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2021-22 Rink Wrap: Brian MacLellan

Now that we’ve covered the players and the coach, it’s time to wrap things up with the guy at the top, Brian MacLellan.

Washington Capitals Final Media Availability Session Photo by John McCreary/NHLI via Getty Images

Now that we’ve wrapped up the players, it’s time to turn our attention to the big man himself, the architect of the 2020-21 Washington Capitals... GM Brian MacLellan.

Q1: What do you think was Brian MacLellan’s best move - or perhaps the best move he didn’t make - last season?

Luke: If we are counting the summer, then being able to move Brenden Dillon for two seconds is some great work. Everyone knew the Caps were in a cap crunch so moving him out the expected return was minimal, but BMac got two seconds, one of which is a mid second for this upcoming draft. Overall, it was some good work by MacLellan.

Peerless: Best move made – I’d agree with Luke here. The two second rounders for Brenden Dillon could, at a minimum, provide some depth down the road. The Caps, holding Winnipeg’s second rounder in the upcoming draft, will pick 46th overall. Martin Fehervary was a 46th overall pick in 2018. Then again, the Caps took Kody Clark with the next pick. Drafting is not an exact science. Best move he did not make – mortgaging the future for a splash at the trading deadline.

J.P.:I actually had to go back and review the Caps’ transactions over the past year because it felt like Mac… didn’t do all that much? The Dillon trade was a tidy piece of business. So was re-signing a certain goal-scoring left-wing to a five-year/$47.5 million deal. But I’ll go relatively small here and say re-signing Nic Dowd to a three-year/$3.9 million contact? Dunno - not a lot of flashy roster moves of which to speak this year (which is somewhat understandable… to a point).

Bryan: Yeah, Nic Dowd rules, it’s a huge win to get a guy like that on a contract like that. I also guess that the “best” move wasn’t selling the farm at the deadline for a rental.

Greg: I’m with J.P. here, it doesn’t seem like Mac had the most active of seasons. Then again, with the state of the roster and the amount tied up in older players…I’m not exactly sure what I’d have done differently either. That said, I’ll cheat and go with two things here. First, I think Mac’s ability at the start of the season to constantly mix in rookies and have them fit within the Caps system is a testament to their organizational strength. That’s not one roster move though, so instead let me highlight his acquisition of Johan Larsson. Larsson fit quite well on the fourth line, was a positive possession player, and only cost the Caps a 3rd round pick. Not a bad bit of work, even if Mac’s moves didn’t exactly shake up the Caps roster.

Becca: I’m going with one he didn’t make, and that was to not try and go all in for a goalie (although if the rumors are to be believed, he did attempt to get Marc-Andre Fleury over to the light side). Outside of Fleury, and maybe even including Fleury, there didn’t seem to be a lot in the way of goaltenders who could have dramatically improved the Caps’ lot in their first round this season. Say what you will about the kids they’ve got now, but neither one was The Biggest Problem (or anywhere close) in that first-round loss to the Cats, and I’d argue that Ilya Samsonov performed much better overall than I expected.

Q2: What do you think the biggest priority should be for MacLellan this offseason?

Luke: I know everyone’s answer will be getting a goalie, but to me the most important is replacing that Backstrom LTIR money with something big. The two big names in free agency are Johnny Gaudreau and Filip Forsberg. If he can’t sign one of them then he needs to trade for a big name player. If MacLellan can snag a top end, young player to inject this team with youth, speed, and skill, that would be huge to keep the window open for these last four Ovechkin years.

Peerless: Hoarding draft picks. I’m getting a stronger feeling that keeping that competitive window open with trades (which would likely involve draft picks) is a fool’s errand. The Caps are at that stage where the planets would have to align in just the right way to make a deep playoff run. They’re old, showing signs of being increasingly brittle, and do not seem well aligned with the speed game so many teams (including the two Cup finalists) have been successful in implementing. They need to take a more focused look at what this team is going to be five years from now.

On the free agency side, I don’t know that one player will make enough of a difference in the fortunes of this team, but if they can underpay for a player like Filip Forsberg, I would not complain too loudly. I think MacLellan will look for depth in free agency – middle six forwards or 5-6-7 defensemen, and of course he will be (or should be) looking hard at goalies.

J.P.: While I agree with Peerless that some long-term planning would be prudent, that ain’t the way of the world - if Mac focuses on the 2027-28 Caps instead of the 2022-23 team, he’s going to be working on someone else’s roster. Luke’s right to zero in on the silver lining to the horribly depressing Backstrom injury, namely all that sweet, sweet cap space, but without addressing the goaltending situation, it’s not going to matter if they bring in 2022 Filip Forsberg or 2002 Peter Forsberg - they’re going nowhere fast. The market (via free agency and trade) ain’t great, but that’s the rabbit Mac needs to pull out of his hat. Any leftover assets can be used to bolster the current (or future) roster.

Greg: Luke & J.P. are right (as usual)... if the Caps want to actually compete for a Cup next year, the roster is going to need some shaking up, and the clearing up of $9 million in cap space (plus the salary cap going up next year) gives them some room. I’m not exactly in love with the market, but the Caps clearly need to do something, if not multiple something(s), and have them gel with Laviotte’s system. I’m a Gaudreau believer, but I almost wonder if the money would be better spent in a few value-pick type forwards. In particular, I’d be checking in with Nino Niederreiter and Vincent Trocheck’s agents…nothing like taking some talent away from last year’s division winner.

Becca: I have every expectation that fixing (or at least trying to fix) the goaltending situation will be Priority #1, as others have noted it should be. But finding someone to fill in for Backstrom for however long he’s out - and yes, I’m hanging on to the slim hope that he will, at some point, be back, because not doing so makes me want to curl up in a ball and sob for a week - to say nothing of a right-wing to fill the very large void left by Tom Wilson after his ACL surgery, will be key. This team has had a very strong top-six since the Cup run and losing two very important pieces from that top-six is something that should take top priority this summer... for the right price, of course.

Q3: How would you grade MacLellan’s overall moves in 2021-22?

Luke: B, I guess? He made just a bunch of small moves that were fine, not great. This summer should consist of a couple big moves that will be much easier to grade.

Bryan: Yeah, it’s obviously easier to grade based on performance than process and not getting beyond the first round feels like an indictment in some ways. I’m giving him a B.

Peerless: I liked the “less is more” approach MacLellan took. There was no panic in his approach, just a steely-eyed, honest appraisal of the team that suggested they could pay a lot for a player or players who might have pushed the Caps to a second round of the playoffs but who would either cost the Caps a chunk of their future in draft picks or further burden what could still be a challenge in managing the salary cap (five roster spots open and $8.978 million in cap room, according to I’d give him a B-plus.

J.P.: The 2021-22 Caps were a good team, perhaps even better on the ice than on paper. There were (and are) some contracts that have limited what Mac could do to address the team’s weaknesses, and the options for addressing some of those weaknesses were just as limited. Mac’s more of a “trust the process” guy than a “trades for trades’ sake” GM, so it’s not surprising to see him have a quiet 2021-22, but you get the sense that some bold moves are on the horizon… and needed. He gets a B-minus from me.

Greg: The Caps came into the year projected as a bubble team and they… finished in 8th place in the east. How they got there seemed to fit the typical Caps formula too: a strong start paired with a midseason slump, though it’s hard to know how much was COVID-related and not. It’s hard to really give him anything other than a B though, given that Mac largely tinkered at a roster that seems far away from Cup contention.

Becca: I’ll fall in line with the crowd here and say a solid B, if only because he didn’t do anything too flashy/great but nothing too awful either - which is probably about right for the situation the team was in last season, both in terms of depth and cap space.

That said, I see that restraint maybe going by the wayside this summer if Mac wants this team’s window to stay cracked open a little bit longer. Should be an interesting offseason.

Your turn - how do you rank Brian MacLellan’s 2021-22 season, on a scale of 1 to 10?


How do you rate GM Brian MacLellan’s 2021-22 season?

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110 votes total Vote Now