Capitals

Capitals

One day after the Capitals traded Andre Burakovsky, general manager Brian MacLellan explained what went into the deal with the Colorado Avalanche. 

Burakovsky’s representatives expressed their displeasure with his role last year. His ice time decreased. Despite playing 76 games he had just 12 goals and 13 assists in a year the organization wanted to see him take a step forward. 

The Capitals had no intention of trading Burakovsky at the Feb. 25 trade deadline simply for draft picks. They were in the middle of defending their Stanley Cup title and couldn’t afford to lose a roster player they needed for depth in case injuries struck. 

“I just think at some point the player was probably a little frustrated with his role over the past season and viewed it as probably getting a little stale and sees himself wanting an opportunity to play in a top-six role in an organization,” Washington general manager Brian MacLellan said. “He basically wanted to have an increased role and play in the NHL more. I think he averaged 11 minutes with us last year. He’s a little frustrated with it, and so we tried to help them find him a good spot.”

Easier said than done. MacLellan fielded calls at the NHL Draft in Vancouver last weekend but wasn’t going to give Burakovsky away for nothing. In the end, getting second and third-round draft picks and a minor league forward was enough to pull the trigger. But MacLellan said he was comfortable holding onto Burakovsky at his $3.25 million qualifying number as a restricted free agent. A trade wasn’t inevitable. 

“I was clear in the beginning talking with his people that I get where it is that coming from,” MacLellan said. “He wants to play higher, he deserves an opportunity to play higher to show it, but still, we have an organization, we have a team, we put a lot into developing him. I still like him as a player and as a person, but I get where he's coming from. So I have to try to do the best thing for both parties.”

Burakovsky’s departure leaves a hole on the third line at right wing, however. That is an issue for a team that made scoring depth a priority this offseason. The Capitals re-signed Carl Hagelin, but he is more of an intangible player at this point with his speed and playmaking and penalty killing. He’s unlikely to score 20 goals or hit 40 points. 

MacLellan said the team will have to dip into the free agent market starting July 1. That can get expensive, but clearing Burakovsky’s presumed salary helps some. Brett Connolly had a career year with 22 goals and has been a solid player in a limited role for the Capitals the past three years. 

“We talked to his representatives. He's still exploring his opportunities,” MacLellan said. “I think maybe at some point, he's probably going to get priced out of our range. It appears to be heading that way.”

That’s disappointing, but not a surprise. An NHL source told NBC Sports Washington last week that Connolly would not return next year. The door might be slightly ajar, but no one is expecting him back on either side.

That leaves free agent scoring wingers like San Jose Sharks forward Joonas Donskoi on the open market. The risk is you don’t know that player as well. But the Capitals don’t have much choice. There are no real internal options to bump up to the third line with Hagelin and center Lars Eller. “I think for the third-line right wing spot, free agency would be the initial spot we’d be looking,” MacLellan said. “We’ll see if we can find a guy at the right salary level there that provides us with a good two-way game, and if we don’t, then we’ll move on from that…I think we look into everything. We’ve explored trades, we’ll explore free agency and then we’ll consider our own internal guys, too, at the end.”

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