MacLellan puts emphatic stamp on Capitals

MacLellan puts emphatic stamp on Capitals
July 1, 2014, 8:15 pm
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Like many NHL general managers, Brian MacLellan woke up Tuesday morning knowing it would take a lot of money to pay for the names on his shopping list.

But $69.65 million for defensemen Matt Niskanen [seven years, $40.25 million], Brooks Orpik [five years, $27.5 million] and Justin Peters [two years, $1.9 million]?

Even MacLellan wasn’t sure how that was going to sit with Caps owner Ted Leonsis and team president Dick Patrick.

“I spent a lot of time going in and out of Dick and Ted’s office,” MacLelllan said Tuesday evening. “I know it’s a big commitment by ownership."

“We feel we’ve addressed areas that we felt we needed to address, mainly our 5-on-5 play. We needed to shore up our defense, give us some depth, give us some leadership, give us some experience, and I think we’ve accomplished that today...Hopefully, the players see the commitment by both ownership and management to address perceived needs we have.”

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MacLellan said the Capitals’ spending spree centered around their ability to land Orpik, who interviewed with the Caps on Sunday and immediately saw it as the “perfect fit” for himself and his wife, who has family in the D.C. area.

MacLellan said he was not thrilled with giving Orpik the fifth and final year of his contract but when that’s what it took to get the deal done, he did it.

“We struggled with that fifth year for a while, but we felt we had to go there because it was getting so competitive.”

Around the same time MacLellan was finalizing Orpik’s contract, he was also wrapping up Peters’ two-year deal, which gives the Caps a solid 27-year-old backup for Braden Holtby.

MacLellan said he considered signing an older veteran – Tomas Vokoun and Marty Broduer were among the options – but wanted to send a message to Holtby that he was the Caps’ No. 1 goalie and would not be challenged by a veteran.

Once Orpik and Peters were signed, the Caps had roughly $6.25 million remaining in cap space, with Niskanen still on the table.

That’s when Niskanen’s agent, Neil Sheehy, sent out a tweet saying negotiations were “hectic” and that a decision would come later in the day after a “full consideration’ of offers.

Niskanen’s offer from the Capitals was the longest and most lucrative of the day for any unrestricted free agent with a cap hit of $5.75 million, leaving the Caps with $1.1 million in cap space.

“We had cap room, ownership gave the green light to get to the cap, and we spent the money where we thought we needed to spend it the most,” MacLellan said.

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The Dallas Stars were reportedly one of the only teams left in the bidding war and Niskanen said he left a slightly better offer on the table to sign with the Capitals – three days after his wedding day.

MacLellan said the Caps had one other defenseman under consideration – Willie Mitchell signed a two-year, $8.5 million contract with the Florida Panthers shortly after Niskanen’s deal – but was happy to see Niskanen accept the Caps’ offer.

Niskanen is coming off a career season with the Penguins, netting a career-high 10 goals, 36 assists with a plus-33.

“We had some questions [about Niskanen],” MacLellan said, “but [former Penguins assistant and current Capitals assistant coach] Todd Reirden had a lot of input on why his game is where it is and why he believed it would stay at that level, so we trusted Todd’s opinion on that.”

So what does the arrival of Orpik and Niskanen mean for Mike Green, Dmitry Orlov, John Erskine, Jack Hillen and Connor Carrick?

MacLellan and Reirden said they could see Orpik and John Carlson as the Caps’ shutdown defense pairing, which means Karl Alzner likely would be paired with Niskanen.

That leaves Green as a third-unit defenseman making more than $6 million, although MacLellan didn't rule out using Orpik with Green.

“I like our defense,” MacLellan said. “We have six really good defensemen. I think we have a good balance now and I think we’re going to let it play it out. It might take a little time to get the chemistry going, but I think we feel comfortable where we’re at now.”

MacLellan said he was frustrated that free-agent center Mikhail Grabovski was stuck on his asking price, believed to be $5 million per season, but would still like to add another center if he can find one at the right price, either through free agency or a trade.

[RELATED: Capitals sign Peters to two-year deal]