In a wide-ranging interview with reporters on Monday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan addressed a variety of topics, from the team being “agitated and angry” about their second-round exit from the playoffs to the need to having better forward depth. In Part One, MacLellan discusses the Capitals’ 2015-16 season, his team’s window of opportunity, and its deficiencies:
On how he balances a Presidents’ Trophy-winning season with another playoff disappointment:
Yeah, I mean, obviously we had a great regular season -- a lot of growth. I thought we had a well-rounded lineup. (T.J.) Oshie and (Justin) Williams fit in well. (Braden) Holtby had a great year, Ovi (Alex Ovechkin) had a great year, (Nicklas) Backstrom and (Evgeny) Kuznetsov had great years. All of our defensemen got better I thought (Matt) Niskanen and (Karl) Alzner did a good job. (Nate) Schmidt and (Dmitry) Orlov did a good job filling in for (Brooks) Orpik. So I thought it was a good year.
I think we got a good rhythm early, but I think the snowstorm, that big break threw us off our rhythm a little bit and we struggled down the stretch a bit trying to find it. I thought we were in and out down the stretch. Then I thought in the playoffs we came out well, good intensity, good execution and we started the playoffs well.
On his thoughts on the Capitals’ entering the second of a two-year window to win the Stanley Cup:
The two-year window is more with this group of guys. We have Oshie on a two-year contract, we have Williams on a two-year contract and then we have young guys coming up. So I don't know that the window closes off, but it's going to change because money will need to be allocated to different players and that sometimes squeezes out other players. So the situation will change after next year. It doesn't alter anything. I basically like the team we have now. I think it's a good team. Obviously I'm as frustrated or as agitated as the players and the coaches that we didn't accomplish more. I think we're one of the teams -- you have maybe five or six teams that should contend for the Cup -- and we're one of them.
As far as going forward, I think it needs to be tweaked a little bit. Our bottom six needs a little work and I think that's going to be the main focus for us. The other focus is development and we'll continue to develop our players -- Kuznetsov, (Andre) Burakovsky, (Tom) Wilson, Orlov, Schmidt. We've got to continue to make these guys better.
On whether Karl Alzner will require surgery to repair a torn groin:
I haven't spoken to Smitty (athletic trainer Greg Smith) over the weekend. I imagine they have a little bit more information. I know he was getting an MRI and getting it looked at. I don't have the conclusion of that yet because I haven't spoken to them yet.
On the vacillating third-line center position, which alternated between Marcus Johansson, Jay Beagle and Mike Richards:
I think at different points of the season guys did well with it. I thought we put Marcus there and he did well for a period of time. I thought Beagle did well for a period of time. Richards did well in a defensive role for a period of time. I don't think we found the permanent solution throughout the year. It seemed to keep changing on us. But we seemed to fill a hole through the year with different guys.
On whether a re-signed Marcus Johansson could fill that role next season.
I see him as a guy that you can move around. I like what the coaches have done with him. Ideally is he a center? Probably not, unless we put him there for an extended period of time. But he can play left wing, he can play center, he can play right wing, he can move up to second line, he can play first line, he can play third line. He's a versatile guy. He can take faceoffs, he plays the power play, he's just a player that you can use in a lot of different situations.
On what’s needed from the bottom six forwards:
You know, we've talked about it- it's turned into a top-nine league. I don't know that we had a pure top nine. Maybe we had a top eight or a top seven-and-a-half or however you want to value that, but I think we were a little short on the top nine. I think you need two-way guys, guys who can play both ways. Ideally for us, I think we need some offense out of it. I think we tried to reconfigure the (bottom) six on the run here with (Mike) Richards and adding (Daniel) Winnik and the priority for us was to solidify our penalty kill. Oshie was killing penalties, Williams was killing penalties, Backstrom was killing penalties and I think there's a lot of energy that goes into that, so we filled that hole on the bottom six with some good guys. Winnik did a great job for us penalty killing, Richards did a good job and it's good to have that, but you still need to have a little offense from your bottom six.
On if the third-line center position can be filled in-house or through free agency or trade:
I think it’s a tough role to fill. There are a couple of free agents that could fill that role but I don’t know that the salary level is going to be the hole that we’re going to have. I don’t know that we’ll able to afford them. Maybe we’ll have to start within. (Chandler) Stephenson is coming -- I’m not sure that he’s a solution right away. Beagle has done it for periods of time. He actually started out pretty well this year doing it. And then Marcus if we need Marcus. I don’t know that we have a definite solution for it.
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