“Talks are ongoing,” he said not long after, when asked about unrestricted free agents Mike Green, Jay Beagle, Joel Ward and Eric Fehr.
MacLellan repeated his stance that Washington’s pending restricted free agents remain the top priority, and the dollars allocated to Holtby, Kuznetsov and Johansson will dictate the team’s course come July 1. An individual with knowledge of Kuznetsov’s negotiations said the two sides are “actively working” on a new contract. Agents for Holtby and Johansson did not respond to recent requests.
“We’re trying to balance all our priorities here,” MacLellan said. “It’s hard to tell. We keep talking to people and now there’s a free agent window where they can talk to teams. I think they’re going to gauge their roles on our team and dollars they can make in the free agent market, and we’re going to be doing the same thing. If we can come to an agreement, we will, where we can keep it going until we figure out what works best for both parties.
“I think we’re talking to all our guys. We’re in a negotiation process. It could work out, it could not work out. It’s tough to say right now.”
Ward is searching for a four-year deal, according to several individuals with knowledge of the situation, somewhere in the neighborhood of his former contract at $3 million. The Capitals were unwilling to match such a long term, and Ward received meeting interest from six teams – two Western Conference, four Eastern Conference – when the NHL’s interview period opened Thursday morning.
“I get the sense there’s not many UFA contracts being signed right now,” he said. “I’m not sure what’s going on in the market place, but I think a lot of teams are struggling to get their guys signed. I think it’s just what’s going on in the market.”
Asked whether he believed the Capitals could circle back with their pending unrestricted free agents on July 1, once the market has revealed itself, MacLellan replied, “I hope so. I hope that’s the way it works. Ideally, that would be the way it works. But it’s hard to predict…I’d rather be doing it now, but that’s the circumstance we’re in.”
The Capitals’ search for a top-six forward will continue into free agency, MacLellan said, and they “might have a possibility” of scheduling a meeting with one pending unrestricted free agent, whom he did not name. He also said he has met with “a few agents” in Florida, but none who represent pending Washington free agents.
“Like always, there’s names that are possibilities that could work in that spot,” MacLellan said of the top-six spot. “We’re making calls every day, monitoring the market, trying to see if we can fill that spot and do it in a good way, without giving up too much. Depending on the quality of player, I think we try to establish what we can do value wise and what makes sense for us money wise and pick wise and value wise, see if we can find a match with someone that’s willing to trade a guy that we like.”
One thing the Capitals would not do, MacLellan said, would be trade an existing draft pick for exclusive negotiating rights before July 1, and he hedged against doing the opposite, like last summer when he flipped goaltender Jaroslav Halak’s rights to the New York Islanders in exchange for a fourth-rounder. Teams might have interest in, say, the ability to negotiate a new deal with Green before anyone else, but MacLellan said Washington would likely not head down that path.
“I don’t think we’re at that point to do that yet,” he said. “Might happen as we get closer to the draft, but at this time I don’t think we’ll consider that.”
The Capitals also remain in the market for a seventh defenseman, likely a veteran option to station beside Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov, both of whom MacLellan predicted would be on the NHL roster to begin the 2015-16 season. Asked about Tim Gleason, who arrived in Washington at the trade deadline last year and will soon become an unrestricted free agent, MacLellan replied, “We’ve talked to him and his representatives a few times. It’s not going to be a priority off the hop, but we’re going to stay in communication with him. It’s a possibility.”