Brian MacLellan explains his trading timeframe strategy: “I hope it’s not confusing”

director general of capitals Brian MacLellan did his annual presser after the trading deadline on Friday and in it he tried to detail why exactly he shifted Caps more towards the sellers. It’s a position he’s never held before when he was in charge of the team’s roster.

It was clear when he answered questions about the process. MacLellan clearly wasn’t happy about having to tend to what were once key cogs in a winning machine, but also expressed a desire to continue competing this season despite the addition of more future assets than anything else.

It was almost as if the team was caught between two minds.

The Capitals began their sale this season on Feb. 23 when they sent Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway to the Boston Bruins. This sale continued and eventually included Marcus Johansson, Erik Gustafsson and Lars Eller. All five players are pending unrestricted free agents.

“I think we had to make some tough decisions probably a little earlier than we would have liked to make them,” MacLellan said. We had good guys, good players that we didn’t really want to part with but we ended up parting ways. I don’t know if we had the consistency we needed to become a team that was going to go for it. I think we had to straddle a line of what’s best for the future and try to add more players and stay competitive.

The Capitals have certainly added more assets going forward. In exchange for those five names, they ended up with four more draft picks and talented 22-year-old defenseman Rasmus Sandin. However, MacLellan adds that the team still has an eye on this season.

This is perhaps most visible in the fact that the team also brought in veteran striker Craig Smith, extended Nick Jensen and Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and did not include Conor Sheary or Trevor van Riemsdyk in their upcoming unrestricted free agent sale.

“I still think we want to be competitive this year,” MacLellan said. “I still think we have a pretty good team. We are going through some wounds. Our backend is a bit decimated. We tried to add a good young defender in Sandin, so we’ll see where we are when we get out of here.

A team that is still trying to be competitive this season doesn’t trade a player like Dmitry Orlov because his contract demands for the future don’t matter until it’s over. This is where the lines get a little fuzzy and confusing. It may even be only lip service. It’s clear that MacLellan was aware that he had to mortgage some of the “now” in favor of the future, as this year’s Caps aren’t going anywhere.

MacLellan talked about being able to reverse some of those futures for a more impactful roster player in the offseason. The confusing part is this: they would have more of those futures contracts if they committed more to a full sell. But MacLellan seems happy with what they got.

“Our strategy was to try to get assets or draft picks that we could use in the future to acquire players we like,” MacLellan said. “We try to sign players that we’re interested in and you need players and draft picks to trade to get those guys. I think we have increased our ability to do that and going into the draft we have a chance to achieve that.

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

“We have a capital project that we can use going forward,” MacLellan said. “We’ve acquired a few picks – by moving into the offseason and the draft, we have more flexibility to trade players.”

It’s clearly a very strange time for the team staff and the fans. The Capitals haven’t been put in this kind of situation for nearly two full decades. MacLellan was asked how the process might be frustrating and a bit hard for fans to gauge and if he has any sort of message now that the deadline has passed.

“Hope this isn’t confusing,” MacLellan began. “We have an older core that we will still move forward with. We could make some changes to that. Our goal is to add younger players. We did it with Sandin. Marty Fehervary arrives. We’ll see where (Alex) Alexeyev is in the home stretch. We called (Vincent) Iorio. We added (Sonny) Milano. We added (Dylan) Strome. And you complete them with (Tom) Wilson. You complete them with Kuzy, Ovi and (TJ) Oshie. I think it’s still a competitive team. I don’t watch it because we take a huge step back. I think we could even take a step forward.

Time will tell us.

Screenshot via uppercase

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