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Rink Roundtable: After the Deadline

How did MacLellan do at this year’s deadline? The Rink crew breaks it all down.

Washington Capitals v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Six

Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to weigh in on what GM Brian MacLellan did (and didn’t do) at this year’s trade deadline.

Another trade deadline in the books… first impressions, what’s your grade for Brian MacLellan’s work this year?

Rob: A low-stakes year where the team is already in the playoffs but facing an uphill battle and a surrounding arms race. Much like a pass/fail class, he didn’t go all out (or all in) but he let you know he was there and made some marginal improvements given injuries and coaching preferences. Pass.

JP: Yeah, I’m not sure what “all-in” would have even looked like this year. No good goalies were on the move (or at least coming here), a small handful of decent forwards and defensemen went, but there didn’t seem to be any game-changers switching clubs. I suppose that getting a Claude Giroux could’ve pushed them from, say, a 35 percent chance in the first round to somewhere north of 40 (but still under 50), but at what cost? If this team is healthy, they can compete with just about anyone, and if they’re not, there’s no deadline acquisition that was really going to change that much. It’s much easier to enter the deadline with obvious, glaring needs to address than being good-not-great across the board, so Mac doubled-down on team defense and added depth. That gets a B from me.

Peerless: Absent a clear goalie upgrade being available, it seems MacLellan chose to help the goalies he has by bolstering defense in front of them with the acquisition of defensive forward Johan Larsson, what might end up being a shrewd move for a bargain price (a 2023 third round pick). It is the kind of under-the-radar sort of deal that has been a big part of his deadline strategy.

As for the other deal, my first reaction to obtaining Marcus Johansson was that it would not be the sort of deal that ends well (being a Caps fan of a certain age, the deal immediately took me back 30 years to Bob(by) Carpenter 2.0, which didn’t work out all that well). But I’ve mellowed a bit on the deal seeing the terms. I’m not sad about Daniel Sprong leaving, a player who was too one-dimensional for my taste. I don’t think Johansson is going to make a big impression at five-on-five, but if he can breathe some life into the second power play unit, it won’t be a bad thing. The Caps did not seem to want to part with young assets or draft picks, and they kept their powder dry in that regard, which I think contributes to a solid grade for MacLellan. I’d give him a “B.”

Kevin: Sure, B sounds about right. In my opinion, Mac made two very sensible moves given what this team is (like JP said, a team that can beat anyone when it’s healthy, and also a team that rarely has been healthy), and where they are (locked into the playoffs, and most likely a first-round matchup against a murderer’s row selection). They didn’t give up much to do what they felt like they needed to do, and they’re probably a little bit better today than they were yesterday.

Bryan: I’m also feeling in the B-range. It seems that the revolving lineup door due to injury forced MacLellan to want to shore up the middle-to-bottom-six forward depth and reinforcements without having to break the bank or trade some pieces that they think may develop into NHL-ready players in the next few seasons. I’m all in favor of keeping their development core completely intact – one of my biggest fears was that we would see a Leason, Pilon, Pinho, or Protas moved for a rental, and mercifully that ended up being the case. I think the moves were also a function of looking ahead to early-round playoff potential matchups and recognizing that there were areas that the roster needed to be developed if they hoped to make it through a Panthers, Lightning or Hurricanes lineup that packs a real punch. Would I have liked it if they were able to add a more reliable, veteran netminder into the mix? Sure. But that wasn’t really in the cards this time around and it would have been a real disappointment if they swung and missed there (as we’ve seen them do in years gone by.)

Becca: A+ because I love Marcus Johansson so much and you can put away your heat maps and numbers, I don’t care. I’m excited that he’s back.

Okay but real talk, from a purely hockey perspective… it’s a B for me as well. There were no massive holes to fill and no major swings were taken, but the two additions should improve the team and make them a tougher out and that’s really all you can ask for. Also this was a weird-ass deadline day and honestly I’m just happy that, as usual, Mac comes across as pretty even-keeled compared to some of his counterparts…

Alex: I too say a solid B. GMBM didn’t give up much and got two low-risk, potentially very high-reward pieces in return. Johansson for Sprong and picks feels like a relatively lateral move on-ice (with the exception of hopefully bringing some oomph to the second power play unit), but I think the intangibles he brings into the locker room are going to make a huge difference. Johan Larsson could be a sneaky good acquisition, provided he returns from injury well. All in all, I think the team did what they could with the market the way it was. Solid B. Heck, maybe even a B+, just for the feel-good factor of MoJo returning.

What’s the one area you felt needed upgrades that was not addressed?

Rob: I think they could have used another defenseman given some of the injuries, Marty seeming to have fallen off, and what we’ve seen in the brief return of Kempny 2.0. Nothing major, but Jensen and Kempny 1.0 didn’t cost anything substantial and were huge additions.

JP: Agreed. Depth on the blueline. Even if we’re okay with the top-six they’ve got when healthy, things drop off after that pretty quickly when you get into the Kempnys and Matt Irwins of the world. I’d have liked to have seen them add a guy that could play over Justin Schultz or at least provide a seventh D in whom you could have confidence.

Peerless: A defenseman that you can trust without question in the last minute of a one-goal lead game. Frankly, the Caps’ defense scares me a bit late in games.There isn’t really a shutdown type among them. You have offensive types (Carlson, Orlov), puck movers (Jensen, van Riemsdyk), and a combination of the two, for lack of a better definition (Schultz, who has been inconsistent in both areas this season, and Fehervary). But a guy who you think can say, “I got this” late in games? I don’t see that defenseman on the Caps roster.

Kevin: Everyone else already said it - depth on the blueline. If Kempny is seeing ice in the playoffs, the ship is taking water fast.

Bryan: Yep, defensive depth would have been nice. I’m also cognizant that this team has struggled at times to win faceoffs in key situations, namely when Nic Dowd is on the shelf. I know that Johan Larsson has played some center in the past, but he, to me, seems more of a slot-in for Carl Hagelin or AJF, and less of a guy who can get it done when needed at the dot. So I suppose it would have been nice to have found some depth there if needed as well.

Becca: This is a very weird thing for me to say, but I agree with all of these guys (*checks window for pigs flying by*) - defense was the one area I would have wanted to add some depth. That said, as mentioned above, there really wasn’t a lot available on the defensive market this year, and it felt like anyone added would have been along the same lines of what the Caps already have (with maybe one or two exceptions).

Alex: Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but depth on the blue line. I do think GMBM at least tried to address team defense in general, but a very trustworthy defenseman would have been a nice add. Alas, the market was not in the team’s favor.

Looking around at a rather weird deadline day (and the week leading up to it), was there a deal another team made that you would have liked for the Caps?

Rob: The Giordano/Blackwell case would have made some nice sense for the team. They’re still sitting on an extra 2 from the Vanacek trade and given the salary retention and picks they sent anyway? Would have been nice.

JP: Maybe Kulak or Lehkonen, but both would’ve been along the lines of what they did do - getting more defensive. I didn’t really have too much FOMO at this deadline.

Peerless: The Caps did not have a lot of wiggle room, cap-wise, to make a big splash, so my expectations were tempered in that regard, and I don’t have any particular pangs of regret that the Caps didn’t make such a deal. That said, I do agree with Rob that the Giordano/Blackwell deal would have been nice, even if it cost picks the Caps didn’t seem to want to give up.

Kevin: Skilled forwards like Max Domi and Rickard Rakell are always capable of drumming up some FOMO, especially when they go to conference competition, but nothing out there felt like an obvious missed opportunity.

Bryan: Completely devoid of context, MAF for a conditional second would have been nice, but obviously here the context was key. I would have been really excited if the Caps were able to make a similar trade to the ones Toronto pulled off for Giordano or Colorado made for Lehkonen (but then again, Washington has been notoriously Finn-averse for as long as I can remember). I’m left feeling like maybe the best deal they made was the ones that they didn’t make.

Becca: I’d agree on Giordano, maybe even Nick Leddy, who the Caps will see tonight with the Blues (although I haven’t looked at his numbers lately so I’m not sure if he’s the same player he was in New York). Everyone else felt like more of a marginal upgrade - and not over what they ended up getting - or a massive overpay.

Alex: Marc-Andre Fleury to Minnesota for a conditional second is the first move that comes to mind, but Fleury made it pretty clear that that was never an option. If the price for Brett Kulak hadn’t been as high as the Oilers ended up paying, that could have been a nice move for the Caps as well. Like JP said, though, that’s along the lines of what the team did end up doing, so I’m not too upset about it.