Capitals first-year general manager Brian MacLellan met with reporters for close to 30 minutes on Monday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. In Part One, he gives his thoughts on re-signing Braden Holtby and Joel Ward and the team’s expectations for Tom Wilson.
On how the Capitals' 2014-15 season ended:
Probably mixed emotions for me. The way it ended is not the way you want it to end. I'm disappointed in that. I'm disappointed we didn't close out the victory against New York. But overall I think we made a lot of progress from where where we started at the beginning of the year to where we finished up. I think we made huge steps as a team, as an organization. And I think we learned from what happened at the end and addressed things and tried to make it better and try to get over that hurdle next year.
On the financial challenges that lie ahead:
I think it will sort itself out. We have some RFAs we really like and we want to bring them back and we'll work through it. I think we can get reasonable contracts on all of them. And then we'll make some decisions based on where the [salary] cap ends up and how much money we have left over after that and how we want to invest it.
On re-signing goaltender Braden Holtby, who will be a restricted free agent:
Yeah, I do. He's going to be a priority for us. Obviously, he’s a big part of what’s gone on this year. I think the development of Braden has been tremendous. Personally and as a player I think he represents pretty much everything you want in a team’s goaltending.
On whether he would prefer to give Holtby a long-term contract or a three-year bridge contract that carries him through his first season of unrestricted free agency in 2017-18:
I think we’re open to both. We’ll see how it goes. We’ll talk with his representation and him and see what works best for him and what’s best for the organization.
On whether Holtby’s contract value determines other negotiations:
All the restricted guys. We’re going to be working on them simultaneously. It’s not going to be just Braden. We like Beags [UFA Jay Beagle]. We want to get Beags at a good number as a fourth-line player. We want to bring [RFA] Marcus Johansson back. He’s 25 years old, he’s still developing. We think we can get more out of him going forward and [RFA Evgeny] Kuznsetsov has been a big part of our success at the end of the year. I mean, he filled a hole at second-line center that we’ve been trying to fill for a number of years. He’s going to be important to our team going forward also.
On being able to re-sign restricted free agents while also having enough money to re-sign unrestricted free agents:
We’ve done some homework on guys and we have a range where we think it’s good value for us and for them. I think it’s important for players to realize that we’ve had a successful team and if they believe we have a good chance moving forward to win a championship they recognize that going for max dollars, which [they] could make the choice to do in certain situations, it would hinder our ability to compete going forward.
On whether getting players to take less money might take some convincing;
I think we had a positive experience here. I think we’ve experienced a lot of success. I mean, on the exit interviews you hear a lot of language of ‘this is the most fun I’ve ever had playing. This is the best team we’ve had. This is the most success we’ve experienced.’ A lot of positive comments. So I’m assuming they all want to come back. It would be different if it went the other way on us.
On which free agents will be easiest to sign:
From talking to [Beagle] I know he likes it here. He’s comfortable here; he’s comfortable with the coaching staff. So he’d be an easier one to sign, I would hope. [Kuznetsov] is the same thing. He likes it here. He likes his role. He likes the coaching staff. There are a lot of positives with these guys, they want to come back, so we’re going to work hard to get them back.
On the future of 34-year-old veteran Joel Ward:
Joel’s had less mileage for a guy in his 30s because he started late. He played Canadian university hockey [at Prince Edward Island]. I think there’s a little bit to that, but as you get up in age, I think there is a deterioration, no matter how much mileage you put on it. Term is going to be an issue, I think, there, going forward. I mean, if we can work in a good number and we feel Joel can continue to play at the level he’s playing at, we’ll work it out.
On whether he saw deterioration in Ward’s game this season:
No, I did not. He played good. They moved him around a lot and he did a great job in the playoffs on the first line at the end of the year.
On playoff success impacting a player’s value:
Your skill level gets tested as much as it can at that high level of play. Against New York that was the highest level we got to all year. Guys rise to that occasion and play at that level. Once they hit that level you know that, too. I think coming back next year, I want to see that level from Day One. Here’s what he did in the playoffs, let’s do it all year.
On whether Ward’s future in Washington is tied to the development of Tom Wilson:
Yeah, I think. There are a lot of moving parts here. Obviously, we want to get Wilson more ice time next year. We need to bump him up. We need to, maybe not next year but the year after, turn him into a top six forward. I think we need some skill development there. I don’t like having him on the fourth line for a whole year. I don’t think he touched the puck enough. I think he needs to make more plays. He’s already a big part of our identity. We just need to maximize him as a player and I think he has the potential to do that. During the year I’ve seen him play first line where he was effective. He gets in on the forecheck, he’s physical, he creates loose pucks. We just need him making more plays and doing more with the puck and contributing offensively. I think we can get that out of him. Barry ]Trotz] is big on details and managing the game and learning to play the right way. Tom does make a few mistakes, coaching mistakes I would call them, managing the puck and all the language Barry uses. I think it’s good that Barry holds the young guys accountable for it. I think in the end they all learn. I mean, you watch the progression of Kuznetsov this year, it was the same thing. [Andre] Burkovsky also. Burakovsky’s a little younger  and Barry was, ‘You need to do this. You need to not turn it over here. You need to not play one-on-one here.’ I think there was a good education there for all of our young guys this year.