On April 26, when the Capitals announced they had fired General Manager George McPhee, owner Ted Leonsis explained multiple times that he felt it was time for someone with a new perspective to lead the organization.
“All of us have to recommit to just that one goal. That’s all that we should be in discussions about and that’s where we’re hoping we get a fresh set of eyes and new voice,” Leonsis said that day.
“Let’s bring in a fresh voice and a fresh set of eyes to help us to make changes so that we can compete and win a Cup,” Leonsis reiterated.
● Related: Capitals name MacLellan GM, Trotz coach
So it was rather perplexing when Washington opted to promote to its vacant general manager position Brian MacLellan, who had been with the team since 2000 and had served as assistant general manager for the past seven seasons under McPhee. It will be interesting to hear Leonsis and team president Dick Patrick explain Tuesday afternoon why after those statements they opted to make an internal hire — and interesting to learn how MacLellan intends to shape the team.
In the weeks that follow there will be several critical decisions for MacLellan to make that will show how different he will be — or won’t be — from his predecessor.
● Defensive help. Washington’s most glaring need for years now has been a lack of established depth on the blue line. It was a weakness that grew all the more visible last season as the Capitals rotated through 14 defensemen, including four rookies. MacLellan is as familiar with this roster as anyone could be, so will he decide to shake up the defensive depth? Or will he continue to forge ahead without making any significant additions on the back end as McPhee did the past several years? If he chooses to reconfigure the blue line, could one of the mainstays like Mike Green be on the way out via trade?
● Grabovski. This summer’s crop of unrestricted free agents is thin on difference makers, but the Capitals currently hold the rights to one of the more promising pending UFAs in Mikhail Grabovski. Will MacLellan seek to re-sign the 30-year-old? Grabovski filled Washington’s long-term vacancy at second-line center and meshed with a host of different linemates, but his tie to the Capitals hinged greatly on former coach Adam Oates. Grabovski will need to decide if he can see a future working with Barry Trotz. But the Capitals also need to determine whether they want to keep the two-way playmaker in the fold as important center depth, which is a persistent concern second only to the defensive lineup.
● Goalies. MacLellan traded Jaroslav Halak to the New York Islanders on May 1 while serving as interim general manager, making it clear that the organization didn’t intend to hang on to a high-priced veteran seeking a starting role. But is MacLellan comfortable moving forward with Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer as a tandem in the NHL? Or would he rather sign a veteran backup to a cap-friendly contract that allows Grubauer to continue developing in the AHL but still gives Holtby the chance to take the reins?
● Compliance buyout. Will MacLellan use Washington’s remaining compliance buyout, which doesn’t count against the salary cap, to create additional roster flexibility? A quick refresher: After the 2012-13 lockout, all teams were allowed to make up to two compliance buyouts, but they could only be used last summer and this summer on players who signed contracts prior to that labor stoppage. The Capitals used their first last year on Jeff Schultz, who is providing depth for the Kings as they progress through the playoffs. While the salary cap for next season hasn’t been set, it’s speculated to be in the $68-71 million range. Even on the low end of that projection, the Capitals already have $11 million to spend, but if MacLellan wants to overhaul the lineup he could create more options by potentially buying out Brooks Laich, if he’s deemed healthy, or Mike Green. The buyout period typically begins either June 15 or 48 hours after the conclusion of the Stanley Cup finals — whichever is later — and runs through June 30, according to Capgeek.com.