With one year now under his belt, Brian MacLellan’s second offseason as the general manager of the Washington Capitals figures to be a busy one.
After spending seven seasons as an assistant to George McPhee, MacLellan took over the reins on May 26, 2014 and helped guide Washington to a second-place finish in the Metropolitan Division. The Capitals outlasted the New York Islanders in seven games in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and also went the distance with the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinals but were unable to pull through.
MacLellan now must make some key decisions regarding the number of players on his roster who can test the market on July 1. Several key members of the team are slated to become restricted free agents, including goaltender Braden Holtby and young forwards Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Holtby is the most important player for MacLellan to re-sign, as the 25-year-old set career highs of 41 victories and nine shutouts this past season to finish tied for second in the NHL in both categories. A fourth-round pick in the 2008 draft, Holtby matched the franchise mark for most wins in a single season set in 1999-2000 by Olaf Kolzig.
Johansson also posted personal bests of 47 points and 20 goals while playing in all 82 games in 2014-15, his fifth season in the league. The 24-year-old Swede, who was drafted 24th overall in 2009, finished fourth on the team in scoring and was one of only three Capitals to reach the 20-goal plateau.
Selected with the 26th pick in 2010, Kuznetsov recorded 11 goals and 26 assists as a rookie after notching three and six in 17 contests in 2013-14. The 23-year-old Russian added five tallies in the postseason, including the winner in Game 7 against the Islanders.
While the decision to ink that trio to new deals should be an easy one for MacLellan, re-signing the team’s unrestricted free agents could be a bit more difficult. Washington has 15 players set to become available to all teams on Wednesday, with defenseman Mike Green heading the list.
A two-time finalist for the Norris Trophy, Green just completed a three-year contract that paid him $18.25 million. The 29-year-old has slipped significantly on the Capitals’ depth chart and may wind up pricing himself out of the nation’s capital.
“I’ve been fortunate to play with one team, but we’ll see what happens,” Green told NHL.com in March. “I hope I stay, but you never know.”
Green scored a career-high 31 goals in 2008-09, but has not reached the 20-tally plateau since. During that campaign, he set the NHL record for a defenseman by scoring in eight consecutive games and finished with 18 power-play goals, one shy of the league mark for a blue-liner set two seasons earlier by Sheldon Souray of the Montreal Canadiens.
Another potential departee is Eric Fehr, who is coming off a 19-goal season — his highest total since recording a career-high 21 in 2009-10. The 29-year-old spent his first six NHL campaigns with Washington after being drafted 18th overall in 2003 before joining the Winnipeg Jets for one season, but he returned to the Capitals in 2012-13.
While Green and Fehr both have expressed their desire to remain in Washington, their agent, Craig Oster, claims neither will be back.
“I think both players were clear in terms of their willingness and intention to stay if it was going to make sense,” Oster told CSNwashington.com. “At the end of the day, it’s a decision by (the Capitals) as to how they make their best team, and based on all the factors, it wasn’t going to work out for Mike and Eric or the organization, and both sides will continue to move on.”
Among Washington’s other unrestricted free agents are forwards Joel Ward, Curtis Glencross and Jay Beagle. Defensemen Tim Gleason and John Erskine also can depart, leaving MacLellan with plenty of work to do.
“We keep talking to people, and now there’s a free-agent window where (UFAs) can talk to other teams, so I think they’re going to gauge their role on our team and dollars that can be made in the free-agent market, and we’re going to be doing the same thing,” MacLellan told NHL.com. “If we can come to an agreement, we will … We can just keep it going until we find out what works best for both parties.”