So far, so good in Year One of the Washington Capitals' big plan to remake the team.
Rookie GM Brian MacLellan made some big offseason moves. Hiring Barry Trotz and a new coaching staff and adding key defensive pieces Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik -- regardless of the long-term implications of their big-money, long-term deals -- has paid immediate dividends.
The Capitals are not just a playoff team, they're playing the kind of heavy, two-way hockey that bodes well for a long playoff run. Are they perfect? No, which suggests MacLellan will be watching carefully what unfolds over the next few days leading into the trade deadline.
Needs: Yes, the Caps would like to buy if the right asset becomes available at the right price. Every GM says that, but the fact is there is little urgency in Washington to make a move.
Could the team use depth down the middle? Sure, but don't look for MacLellan to move top assets for a rental such as Antoine Vermette unless he thinks there's a good chance he could keep the player long term.
We know MacLellan is not averse to taking on salary and term, given the team's interest in Evander Kane before Kane's shoulder injury ended his season. Depending on how the team handles defenseman Mike Green (see below), the Caps could be in the market to add a sixth or seventh defenseman, and they could add depth even if Green is kept in the fold.
Finances: The Capitals traditionally spend at or near the cap, so additions will have to make sense not just in terms of personnel, but cap-wise too.
The wild card in all of this is Green. The two-time Norris Trophy finalist has seen his role and his ice time diminish drastically with the the arrivals of Niskanen and Orpik and the emergence of John Carlson and Karl Alzner as solid top-four defenders. Green would like to stay, but he's about to become an unrestricted free agent and it's hard to imagine he fits long term at or near his current salary of $6.25 million (cap hit slightly more than $6 million).
MacLellan could certainly find a taker for Green, who still has significant upside offensively, but it's hard to imagine he'd be traded to another Eastern Conference playoff team, and unless a non-playoff team felt it could keep Green long term, it's hard to see that being a fit either.
Our guess is that unless MacLellan is blown away by an offer for Green -- or finds a young forward, preferably a center, that fits long term for the Caps but requires some salary-cap relief that would mean having to move Green -- he stays to preserve the team's considerable defensive depth.
Scouting the GM: MacLellan has been with the Caps for 14 years, about half that time as assistant GM, but this is his first deadline at the helm as the team's GM. We're guessing, though, that unless something substantial falls into his lap, MacLellan will trust his group to go where previous incarnations of the Caps have failed to go. Given the wide-open Eastern Conference, there's no reason to think that can't happen.