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What’s Next? MacLellan Says Nothing Is ‘Off The Table’ For The Capitals

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Capitals Ovechkin and Backstrom

ARLINGTON, V.A. — Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan leans against the wall at MedStar Capitals Iceplex, trying to answer the same questions about what lies ahead following the team’s fourth straight first-round exit.

With the Stanley Cup window arguably closing as the veteran core gets older, MacLellan said there are many different avenues the group could explore going into 2022-23.

“We’ve lost in the first round the last four years. We’re going to explore changes,” he said bluntly. “I don’t think anything is off the table.”

Looking at the roster, there is room for improvement in different areas, but the priority for the team entering the summer is the goaltending. Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek are both RFAs and need new deals, but neither could claim sole possession of the No. 1 spot or prove they can be a full-time starter. Taking that into account, MacLellan said goaltending is on top of the to-do list.

“Inconsistent, I think, it’s been… during the year, it was probably in and out, which is expected for inexperienced goalies, I think,” MacLellan said of the netminders, adding, “We’re going to explore. I think there’s a couple of guys, I don’t know if it’s a deep free-agent market. We’ll talk to other teams and evaluate. They’ve both been pretty good, but not great.”

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After that, MacLellan said he will evaluate what else the team needs and other pending free agents. Washington has a few free agents to address beyond their goalies, including forwards Marcus Johansson and Johan Larsson and defensemen Michal Kempny and Justin Schultz.

Johansson has been a strong defensive forward and has brought some good play on the top-6, and Larsson was a good fill-in with Carl Hagelin on the shelf. However, Hagelin is eager to work toward making a comeback next year. Also, it appears that the Capitals do want to inject some youth into the lineup, and the Hershey Bears have plenty to offer.

Connor McMichael is expected to jump into a bigger role at center, while Joe Snively is returning on a one-way contract. Plus, Brett Leason and Aliaksei Protas could be looking for full-time NHL roles after their stints with the big club this season. Not only that, but young blueliners like Lucas Johansen and Alex Alexeyev could also be in the running for a spot next season.

“I think you add some,” head coach Peter Laviolette said of bringing in younger players. “You see teams when they’re rebuilding, they get so many young players in their lineup that it makes those veteran players that have been there and have done that and they’re the core of your team… those are definitely things that we’re going to talk about.”

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Beyond the players already in the system, MacLellan also said the team will explore the trade market and free agency. Washington also has to ponder its situation down the middle with Nicklas Backstrom facing some big decisions as he continues to deal with hip issues.

Thanks to Evgeny Kuznetsov’s bounceback season, another stellar year for Alex Ovechkin, a career year for Tom Wilson and a strong postseason for T.J. Oshie, the stars have shown they can still contribute. Still, the team will need a top-6 center if Backstrom isn’t available.

“He’s going to explore all options here,” MacLellan said of No. 19. “He wants it to be better, he wants to be more physically comfortable when he plays. So he’s going to explore it.”

Going forward, MacLellan believes there are plenty of paths the team can take. Ultimately, though, one way or another, changes are coming.

“I think we have to explore all options,” MacLellan noted. “We could make changes, we could add a couple young guys and we can sign a UFA guy. We’re going to look at everything.”

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