Greetings from a northbound Amtrak train lurching toward Philadelphia, site of the 2014 NHL draft. Friday is Round 1, with two through seven scheduled for Saturday. The Washington Capitals pick No. 13 overall, the last selection in the lottery.
After a flurry of coaching moves over the past week – hiring Mitch Korn and Todd Reirden, retaining Blaine Forsythe in an altered role, losing Calle Johansson, shuffling Olie Kolzig into a part-time role and moving along talks with Lane Lambert – the Capitals have taken care of in-house matters. The scouting staff, under promoted assistant general manager Ross Mahoney and rookie general manager Brian MacLellan, appears to have been retained.
Now to the focus turns the roster. MacLellan and Coach Barry Trotz can begin to mold it into their vision.
Really, this weekend marks the first opportunity for MacLellan to spring into action, at least from a roster perspective. Much of the worry among Capitals fans after his promotion came from his 14 years spent under former general manager George McPhee. Would MacLellan feel compelled to take a similar approach, following in the footsteps of what he’s known for so long? Or would he feel pressure to immediately distinguish himself from his longtime boss? The Capitals have no shortage of potential trade chips.
Of course, making moves for the sake of creating a perception isn’t sound strategy, and neither MacLellan nor Trotz have said anything to indicate concern for anything other than improving the roster. The Capitals don’t appear itching to move up in the draft – if anything, moving back might be a more likely option for the first round – and MacLellan has, at least publicly, limited his list of desired additions to defense and a backup goaltender.
After that, he recently told the team-owned Monumental Network, the Capitals will “go from there, depending on how much the defense is going to cost us.” The league and its players association are reportedly close to firming the 2014-15 salary cap, but early estimates range from $69.6 million (James Mirtle) to $71.1 million (CapGeek). This would give the Capitals anywhere from $13.4 million to $14.9 million in cap space to burn. Not a bad amount of money if MacLellan is looking for defensive additions and support for Braden Holtby.
This season, the NHL’s extended free agency interview window overlaps with the draft, which MacLellan called “a little bit chaotic” after having to interview and hire three new coaches as well. Specific terms cannot be agreed upon, but interest can be gauged.
“This year it changes a little bit because the free agency is a little earlier so you’re also making free agent calls, trying to test out the market, see where the value is on guys and who’s going to be available, or who’s potentially going to be available July 1,” MacLellan told Mike Vogel. “So you’re trying to get a sense of what’s going on in that market and who might we have a shot at getting or signing.”
MacLellan said he expects a busy and crammed free-agency interview period, with ground zero at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
“It’s good,” he said. “It’s competitive, because there’s not a lot of high-end free agents out there. It’s going to be a lot of teams going after the same guys. You’re going to have to have a good fit, a good situation, attractive situation for the players that you do want.”
As for Friday’s NHL draft, we’ll be back throughout the day with any pertinent Capitals news and, at the very latest, sometime around 6 p.m. for a rolling first-round update thread. MacLellan will be made available later to address Washington’s night. Mahoney will speak Saturday, when the final six rounds are completed.