On December 29, 2015, In Opinion, By Patrick Holden
Photo: Bruce Bennett
Let’s forego a flowery intro and get right to the point: Brian MacLellan crushed 2015 out of the park. The Caps GM had a spectacular year and currently presides over not only the hottest team in the NHL but the best team as well, according to the standings. Basically, Brian MacLellan was The Undertaker and 2015 was Mankind on top of the Hell in a Cell.
To celebrate MacLellan’s year, we’re going to revisit his three best moves of the past calendar year, with an honorable mention thrown in for good measure.
In the summer of 2011, the Washington Capitals gave Joel Ward a four-year, $12 million contract. The deal was largely based on Ward’s play over 12 games when Ward scored 13 points during Nashville’s run to the second round under Barry Trotz. In the regular season that year, Ward had scored just 10 goals. He was 31-years-old. Some of George McPhee‘s gambles didn’t work out, but this one did.
I have a bad habit of nitpicking the public statements of NHL general managers. I have a ton of respect for their talents, and I think their jobs are very difficult, but they’re also kind of terrible at articulating themselves– or maybe they’re just bad at saying things that are supported by facts.
Case in point: Capitals GM Brian MacLellan touting the playoff performance of Tim Gleason.
We don’t have many pictures of Dmitry Orlov from this year. This one almost makes up for it. (Photo credit: Eliot J. Schechter)
Dmitry Orlov‘s 2014-15 season stunk — if you can even call it a season. After breaking his wrist playing for the gold medal-winning Russian national team at the 2014 World Championships, Orlov was supposed to be playing by the end of September. Instead, he never played an NHL game this year.
Orlov had numerous complications, with his return constantly getting delayed. He was finally ready to suit up at the end of March, and the Capitals assigned him to Hershey Bears for a conditioning stint. The 23-year-old played three games and rejoined the Caps, but Orlov had fallen in the depth chart by then. Tim Gleason had supplanted him in the lineup, and Nate Schmidt served as Washington’s seventh defensemen. Head coach Barry Trotz showed little interest in dressing someone who had not played in the NHL for a year.
Next season, however, looks to be more promising for Orlov. With Mike Green likely to depart, Orlov could slot into the third pairing alongside fellow RMNB-favorite Schmidt.
“It’s been frustrating that he hasn’t played,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said Monday. “We missed a year of development with him. He’s a good young defenseman. We’re counting coming into our lineup next year and having our coaching staff work with him. I think we’ll see major strides.”
I spoke Orlov about his rough season on breakdown day. It turns out it wasn’t that fun for him. His English is good though!
At age 23, defenseman Mike Green scored 31 goals. His 2008-2009 season was one of the most remarkable scoring performances by a blueliner of all-time. His bright blue Easton Stealth CNT was a lethal weapon. It was just the seventh time in league history a defenseman topped 30 goals. That last player to accomplish the feat, Kevin Hatcher, did it 26 years earlier.
The next year, Green’s goal total dropped by 12. He still easily lead all defensemen with 76 points. The Capitals cruised to the Presidents’ Trophy.
“He set the standard for offensive defensemen in the league,” Karl Alzner, Green’s longtime teammate, said of his 31-goal season. “That’s been the benchmark for a lot of guys. Guys are trying hard to get there, and no one’s been even close. ”
“I think he’ll be a guy that gets remembered in Washington forever,” Alzner added.
Coming into 2014-15, Jay Beagle had never scored more than four goals in a season. For a fourth line center, that’s fine. Under Barry Trotz, however, Beagle’s playing time has increased. When the Caps took the ice against the Leafs on Sunday, Beagle was slotted in the top-six alongside Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer. By the end of the game, Beagle was the top-line right wing, a position he has occupied many times this season.
But here’s the rub: despite a career-high nine goals and 17 points for Beagle, he brings Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom down. I love Beagle. He’s a great face-off man, a solid fourth liner, and a fantastic guy. He is not, however, qualified to play on the first line. Analytics — and the singularly important eye test — back this up. Trotz disagrees though.
“Beagle’s like my lucky charm,” Trotz told reporters when asked about the rotating right-wing spot. “When I put him up there ,we score. I know you analytics guys don’t like his numbers, but we score and get back in the game. There’s reasons for that.”
We’re 31 days out from the NHL trade deadline on Monday, March 2, 2015, which is also Method Man’s birthday.
This Washington team is pretty good, and they’re likely to secure a playoff spot, but they could always be better. Their defense corps is solid for the first time in decades, but they’re one injury away from disaster. And the high price tag on that defense has left the forward lines a bit shallow.
With just $2.5 million of cap space (according to NHL numbers), the Capitals don’t have a lot of room with which to get better. That might cause Brian MacLellan, heading into his first trade deadline as general manager, to make some deals. With seven Capitals heading into unrestricted free agency this summer and another eight looking to negotiate new deals as restricted free agents, there’s a lot of potential moves that could be made.
With all that in mind, I’ve asked Ian and Pat to join me in playing thumbs-up/thumbs-down on every Caps free agent.