Brian MacLellan says Capitals don’t guarantee young players spots in the lineup

Brian MacLellan says Capitals don’t guarantee young players spots in the lineup

The Washington Capitals were first-rounded for the fourth-straight time in May. The team has not won a playoff series since winning the Stanley Cup in 2018. Big changes seemed inevitable this summer due to injury and some of the sterling performances from the team’s prospects in 2021-22. Brian MacLellan said the team needed a “youth injection.” That made sense.

The Capitals were one of the oldest teams in the NHL last season — a problem which showed itself at times in the team’s speed and durability throughout the year. Several prospects, including rapidly-developing center Connor McMichael, appeared primed for a regular role in the NHL, especially with Nicklas Backstrom out long-term. Joe Snively, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, and Brett Leason also seemed capable of being NHL players next season.

Fast forward a few months, general manager Brian MacLellan’s decisions in free agency seemingly broke with Brian MacLellan’s words in May and early July.

Let’s recap.

May 15 – Brian MacLellan on Capitals Breakdown Day

Via the RMNB story: Brian MacLellan says Capitals’ first offseason decision will be its goaltending.

MacLellan believes the Capitals will get younger — “I think we need a youth injection ” — after not winning a playoff series since their Stanley Cup season in 2018.

“We’ve lost in the first round the last four years,” he said. “We’re going to explore changes. I don’t think anything is off the table. We’re going to talk to different teams and monitor the trade market. We’re going to identify free agents. We gotta figure out our goalie situation.”

July 6 – Brian MacLellan before the NHL Draft

Via the RMNB story: Capitals expect Nicklas Backstrom to return next season, plan to fill his absence internally.

“The salary cap is the salary cap,” MacLellan said. “We have to plan for Nick coming back at some point. What we can do is give opportunities to our young guys. We’ve got some young guys—McMichael, we hope he gets to the next step; Lapierre, we’ll see where he’s at; Protas is coming in and we expect him to take the next jump — and kinda go from there. It’s not like we can sign a $9.5 million player. We’re anticipating Nick comes back at some point. Until that goes away, we plan on him coming back.”

July 20 – Brian MacLellan after free agency

That brings us to today.

The Capitals acquired or re-signed eight different players last week including forwards Dylan Strome (2C), Connor Brown (top six wing), Marcus Johansson (bottom six), and Henrik Borgstrom (depth center/winger); defensemen Erik Gustafsson (bottom pairing) and matt irwin (depth); and goaltenders Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren.

The moves put the Capitals $6.32 million over the salary cap. The NHL allows teams to be at a maximum of ten percent over during the offseason.

The Capitals projected roster now looks something like this. McMichael is now out of the lineup. Our roster has AJF on the fourth-line, but he could be pushed out by Borgstrom.

Cap Friendly projects that the Capitals will be the second oldest team in the NHL next season behind the Pittsburgh Penguins. The team’s combined age, by our math, appears to have gotten older than last year if McMichael is in Hershey.

On Wednesday, MacLellan set the stage for McMichael and the other prospects to potentially spend the year with the Bears in the AHL.

“It’s a competitive situation,” MacLellan said. “I don’t think we’re coming in guaranteeing young guys spots in the lineup. I think, you know, you have to earn it to a certain degree. I think Connor’s going to come in and be better than he was last year and he’s going to be ‘how do we best develop him’ and ‘how do we do what’s best for our lineup.’ Whether we play him at center, whether we play him at wing, whether we play him higher in the lineup or lower in the lineup, he’ll have a shot at all of it. If he plays well, it’ll be a tough decision for the coaches.”

MacLellan added that “our desire has been to add some young players into our lineup. I think adding Connor Brown at 28 and Dylan Strome at 25 works for my thinking – (Strome) is going to be a project for us, we can get more out of him. And along with Lucas, he’s young, McMichael, Lapierre, and Protas, I think we have some good young guys in the pipeline we’re developing and it makes for some interesting decisions as we go forward here.”

The youth injection appears destined to be on hold for another year.

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