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Caps GM Brian MacLellan Talks the Future of Burakovsky, Connolly, Free Agency, and More

Capitals GM Brian MacLellan spoke to the assembled NHL media today via conference call. Japers’ Rink was there.

2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan spoke to the assembled Capitals media today to answer questions from reporters, and shared his inside thoughts on the draft, Kuznetsov’s gaff, and several big name free agents. Japers’ Rink was on the call, and here are some of the juiciest tidbits you’ll want to know!

On how Washington is approaching the draft, free agency, and whether or not the team is still in “win now” mode:

“I don’t know that we’re ever not in an all-in situation. We view ourselves as a contender for a Cup, and we want to put the best team we can forward.

We’re in the same mode we’ve been in for the last 5 years.”

With two Presidents Trophies, a Vezina, a Conn Smythe, and a Stanley Cup to Washington’s name over that period, MacLellan’s five-year plan has been a good one so far.

2018 NHL Awards - Press Room Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

On newly-signed defenseman Radko Gudas, and what he brings to the Capitals:

“We like Radko. He’s a competitive guy. We feel he’s a good defensive defenseman, we like him on the penalty kill. He brings a physical element to the team we feel we need. He’s a high character guy, good guy in the room. We’re excited he’s on the team.”

That echoes the comments that Gudas himself made on his conference call on Tuesday, when he highlighted his physical play and experience on the penalty kill as areas where he can help the team immediately.

On whether or not the Capitals plan to make qualifying offers to all of their restricted free agents (RFAs):

“I think we are......I mean…....no…....We’re going to make a decision here after we see the cap number.”

Reporters asked MacLellan specifically whether Andre Burakovsky was one of the players the team will have to “make a decision” on.

His direct answer?

“Yes.”

Uh-oh. MacLellan, who is well-known for his honesty and forthrightness with reporters, may have tipped his hand a bit here and revealed the truly deep uncertainly this team’s front office feels towards the streaky, deke-y Swedish winger.

On 24-year-old winger Andre Burakovsky, who had just 25 points in 76 games in 2018-2019 and is an RFA this offseason:

“Andre had a frustrating year this year but he finished it up well. After the all-star break...he had a good playoffs. We like the player. There’s been some inconsistencies there but when he’s on his game he’s a good player. We’d like to keep him around. Obviously his name has been out there a bit. We’re still talking to some teams. We’re not gonna move him unless we feel comfortable getting something back.”

That operative word here, of course, is “comfortable.” “How comfortable?” is the question. If you feel you’ve got a king size memory foam mattress, your expected return will be different than if you feel you’re sitting on a lava rock suppository.

Expect to hear that the Capitals are entertaining serious offers for Burakovsky at the draft and beyond.

Washington Capitals v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Seven Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

On 27-year-old winger Brett Connolly, who is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) this offseason after scoring a career-high 22 goals last season:

“We brought stability to his game. Obviously he played well. We found a good spot on the 3rd line for him. We’ve always...Lars has been a good match for him, Burakovsky has been a good match for him, they complement each other well. He found stability, a place he could play where he didn’t have a lot of pressure on him. It was a good fit for him team-wise and he took advantage of it, he played well.”

When asked by reporters if it will be hard to re-sign Connolly, MacLellan admitted the Canadian sniper might get better offers elsewhere.

“It could be. We’re in conversations with his agent also. It depends on how the league views him, and what kind of contract offers and role he’ll be presented with. He’s earned the right to listen to all the teams and see where they sit financially and with opportunity.”

When I spoke to Dean Clark, Connolly’s junior hockey coach at Prince George of the WHL, for a feature on Connolly in Washington City Paper this past season, Clark told me that he expected Connolly - who has bounced in, out of, and around the NHL in his short career - to capitalize on the stench of success left over from Washington’s Stanley Cup win to secure himself a longer, richer contract, most likely with another team.

“Everybody wants more. Everybody wants to increase their role. That’s how we’re built,” Connolly told me when I interviewed him for that feature.

Sometimes, it’s wisest to take people at their word.

Washington Capitals v New Jersey Devils Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

On injured defenseman Michal Kempny, who sustained a lower-body injury on March 20th and missed the entirety of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs:

“It’s wait-and-see, but we expect him to be available in training camp [in September].”

That’s good news for Capitals fans, who learned the hard way how important defensive depth and experience are to a deep, championship run.

On the video that surfaced this offseason of Evgeny Kuznetsov in a hotel room with an “unidentified white powder”:

“We’re a little disappointed....I think Kuzy learned a lesson about putting himself in certain situations.”

MacLellan added that he “expects Kuzy to have a big year,” but as I noted on Twitter, there’s a lot to be read into MacLellan’s tone of voice:

Beyond that, MacLellan mentioned that he had spoken to the agents of UFAs Devante-Smith Pelly and Brooks Orpik, but it did not sound as if they were high or likely priorities for the Capitals, and I fully expect them both to be gone next season. But both will forever be champions, forever be Stanley Cup heroes, and forever be Washington Capitals in the minds of many fans.


So there you have it, Caps fans. The oracle has spoken, and you now know everything we know about the Capitals’ free agency plans.

The NHL Draft is June 21st-22nd, and the Capitals’ first 2019 preseason game is September 16th against the Chicago Blackhawks at Capital One Arena.