Capitals GM Brian MacLellan says team is 'on the right path'

WASHINGTON -- Nearly a year to the day after his promotion to general manager of the Washington Capitals was announced, Brian MacLellan's eyes welled with tears when asked how the time in his current job has been.

"It's been a whirlwind. It's flown by. Warp speed. It's been fun," MacLellan said Monday, meeting with reporters at the team's practice facility five days after Washington was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by the New York Rangers.

"There's a sense of accomplishment," MacLellan said. "There's an empty feeling after the New York series. There's a hole to fill there. But I feel we're on the right path."

In May 2014, after the Capitals failed to make the playoffs, MacLellan and coach Barry Trotz replaced George McPhee and Adam Oates, respectively.

If the aim was to return to relevance quickly, Washington certainly did that, and MacLellan sent plenty of credit Trotz's way.

"He set the tone for the culture, put in a structure and a system of accountability. The whole coaching staff was incredibly good. Barry's been in the league a long time and knows what it takes to be successful. He got everybody to buy in to what he was doing, philosophically and off the ice," MacLellan said. "It's amazing the change in environment that's happened from last year to this year."

Still, the Capitals failed once again to reach the conference finals. They last made it that far in 1998.

Since drafting Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals have never made it past the second round of the playoffs. Nine of their 11 playoff series have gone to a Game 7, and they have gone 3-6, including the loss to the Rangers.

"From what I've observed, he's done what's been asked of him," MacLellan said about Ovechkin, whose 53 goals led the NHL. "He bought in to what Barry has asked him to do and he's been successful. And consequently our team has."

MacLellan said "the next three, four years is the window" for winning a Stanley Cup with Ovechkin.

Now MacLellan heads into the offseason knowing the Capitals have seven unrestricted free agents, including Mike Green and Joel Ward. The team's four restricted free agents include goalie Braden Holtby and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

MacLellan called finding a right wing to join left wing Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom on the top line "a priority." He's open to a long-term deal for Holtby and sees Kuznetsov as the team's preferred second-line center.

And the pitch to the team's free agents will be that if they take less money, there's a better chance of keeping the roster intact -- or close.

"They recognize that going for max dollars, which you could make the choice to do in certain situations, would hinder our ability to compete going forward," MacLellan said.

On other topics:

• He expects the salary cap to be about $70 million.

• Whether Green returns is "going to come down to if he's comfortable with [his] role and what do you pay for that role moving forward. It's probably going to be a little complicated," MacLellan said.

• There is a chance of re-signing Ward, but contract length is "going to be an issue."

Tom Wilson makes "a few coaching mistakes" but should eventually be a top-six forward. "We need some skill development there," MacLellan said.

• No players have surgeries planned.