Brian MacLellan explains his strategy for the trade deadline: ‘I hope it’s not confusing’

Capitals General Manager Brian McClellan The annual deadline officer conducted after trading ended on Friday and in it, he tried to explain in detail why he tipped his hats more in the direction of the sellers. It’s a position he’s never been in when he was in charge of the team’s roster.

This was evident when he answered questions about the process. McClellan clearly wasn’t happy about having to contend with what were once major cogs in a winning machine, but he’s also expressed his desire to remain competitive this season despite adding more future assets than anything else.

It was as if the team was stuck in two minds.

The Capitals kicked off their sale of the season on February 23 when they sent Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway to the Boston Bruins. These sales continued and eventually continued to include Markus Johansson, Erik Gustafsson and Lars Eller. All five players are waiting for unrestricted free agents.

“I think we had to make some tough decisions a little bit sooner than we would have liked to have made them,” McClellan said. We had some good players, good players that we didn’t really want to part with but ended up parting. I don’t know we were showing the consistency that we needed to show to be the team that was going to do that. I think we had to set our sights on what’s best for the future and try and still add players and stay competitive.”

The Capitals has definitely added more assets for the future. In exchange for those five names, they ended up with four additional draft picks and talented 22-year-old defenseman Rasmus Sandin. However, McClellan adds that the team is still watching this season.

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This is perhaps most evident in the fact that the team also brought in veteran forward Craig Smith, stretchers Nick Jensen and Nicholas Opp-Coppel, and didn’t include Conor Cherry or Trevor van Riemsdyk in their sale to upcoming unrestricted free agents.

“I still think we want to be competitive this year,” McClellan said. “I still think we’ve got a pretty good squad. We’re going through some injuries. Our backfield is worn out a little bit. We’ve tried to add a good, young defenceman in Sanden so we’ll see where we are when we get out of here.”

A team still trying to compete this season would still trade in a player like Dmitry Orlov as his contract requirements for the future don’t matter until it’s over. This is where the lines get a little blurry and confusing. It might just be my rant. McClellan clearly knew he needed to pawn some “now” in favor of the future because this year’s caps weren’t going anywhere.

MacLellan has talked about being able to turn around some of those futures contracts to get a more impactful roster player for the season. The confusing part is: They’d have more of those futures contracts if they committed more to a whole sale. But McClellan seemed satisfied with what they got.

“Our strategy has been to try to get some assets or draft picks that we can use in the future to acquire players that we like,” McClellan said. “We try to take players that we have interest in and you need players and picks to trade to get those players. I think we’ve strengthened our ability to do that and going into the draft we have a chance to make that happen.”

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MacLellan echoed some of those same sentiments when asked if it was important to raise the white flag this season in order to build a more competitive squad in the near future as both Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom’s contracts continue to deteriorate. Ovechkin is signed through the 2025-26 campaign while Backstrom’s deal expires after 2024-25.

“We have some draft capital that we can use in the future,” McClellan said. “We’ve got some pick-ups going into the offseason and in the draft we have more flexibility to trade players.”

It’s clearly a very strange time for both the team’s staff and fans alike. Capitals haven’t been put in this kind of situation in nearly two full decades. MacLellan was asked about how unsettling and a bit difficult to scale the process can be for fans and if he has any kind of message now that the deadline has passed.

“I hope it’s not confusing,” McClellan began. “We have an older core that we’re going to move forward with. We can make some changes in that. Our goal is to add some young players. We did that with Sanden. Martti Vervary is coming. We’ll see where [Alex] Alexeyev down the stretch. We called [Vincent] Yorio. We added [Sonny] Milano. We added [Dylan] Strom. And you complete them with [Tom] wilson. You complement it with Kuzy, Ovi, and [TJ] O’Shea. I think it’s still a competitive team. I don’t look at it because we’re taking a big step back. I think we may be taking a step forward.”

Time will tell.

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Screenshot via capitals

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