2023 NHL Trade Deadline
Capitals Sell-Off Was Not A ‘Huge Step Back.’ And While Difficult, It Was Necessary
The Washington Capitals made a tough decision to sell ahead of the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline. Still, it was necessary and not at all a ‘step back’ for the club.
General manager Brian MacLellan noted that the Washington Capitals' 2023 NHL Trade Deadline approach was one of, if not the toughest, decisions of his tenure so far. The sell-off was more than a free-for-all and shipping out of numerous free agents; it was a harsh look in the mirror, a dive into reality that this isn't the team's year and a somewhat ugly truth that the playoff hopes are dwindling.
And while that's a tough pill to swallow for an organization with a long history of success since Alex Ovechkin took center stage, it was necessary — and a somewhat brave position for the team to take.
MacLellan emphasized just that as he reflected on his deadline decisions, which saw the team acquire young and upcoming defenseman Rasmus Sandin, veteran winger Craig Smith and a myriad of draft picks and part ways with Dmitry Orlov, Garnet Hathaway, Marcus Johansson, Erik Gustafsson and Lars Eller.
"We had some good guys, some good players that we didn't really want to part with, but we ended up parting with because I don't know that we were showing the consistency that we needed to show to become a team that was gonna go for it," MacLellan admitted.
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There's a lot of faith in the current veteran core, which includes Ovechkin and the likes of John Carlson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson. Then, there are the recent signings of Dylan Strome and Sonny Milano, and there's also an effort to re-sign Martin Fehervary and build the future defensive corps around him and Sandin, who the team sees as a player that can take the next step as a top defenseman.
"We like his age, we like his game. He's a puck-moving skill defenseman, he's a competitive guy. Real good 5-on-5 player so far, can add a little bit to the power play. And there's upside here," MacLellan said, adding, " There's only room to grow for him, he's 22, 23 years old and he's only going to get better going forward. So we see hopefully a guy that we can build around."
Right now, Washington sits four points out of playoff position, but with 19 games left and inconsistency surrounding the club, the hopes of a ninth consecutive berth are dwindling.
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For MacLellan, that isn't necessarily a negative; it's an opportunity to learn from and grow, and to shift the focus to the future with Ovechkin, Backstrom and more entering the twilight of their careers in the coming years and a higher draft pick on the horizon if the Capitals miss out on the postseason. Plus, the team still has potential to be competitive, and MacLellan plans on continuing to retool in the summer to present a top team in the fall.
"Yeah, I think we want to be competitive next year. I still think we wanna be competitive this year," MacLellan said. "I still think we got a pretty good team… we'll see where we are when we come out of it here.
"I think the good thing, our strategy was to try and get some assets or draft picks that we could use going forward to acquire players to get in the discussion of players that we like," he added. "We try and get in the players that we have interest in, you still need some players and draft picks to trade to get these guys. So I think we increased our ability to do that and going into the draft we have a chance to make it happen."
At the end of the day, it's hard to come to terms with the possibility of being out of the race for the Stanley Cup, the ultimate prize that the Capitals haven't been able to get close to since hoisting it in 2018. However, it's a wake-up call that the team needs at this moment and one that MacLellan thinks of as a solution. After all, the only way out is through.
"I don't look at it as we're taking a huge step back. I think it might even be taking a step forward," MacLellan said.