Since a general manager's season is hard to quantify beyond a team's regular season numbers and projections about prospects and draft choices, we figured we'd have a roundtable discussion on what MacLellan did well and what he may not have done so well. Feel free to weigh in on any of these points in the comments.
Q1: What would you say was Brian MacLellan's best move in 2016-17? What did you think was the biggest misstep, if any?
Tommy: While the move may not have panned out as well everyone initially thought, I thought acquiring Kevin Shattenkirk was the best move MacLellan made. That was the first time I can remember in the Ovechkin era of Capitals hockey that the Capitals went out and got the bonafide best player available at the deadline, and it really didn’t cost as much as one would think. In turn, the Capitals also got Pheonix Copley back, and he may very well be the backup goaltender next season. I honestly don’t think MacLellan made any missteps at all.
Adam: I loved the Shattenkirk deal when the Capitals made it. He may not have panned out as well as hoped but it was nice to see the Capitals be the team to finally land the big fish at the trade deadline. If he’d had some more time in Washington, or had been given some more looks with different defense partners, perhaps Shattenkirk would’ve had a better impact on the team.
I don’t think trading for Lars Eller was a misstep but I’m still unsure whether he really fit the mold of the “scoring center” the Capitals were purportedly looking for. The only true mistake that MacLellan has made this year was in neither re-signing nor firing Barry Trotz. I’m not a fan of leaving a guy in limbo and ,given that the Capitals didn’t allow Todd Reirden to interview for head coaching jobs this summer, an early coaching change is a distinct possibility. What would a losing streak in October/November tell MacLellan about Barry Trotz that he doesn’t already know?
Peerless: Trading for Kevin Shattenkirk. He did not give up sure-fire prospects, the first-round pick comes late in what seems to be a weak draft, and the second rounder is two years from now. The bigger plus is that it sent an unmistakable message that the front office took the Caps’ chances for a Cup as seriously as possible and were willing to do what needed to be done from a personnel management standpoint to reach that goal. I can’t think of any misstep he made as this or that event was happening. Even looking backward, it’s hard to see just where any of his actions rise to the level of “misstep.” What is lurking, though, is what Adam alluded to, and that is how the coaching situation is handled in 2017-18.
J.P.: I’ll echo what everyone’s saying about Shattenkirk - it was the right move to make at the time, and I’d hope Mac would make the same or similar move again if given the chance, regardless of how it turned out (which, of course, is a dicey way to evaluate trades). That said, I’d have thought a bit more about the impact of the move before making it, specifically how the coach intended to use the new asset (I’m having Martin Erat flashbacks now) and what the repercussions that would have through the lineup - adding Shattenkirk to the roster was great, but when it pushes Nate Schmidt out of the lineup, the add was somewhat mitigated. Still a no-brainer trade, though.
As for bad moves, I’m not sure it counts as a “2016-17” move, but losing Nate Schmidt hurts. A lot. And it’s hard not to imagine that it was avoidable at what would have been a reasonable cost, given this team’s window and its situation on the blueline (which is to say that it would have been worth it, in my mind, to give up a pretty nice future to keep Schmidt for the present). The way I see it, Mac painted himself into a corner and as soon as he submitted his protected list, it was checkmate for George McPhee - he could demand what he wanted for Schmidt and, if Mac balked (which he apparently did), either take Schmidt (to spite Mac and/or because that was a legitimate preference) or Philipp Grubauer to ice a better team (he's inarguably better than Calvin Pickard and J.-F. Berube, and most likely Marc-Andre Fleury, though there are obviously other considerations there that make that move make sense). And here we are. Mac thought GMGM would take Grubi. He gambled and lost. That's really the bottom line. And I don't think we've seen him gamble and lose like this yet (Shattenkirk notwithstanding). But we have very imperfect information on the specifics surrounding losing Schmidt and haven’t yet seen Mac’s “Plan B,” so I’ll reserve full judgment on this one for somewhere down the road.
But looking back on last season, I honestly don’t have any major quibbles (say what you want about Eller’s capability to center a “scoring” line - and we have said plenty - the dude centered a terrific third line all season). I’d have liked to see Mac figure out a way to get the Caps back into the second or third round of this year’s draft, but the reality is that you have to go down a long list of people responsible for this season’s shortcomings before you get to the general manager.
Q2: Was the 2016-17 roster as crafted by MacLellan as close to “perfect”, on paper at least, as one could ask in the salary cap era? If not, what gaps/issues did you see?
Tommy: Yes, I think that the issues were strictly due to under-utilizing certain players and having either guys drop the ball when it mattered most. On paper, the team had no clear holes, and they were even able to replicate their regular season success from the 2015-16 season. Maybe the only thing that MacLellan could have done was to try to add a bit more speed within the bottom six, but that bottom six was as talented as any.
Adam: Yes, as Tommy said the biggest issues on the team were related to utilization/execution rather than ability. Going into the season I thought the team’s biggest hole was on the left side of their defense but Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt were effectively able to both prove themselves as capable and push Brooks Orpik and Karl Alzner down the depth chart as the season went on.
J.P.: Again, we’re on the same page here - this team, as assembled, was a beast. They were deep up front, with double-digit goal-scorers everywhere you turned, strong on the back-end, and rock-solid in goal (two deep). There were no glaring issues with the team, structurally, especially relative to the clubs around them. And who knows how things go this year (or last) if they don’t run into the eventual champs in Round 2...
Peerless: In the narrow window of 2016-17, yes. This season was a convergence of events -- perhaps the last chance for a guy like Karl Alzner to win with this team (and perhaps Nate Schmidt or Philipp Grubauer), the walk year of Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie, the acquisition of a player who had a likelihood of being no more than a partial season rental (Shattenkirk), and perhaps the last value year for a guy like Brooks Orpik, in addition to the core elements. In that respect, this team was as close to perfect in its construction for this season, but for this season alone. MacLellan and the front office have quite a chore ahead of them to get the 2017-18 club anywhere close to the 2016-17 edition...on paper. Teams like Chicago and (to a lesser extent) Los Angeles won multiple Cups by reloading when they lost pieces. Let’s see if the Caps can “reload.”
Q3: Each summer of his tenure, MacLellan has identified a major roster need and addressed it through trades and free agency. What would you say is his most pressing need this summer?
J.P.: Mobility on the blue line. Losing Alzner is a bit of addition-by-subtraction in that respect, but losing Schmidt is just plain subtraction and in a huge way. If Madison Bowey and/or Christian Djoos is ready for the NHL (count me among the skeptics), that will help, but Brooks Orpik is still back there to pair with him anyway. The Caps need to play quicker, and that starts on the back end.
Peerless: Not so much position (although he could have two huge holes at right wing) as style and maybe attitude. Pittsburgh continues to be the perennial dagger in the hopes and dreams of the Caps, and they do it not with size or “heavy” play but with speed and moxie. Toronto gave the Caps problems in the first round with their youth and speed. Rising teams seem to be trying to replicate that formula. The Caps need to “catch up,” so to speak.
Adam: Losing Nate Schmidt has created a glaring hole on the left side of the Capitals’ defense. Brooks Orpik had a great season in 16-17 but that was largely because he was playing in a reduced role. The Capitals are now going to be hard pressed to find a mobile defenseman to round out their top four.