs in the expansion draft at all.

Grubauer’s contributions last season should not be overlooked, but ultimately the team would be able to survive losing its backup goalie especially since the team already believes it has its future starter in prospect Ilya Samsonov. If Grubauer is going to be a starter somewhere, it will not be in Washington.

Schmidt would be the tougher pill to swallow considering he is someone MacLellan has already said will move into the top-four next season on defense. If MacLellan is worried he could be taken, he could try to make a deal with McPhee to protect him and no, that deal will not be for Brooks Orpik. I have heard this theory and it is ridiculous.

“Please don’t take your top choice from my team and in exchange I will give you an aging defenseman with a massive cap hit." That’s not going to happen, but more on this later.

The problem with trying to make a deal with Vegas is that MacLellan does not have much to offer in return. The Caps are going to need prospects to step into important roles next season so they have little to spare within the system. They also do not have a draft pick until the fourth round in this year’s draft. Even though it may not take much to convince McPhee to take Grubauer over Schmidt, is the team really willing to trade away yet another draft pick to make sure of it? That seems doubtful.

One thing that should also be considered is whether MacLellan tries to pull off a major trade before the expansion draft. If you want to make a major shakeup after another disappointing postseason result, MacLellan could trade another defenseman, one the team would be likely to protect. That way, the team could still protect Schmidt while also making a major change so many have called for in the wake of continued playoff struggles. The most likely candidate would be John Carlson, someone with major standing around the NHL in whom MacLellan could find major value.

This depends on just how high MacLellan feels Schmidt's ceiling is and whether or not he wants a major shakeup going into next season. If he just wants to retool, then this won't happen. It's a longshot to be sure, but the team's inability to protect Schmidt does raise the question of just how far MacLellan will be willing to go to make sure he remains a Cap.

One trade related to Vegas that seems doubtful is moving Orpik. Orpik’s play on the ice has reached a point in which he is not living up to the $5.5 million cap hit his contract carries. McPhee essentially declared Vegas open for business when it comes to teams looking to move these type of big contracts, but that is unlikely to happen with Orpik. Both MacLellan and head coach Barry Trotz have been very consistent on how much they value Orpik’s leadership in the locker room and I have not gotten any sense that this option is even being considered. Even if they did want to try to trade Orpik, it will cost them and we have already established the Caps do not have much to offer Vegas.

So what will MacLellan ultimately do? Perhaps nothing.

MacLellan hinted to reporters that he may take a more reactive view of the draft saying, “We’re going to lose one [player]. We’re going to have to react after they pick their player. We’re going to have to fill a hole. Whatever player they pick, we’re going to have to try and fill that hole.”

It certainly sounds like MacLellan is not willing to create one hole just to fill another.

MORE CAPITALS: 20 questions: What should the Caps do about their No. 2 goalie?

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Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

CHICAGO—Four fans were ejected from United Center on Saturday night for taunting Devante Smith-Pelly as the Capitals’ winger sat in the penalty box.

The fans, according to a team spokesman, yelled “basketball, basketball, basketball” at Smith-Pelly, who is black. Smith-Pelly was in the box for fighting in the third period of an eventual 7-1 loss to the Blackhawks.

The taunts were confirmed by an off-ice official, the spokesman said, and the fans were subsequently removed from the arena.

Smith-Pelly did not speak with reporters after the game but is expected to address the incident at the team’s next media availability. The team is scheduled to practice Sunday at KeyBank Center in Buffalo.

Caps Coach Barry Trotz did not hold back when asked about the fans' comments.

“There’s absolutely no place in the game of hockey or our country for racism,” Trotz said. “I think it’s disgusting, and there’s no place for it. …It just shows ignorance.”

The Blackhawks responded on Twitter with an apology to Smith-Pelly, who is one of roughly 30 black players in the NHL.

February is Hockey is For Everyone month in the NHL.

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3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

Just about everything that could go wrong did for the Capitals on Saturday in a 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Caps were coming off a strong 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, but none of that carried over in the trip to Chicago. The Caps took on a Blackhawks team that had lost eight in a row, but Chicago quickly took control in the first period and never looked back.

Washington gave up 21 shots on goal in the first period and found themselves down 3-1 after the opening frame. Things did not get much better from there as they gave up another three goals in the final four minutes of the second.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Jonathan Toews: Toews opened up the scoring in the first period with a quick shot from the corner that caught Braden Holtby by surprise.

Later in the first, he recorded an assist as his pass sparked a breakout that led to Brandon Saad's deal that gave Chicago back the lead. The Caps tried to make a game of it in the second period, but Toews intercepted a pass from Brooks Orpik that led to a 2-on-0 with himself and Patrick Kane that Kane netted to give the Blackhawks a 4-1 lead and signaled to everyone that the rout was on. Saturday was only the second three-point night of the season for Toews.

2. Patrick Kane: Toews helped the Blackhawks take control early, but Kane helped provide the knockout punches in the second period. A bad pass from Orpik was intercepted by Toews that led to a 2-on-0 with Kane. Holtby made the initial save on Toews, but Kane was able to knock in the rebound for the goal.

Kane also added an assist on Artem Anisimov's power play goal which extended Chicago's lead to 6-1.

3. Tom Wilson: Before this one got out of hand, it looked like Wilson had erased the tough start for the Caps as he deflected a shot from Matt Niskanen into the net to get Washington on the board.

Saturday's tally was his third goal in two games and his 10th of the season, marking the first time in his career he has reached double digits in goals.