The Capitals were looking to retool ahead of the trade deadline, getting younger and adding more skill to their lineup while still being competitive.
As GM Brian MacLellan noted with 106.7 The Fan's Grant Paulsen, the Caps were four points out of playoff contention before the deadline and they're still four points out after.
"I think in December we had a really good month," MacLellan said (indeed, at one point in December, Washington won 11 of 13 games). "And then it switched over to January and then Carlson got hurt and I think from that point on, we had good games where we played good teams and beat good teams, but it was more inconsistent and our level of play always wasn't where it should have been if you're gonna be a contender."
"So I think you track that over up until the trade deadline hoping that you can find that consistency, find that rhythm," he said. "And then we did play for stretches or games very well, but we had periods where it didn't look right, it didn't feel right, and with key guys out, there's a reason for that. So maybe we made the decision... the trade deadline's the trade deadline. We were four points out and we're still four points out, so I think we're hanging in and we'll see where we go from here."
The Caps traded five players ahead of last week's deadline, dealing fan favorites like Lars Eller, Marcus Johansson and Dmitry Orlov. Now only six players remain from their 2018 Stanley Cup roster. How difficult was it to decide to become sellers?
"I think it's a hard decision," MacLellan said. "You're right, I think at the beginning of the year with our full lineup, I think we knew we'd have to get through that first stretch, but I thought once everybody got healthy we'd be one of the second-tier teams competing for the Cup at the end. I think the way the season unfolded with injuries, injuries to key guys, we just never really found a rhythm and struggled to find it, got to the end of the season and we had to make a hard decision on some players and we ended up choosing to move some guys."
While the season ultimately wound up with them being sellers, the Caps have also spent money investing in their future this season, signing extensions with Dylan Strome, Nick Jensen, Sonny Milano and Nicolas Aube-Kubel.
"We took Strome to cover for Backstrom and really liked what he had done, how he played," MacLellan said. "He was a good fit for our team. Liked his work on the power play. So I think the age at 25 years old to get a guy that can play center and first power play, I think it was important for us to sign him."
"Milano came in, again, he's a younger player. He's 26," he said. "He came in and played well with us, seemed to be a good fit in the lineup. I mean these are the type of players I think we're targeting, you know in the 26, 25-year-old guys. And then getting [Rasmus] Sandin at 22, seeing what [Alexander] Alexeyev can do at 23, [Vincent] Iorio at 20.
"I mean we're trying to incorporate these types of guys in our lineup and make a transition here while still being competitive. Our core is still in place. So I think we can accomplish it. And we'll see what happens in the offseason and at the draft. We'll look to add some more guys with similar characteristics."
"So obviously just that answer, your goal is getting younger to an extent," Paulsen said. "Do you care if it's faster or bigger? We've had you on for years and we've talked about those terms, when you guys at one point were speedy and then you were heavier. You want to get younger and what?"
"I think our lineup needs a little skill right now," MacLellan said. "I think if ideally we could add a top-six winger that has skill in the offseason, I think that would help, and then we'll see how our blue line plays itself out. We'll get Carlson back, we've got Jensen signed and the young guys, this'll be a good time to evaluate where they fit in for us going forward."
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