In four weeks, Brian MacLellan will be in Philadelphia at the NHL draft, a cell phone in one hand and the future of the Capitals in the other.
Hired Tuesday as the sixth general manager in Caps history, the 55-year-old former player and stock trader has been asked to deliver on his promise to change the culture of a team that missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years and has yet to visit the Eastern Conference finals in the Alex Ovechkin era.
Between now and the June 27-28 draft, in which the Caps own the 13th overall selection, MacLellan has some heavy decisions to make in his attempt to give Barry Trotz a roster he can shape into a Stanley Cup contender.
As part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, NHL teams can begin speaking with unrestricted free agents on June 25 and that means the clock is ticking on center Mikhail Grabovski, who has expressed a desire to remain in Washington.
MacLellan also needs to determine whether the Capitals should use the compliance buyout that is at their disposal following last year’s lockout. Assistant general manager Don Fishman said that with the salary cap expected to increase to between $69 million and $70 million, the Caps are not in a position where they need to buy a player out of a contract.
MacLellan said he’s also contemplating just how active he’ll be in what could be a very active trade market leading up to the draft. Would he consider moving Mike Green for another defenseman? Is Marcus Johansson more tradeable with the arrival of Evgeny Kuznetsov?
In order to fulfill Ted Leonsis’ directive to “refresh” and not “rebuild,” will MacLellan resist the urge to trade prospects currently in the Capitals’ farm system?
Following his news conference on Tuesday, MacLellan shed some light on how he feels about the way the Capitals have been run during his 13 years with the organization and how he thinks they can be different.
On his predecessor, George McPhee:
“He gives everybody a voice. He lets everybody participate with their opinions. He’s a character guy. He supports his people well and he’s competitive, really competitive.”
On whether changes will be made in the amateur and pro scouting departments:
“I think our amateur staff has done a really good job. I’m excited about the prospects we have coming in. [Andre] Burakovsky, Kuznetsov, [Dmitry] Orlov, [Connor] Carrick. These are going to be prominent players for us. [Our amateur scouts] have done a real good job and I don’t think there are going to be any changes there. We’re going to look to add in the pro department.”
On fostering a team-first philosophy:
“Having a team is working together. I think we worked as individuals at times. Guys worked hard and competed, but not as a group. When we’re on the same wavelength and we’re supporting the puck and we’re all thinking the same way, that’s more along the lines of what I was stressing.”
On Barry Trotz:
“We have an experienced coach coming in here that has 17 years of coaching. He’s a character guy and he’s been able to do it for that many years, to get guys to play a certain way and I think he can do it with our guys.”
On the development of the Capitals’ prospects:
“Our young guys have to come through and we’ve got to bring them along the correct way. Kuznetsov, we only had for a short period of time. I would have liked to had him over here earlier, but that wasn’t the case. [Tom] Wilson I would have liked to seen him play a lot more last year. I thought certain points in the season he could have been given more ice time, given more power play, in certain games that would have been effective for him. I mean, we’ve got to work on his skill level. That’s the key for him. He obviously proved he’s physical and can skate and can hit and fight, but I want him to be a top six forward for us. Carrick has been good. I think he should have been shuttled more up and down [between Hershey and Washington]. I’d rather have him as a 1-2 [defenseman] in Hershey and used him sparingly up top [in the NHL] instead of throwing him in the fire. That’s tough for a young kid.”
On how close the Capitals are from contending for the Stanley Cup:
“I think we’ve got a good team. The key for us is these young guys coming through. I think we need depth and they’re going to provide it. Once we get these five guys a year from now, two years from now, I think we’re going to have a really good team.”
On whether he’ll be active in the trade market:
“I don’t know. We’re going to see what’s available. I get the sense that with the cap going up and a limited free agent market that there might be a few more names than there has been in the last couple years, so we’ll see where it goes.”
On whether changes need to be made to the Caps’ current roster:
“I think we can get more out of this roster. I think this coach is going to bring more out of this roster and then we’ll add from there. …The challenge will be to stay patient and pick and choose your opportunities and not try to be too aggressive.”
On leaving hockey for a job in investments and how it will help him as a general manager:
“It was good. I got to learn about investment people and the process and how they go about finding companies. It’s much the same as analyzing players. You put a group of players, a group of stocks, together and they have a disciplined sell process where they max out their value. So I think it’s tremendous value to have that outside work experience to help you think better and to make decisions.”
On what led him back to hockey after five years of trading stocks:
“George [McPhee] asked me if I wanted to get back in it. I wasn’t sure, so I started doing it part-time and I really liked it. I think the break from the game was good.”
On asset management as an NHL GM:
“You have to put a value on players with the salary cap. There’s a proper time to move on from guys and there’s a proper time to pick up guys. We have to stay disciplined to it.”