Shortly after Justin Williams addressed the media about signing with the Capitals, the club’s general manager, Brian MacLellan spoke to reporters about the Caps’ plans heading into free agency and the next steps he plans on taking with his roster.
Here’s a look at what he said:
On what led to the signing of Justin Williams:
We targeted a top-six right winger as we went into free agency. We made calls on all the guys we had interest in and monitored the market as we went along and at some point Justin became more affordable to us and we started to lean his way and it worked out in the end.
On what he thinks Williams will bring to the Capitals:
I think he has all the intangible qualities that we desire. Obviously, he has a great resume with the three Cups and the Conn Smythe and his performance in playoffs, I think all those things, plus what you hear about his character make him probably the perfect fit for our top six. I think he’ll have a big effect on Kuznetsov and Burakovky and I also think he’ll have a good effect on Ovi and Backstrom. It’s good to have a guy that’s won Cups and has been through the wars that he has. He’s won three Cups so I think hell have a big influence on our forward group.
On going into unrestricted free agency without knowing the cap hits of unsigned restricted free agents Braden Holtby, Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov:
We continued talking about what we could afford and what the RFAs are going to come in at. Ideally, you would like to have your RFAs all signed going into unrestricted free agency and I thought we put aggressive offers on the table for our guys and unfortunately it hasn’t worked out where we got them signed and we knew exactly the dollar amount we’re dealing with. But we kind of estimated and budgeted for where we think hey come in and we made our decisions based on that.
On Justin Williams’ proven track record in Game 7s, where he is 7-0 in his career:
The story line is there, obviously. He just brings the things we need that we don’t have. We’re looking to get over the hump and he’s been there before and I think he can have an effect on our team to get us there. It still remains to be seen how it works out but it looks good for now. We haven’t played any games, but it sure lines up right.
On the future of UFA Joel Ward with the Capitals:
I would not rule it out. It’s probably more unlikely. We made a pretty solid effort to try to bring Joel back. We’ve been in communications with his representation pretty much the last few days and probably before that. Things can happen trade-wise or bodies moving out. I would say it’s unlikely now but I wouldn’t completely rule it out.
On a relatively quiet free-agent market and how it impacts the trade market:
I think there was a lot of discussion going into the draft and probably after the draft and into free agency about players that have been and are still available. I think the UFA market was a little thin this year. Teams addressed some of their needs yesterday and there’s probably some jockeying still going on as far as what’s left in free agency and who’s available via trade.
On if he forsees being active in acquiring other pieces or turning his attention to signing Holtby, Johansson and Kuznetsov:
Our main focus has been our RFAs all along and it continues to be a priority for us. Holtby, Kuznetsov and Johansson are priorities. We want to get them signed. It would be unlikely that we sign another UFA but if we get one or two [RFAs] signed that’s favorable to us we might pursue.
On “dead money” being moved by trading contracts of Nathan Horton, Chris Pronger and Marc Savard:
You hear both sides of it. You have two groups basically. [One group says] the rules are the rules and you’re working within the rules and that’s allowed. And you get the other group [that says] that’s circumventing the cap and you shouldn’t be allowed to do it. I’m not sure where I fit in between those two but I guess the way it’s set up now the rules are the rules and you can do it. Unless they can close the loopholes that are there it’s going to continue to happen.
On whom Williams would be a good fit playing with:
I’m not sure. We talked about it with Barry yesterday and actually this morning, too, where the best fit is. In my mind, I’d like to play him with Burakovsky and Kuznetsov because I think he’d have a big effect on them. But [Ovechkin and Backstrom] could be a great fit. I think Barry will just try it out and see which works chemistry-wise and what’s best for our team. I think he’d have no problem playing in either spot.
On how Williams became ‘more affordable’:
I just think the free-agent market just kind of became a different market this year with no [significant] increase in the salary cap. I think the number of quality player was probably limited and teams were addressing specific needs. I just think the market kind of leveled off this year to a more affordable level for teams because there wasn’t that many dollars available for players.
On if there was a conscious decision among NHL general managers to not spend big money on free agents:
I don’t know if we consciously made that decision but going into it we decided to be conservative. We wanted to watch the market and we didn’t have a lot of dollars to spend on a free agent, so we wanted to monitor the market and if it got to the level where we could afford a guy we were going to jump in.
On Wednesday’s free-agent signing of defenseman Taylor Chorney:
Basically, we’re taking a chance on Taylor. We watched him in the playoffs and at the end of the year in Pittsburgh and we thought he played really well. We liked his mobility. He just played a steady two-way game and I thought if we’re going to take a risk on a guy I thought he’d be a good guy to try and I think it might work out for us if he comes in and does what he did at the end of the year last year.
On whether Chorney would slot as a seventh defenseman:
I don’t know. Hopefully, we created a competitive situation where five, six, seven, the coach is going to play whoever plays the best. I’m not necessarily saying he’s our seventh [defenseman]. He could be our sixth, he could be our fifth.
On the loss of Mike Green:
Mike Green’s a good player. He’s been here a long time. Obviously, there’s going to be a void on our blue line and in our room. I think we have the personalities and enough character to fill that void. I think Mike had a good year last year. We respect what he did and what he’s done for the whole organization throughout his 10 years here. I think it is going to be different without him. He’s got friendships. He’s been with a lot of these guys for a long time. I think over time things will shift and we’ll have to move forward and it will be a different group.
On the Capitals’ current salary cushion of $14.4 million:
I feel good about the cushion. I think we have enough to sign our guys. I don’t know what’s going to happen transaction-wise as far as who’s available and who we like better or not like better. There will be transactions that are available and if it makes sense financially we’ll pursue them.
On having contact with Eric Fehr and his agent:
We did yesterday. We talked to them once. We’re going to continue to talk to him. Like I said before, we don’t know what’s going to happen over the next period here. But we’ll continue to montor where he’s at and what he’s looking at contract-wise.
On contract talks with Braden Holtby, who can become an unrestricted free agent in two years:
I’m comfortable. We like Braden. He did a great job last year. We like the person, we like the fit with our team. We’ve been open for a term deal. We’ll go beyond the RFA years if it makes sense to the hockey team and it allows us to win. That’s what we’ve communicated to his agent throughout this whole process.