Capitals

Caps GM's view of the East and where the Caps fit

Capitals
Brian MacLellan

The 2022 trade deadline brought with it a flurry of moves among the Cup contenders. Notable players such as Claude Giroux, Rickard Rakell and Marc-Andre Fleury switched teams. And through it all, the Capitals, an aging team that may be facing its final year as a championship contender, made little noise. That's not to say they did nothing -- Washington made two shrewd moves by acquiring forwards Marcus Johansson and Johan Larsson at a relatively cheap cost -- but the team hardly made the kind of splash many of the top teams in the league did.

And that was by design.

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan is very much aware of how deep the Eastern Conference is. The top eight teams separated themselves months ago leaving little doubt as to who will be playing in the postseason. Looking at those eight teams, MacLellan firmly believes that there really is not that much that separates any of them and that any one of those eight is capable of making a deep run.

“Those eight teams are all good teams," MacLellan said on Monday after the deadline. "I think on any given night, one could beat the other. There’s probably one or two that maybe have separated. You can tell by the points how it’s going to finish up here, we’re all going to be pretty close in points. It’s going to be about health, it’s going to be about playing the right way at the right time. We’ll see what happens in the east. Good teams could get upset [in the] first round and you never know what’s going to happen after that.”

 

That's the kind of thing you would expect the general manager of the second wild card team to say, especially after seeing every single playoff team in the East make some kind of deadline deal. It also might be true.

In addition to the crazy nature of the Stanley Cup Playoffs that seemingly brings numerous upsets every year, MacLellan has reason to be confident in his team even in the wake of a shaky stretch.

The Caps were not good from January to February, going 8-12-2 during that stretch. From October through December, however, they were literally the best team in the NHL, tied for the league lead in points. Injuries finally caught up to them leading to the rough two-month stretch which prompted some tough comments from MacLellan looking forward to the trade deadline.

"Sometimes just to add depth pieces we might overpay a little bit because we felt we have a good team and we’re going to go a long way and we just need players," MacLellan said on March 7. "I don’t know that we’re in that mode."

After those comments, Washington won seven of its next eight games and looked like a completely different team.

When looking back, MacLellan said he was not trying to motivate the team, he was just being honest.

"I think it was an honest assessment of where we were at," he said. "We had lost I don't know how many home games. We had lost like six, seven in a row. We were struggling I felt. There was no consistency in our game. I think it was just an honest opinion of where we were at. I think within that opinion, I also stated that we were at the upper level of the league at the beginning of the year. And that's the truth too. Injuries, guys coming in and out of the lineup may have had an effect. I was just trying to make an assessment of where I thought we were at at the time."

Now MacLellan's opinion is different. But then why only make two small moves at the deadline? Because to MacLellan, he knows how good the team is as constructed. He saw it from October to December and he saw it in March.

"I think we played a lot better, but again I think it’s getting guys back, getting guys slotted properly and [Vitek Vanecek] playing really well in net," MacLellan said. "All those things I think contributed to our level of play increasing and our record as of late. I think the goal has been to find some chemistry in our middle six whether injuries or other things that were happening and some depth. It seems like the whole year we’ve been injured, players going in and out of the lineup. Going into the playoffs, we wanted to have as much depth as we could.”

 

At no point this season have the Caps had their full lineup available to them. That streak will stretch through the entire season with Carl Hagelin out with an eye injury. The point is, even when the team dealt with a number of key injuries early in the season, they were still the top team in the league. It is only when the injuries started to mount and the depth began to get stretched that Washington faltered.

So for MacLellan, he didn't feel major changes needed to be made. He just needed to add depth.

Even though the Caps sit in a wild card spot and watched as the teams around them made big moves -- Pittsburgh acquired Rakell, the New York Rangers added four players and Carolina brought in Max Domi -- MacLellan did not feel he had to join the arms race to be a contender. In his mind, the Caps already are one.

"When we have our second line healthy — we're bringing in a couple more forwards here — I think it's a pretty well-rounded group," MacLellan said. "It gives us flexibility line up wise that you can move guys around. I think we can compete with anybody in our division."