ARLINGTON, V.A. — It was a somewhat quiet day for the Washington Capitals as the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline came and went, as the team elected to bring in two defensively strong forwards in Marcus Johansson and Johan Larsson while shipping out Daniel Sprong and draft picks in return.
MacLellan ultimately believes that the moves will help the Capitals get back to where they were at the beginning of the year. Also, the team’s acquisitions could help with a deeper playoff run to boot.
“I think it’s a pretty well-rounded group,” MacLellan said. “It gives us flexibility lineup-wise that you can move guys around. I think we can compete with anybody in our division.”
Here are all the takeaways, as well as MacLellan’s thoughts, on the team’s deadline decisions:
Capitals Bring Back Johansson
Washington got going early in the morning, acquiring its 2009 first-round selection and former forward Marcus Johansson from the Seattle Kraken. In the deal, they shipped back Sprong, a 2022 fourth-rounder and a 2023 sixth-rounder. Seattle also retained 50 percent of JoJo’s salary.
With this move, the Capitals made a low-risk, low-cost trade that has the potential to work out well. Johansson is familiar with the organization, dressing room and team’s systems, and he is a versatile forward who can play all three positions upfront and also log time on the power play. He helps out with zone entries and has good playmaking ability, and he has also become more responsible in his own end as well.
“It’s great. Since he left, I think he’s developed a lot as a player,” Backstrom said. “I talk to him often. Good friend of mine, and it will be fun to see him back here. I think it’s good for us as a team and fun for him to be back here.
“I think he’s more responsible on the ice. He can play in every situation. He’s fast and makes plays. So he brings a lot. He’s a pretty all-around player, I would say,” Backstrom added.
Although he hasn’t been able to find consistency, he put up impressive numbers a few years back with the Capitals, and the 31-year-old may be able to recapture that while playing with a strong group. He dished six goals and 17 assists through 51 games with the Kraken this season.
MacLellan believes that the 31-year-old can bring a lot to the table and be a key asset, especially when it comes to secondary scoring and the man advantage.
“[He can fit in] a number of different places… I think he’s a versatile player that has a comfort level with people off the ice and I think on the ice,” MacLellan explained. “A lot of games playing with [Kuznetsov], a lot with [Backstrom], knows our power play really well. He can come in and he’s comfortable right away, in my mind. He knows how guys play, he knows what he can do to play with them. That was attractive in our mind. We’ll work it out. We’ll see what works in the lines, the coaches will have him, try him with different guys and see what role he can play with us.”
Capitals Bring In Larsson As Potential Hagelin Replacement
Washington later acquired another option at forward, bringing in another defensively responsible and strong bottom-6 depth forward in Johan Larsson. The team acquired the Swede right before the deadline from Arizona in exchange for a 2023 third-round selection. The Coyotes are also retaining 50 percent of his salary.
Larsson recently underwent sports hernia surgery and last played on Jan. 25. MacLellan said he’ll likely need about a week of practice before he can return to play, and the plan is to place the 29-year-old on the injured reserve. In 29 games this season, Larsson has six goals and nine assists, along with 53 hits.
“We’ve always liked Larsson, even when he was in Buffalo,” MacLellan said. “He was a real good defensive player. He’s versatile, he can play center, he can play wing, kills penalties, very responsible player, good 5-on-5 guy. I think there’s multiple usees for him also. And adding ccenter depth if injuries occur is important for us, too.”
He can also serve as a potential replacement for Carl Hagelin, who is undergoing a second surgery for a “serious” eye injury he suffered earlier in the month.
“He could do that. I think he’s a guy that coaches could move around and feel comfortable with him on the ice against good players,” MacLellan said. “He’s a responsible player.”
Capitals Part Ways With Sprong After Inconsistency, Struggles
The Capitals not only acquired a couple of names but also parted ways with Sprong. The 25-year-old forward is now headed to the Seattle Kraken as part of the Johansson deal.
There had been high expectations for Sprong entering the season, especially after he showcased a great shot and scoring ability — as well as top-6 potential — during the 2021-22 campaign. However, he was unable to recapture that consistency, and in turn, it led to his departure after he picked up just eight goals and six assists through 47 appearances.
“I think just the expectation everyone had for me going into this year, I had those expectations for myself as well,” Sprong said of why it didn’t work out in D.C. “I thought it was going to be a breakout year, and just the puck wasn’t really dropping for me. You’ve seen the games. I’ve had some really good opportunities to put the puck in the net and just missed my opportunities. I think if a couple of those go in earlier in the year, I think that puts a little bit of less pressure on yourself, and you relax a little bit more.
“I think that was a big part of it. Just the pressure of knowing I could produce this way and everyone expecting it. But I had the chances, they just didn’t go in. I think my overall play was pretty good. I think there was a little stretch there where it dropped a little, but I thought in general, I was playing good hockey. It’s the business side, and it is what it is. But I know I can be a productive player in this league, and I’m going to get 20 games in Seattle to show it.”
READ MORE ON WHN: Sprong Says Goodbye To Capitals, Explains Why It Didn’t Work Out
MacLellan also said he wanted to see more consistency from No. 10, and he couldn’t deliver.
“There’s certain aspects of his game that are inconsistent. He needs to be more consistent in that area,” MacLellan noted. “and I think the play, when you’re not finishing, you get held accountable for the things you’re not accomplishing on that team aspect. You can overlook things when goals are being scored, and you can’t when they’re not being scored.”
Seattle GM Ron Francis also mentioned that Sprong was a piece that the Capitals wanted to give back to them. It wasn’t the best comment on The Netherlands native and not too promising or reassuring with regard to his future with the Kraken.
Ultimately, his teammates were sad to see him go. He lingered at the rink to take the time to say goodbye to the teammates and staff after he found out about the deal in the morning after being pulled into the coach’s office.
“It’s never easy,” Wilson said of Sprong’s trade. “You realize pretty quick that it’s a business, and you realize a guy’s life kind of gets uprooted and is kind of shipped off… Spronger’s got a good opportunity for him as a player, as an individual to go there and make some noise. Got to know him pretty well this year. He’s a deeper book than people realize. He’s a good guy. We had fun with him this year, fun getting to know him and wishing him the best.”
Capitals Pass On Goaltending
Leading up to the deadline, speculation and struggles in net indicated that Washington could be eyeing a goaltender. MacLellan did say the team had been calling around but said there needed to be a “serious upgrade” for the team to make a move.
The Capitals ultimately passed on bringing in a netminder, sticking with their tandem of Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov. Marc-Andre Fleury ended up going to the Minnesota Wild. Other goaltenders were on the move as well.
Ultimately, it was Vanecek’s strong play of late that showed MacLellan he didn’t necessarily need to make a move for a goalie.
“It was great, what he’s done here lately. I think he deserves the opportunity to take the team into the playoffs,” MacLellan said. “He had a real good stretch. Got injured there, came back and still played well. I think we’ve got a certain comfort level with the way he’s played and the way he’s maintained it. We’re comfortable with the goaltending.”
Capitals Make Paper Moves
Washington also made some paper moves to allow for cap space. Connor McMichael and Brett Leason went down to Hershey. McMichael’s transaction was a paper move. Monday was the final day to assign players to qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs. That way, if the Capitals experience another early exit in the postseason, McMichael can return to Hershey and skate in the postseason.