November 28, 2014

MacLellan’s first decision not enough to judge him on

With the NHL offseason now officially underway, the window for compliance buyouts has opened and Brian MacLellan faces his first question as general manager of the Washington Capitals. He answered that question resolutely on Tuesday and closed the door on the possibility that the team would choose to use its second compliance buy out.

“I don’t think it would make sense for any of our players that we pursue that path,” he said.

It had been speculated that the team could perhaps use its last remaining buyout on either Mike Green or Brooks Laich. Both players have underperformed in recent years and come with hefty price tags for next season.

MacLellan, however, closed the door on that possibility.

This was by no means an easy decision either way. Green has a cap hit of just over $6.25 million next season.

Though defense has never been Green’s strength, in the past his offensive production made up for his defensive deficiencies. Injuries, however, have kept him off the ice and decreased his production. Since his 76-point season 2009-10, Green has not come close to those numbers. Despite playing 70 games last season for the first time since the 2009-10 season, Green managed only 38 points. A similar season will fall well short of living up to the $6.25 million cap hit he will carry next season.

Even so, buying out Green was always unlikely. Green still has value both as a player and as trade bait. Last season should allay the team’s fear over his durability. He may not be the 70-point producer he was formerly, but he did lead the team in Corsi-for with 51.7 percent.

With only a year left on his contract, more teams will be willing to take a chance on him. Better for the Caps to keep him and try to trade him or keep him for one more year and determine whether he still fits in Washington in the future.

The real buyout candidate, the one who made the most sense, was Laich.

Laich still has three years left on his contract with a cap hit of $4.5 million next season and then $4 million for the remaining two years. High, but not outrageous.

Laich, however, has been dealing with serious injury issues the past two seasons that limited him to only 60 games total.

Sure, he says he’s healthy now after undergoing surgery on his groin, but we’ve heard this before and even before that.

Still, Laich provides flexibility in the lineup. He can play center or wing and can move between any of the Caps’ lines. He provides a lot when he’s on the ice, it’s just a matter of keeping him on the ice.

By choosing not to buy out Laich, MacLellan clearly believes Laich can remain healthy. A reasonable conclusion to make for one privy to all of the facts. Here’s the problem: when George McPhee was fired, owner Ted Leonsis said the Caps needed a “fresh set of eyes” and then hired someone who had been with the team since 2000. This of course raised fears that it would be more of the same for the Caps. Then, MacLellan’s very first act as general manager was to maintain the status quo.

For everyone who worried MacLellan was not the fresh voice the team needed, keeping Laich does nothing to dispel those fears.

To rush to judgment, however, would be unfair. The success of the Caps will not hinge solely on Laich’s contract, nor will MacLellan’s tenure as general manager. I doubt very much that he would have gotten the job if in his now infamous interview with Leonsis he stuck his finger in Leonsis’ chest and said the roster was completely fine. You have to believe that major moves are coming. He has to have a plan for how to fix the team’s clear deficiencies or Leonsis would never have hired him. Just because that plan did not include buying out Green or Laich does not automatically make it a failure.

The true test will be what the roster looks like at the beginning of the season. If the roster is unchanged or worse heading into the season, then it will be time to grab the pitchforks and torches.

While passing on the compliance buyouts makes it seem like MacLellan will be more of the same, it is not enough to judge him by. Let’s wait to see how he shapes this roster for next season before we start looking for his replacement.
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JJ Regan is a Contributor to District Sports Page. He is an aspiring sports journalist currently earning his master’s degree in interactive journalism from American University and has his own website at regansports.com. He is also a digital freelancer for Comcast SportsNet Washington and Baltimore. JJ follows all D.C. sports but specializes in the Capitals. You can follow him on Twitter @TheDC_Sportsguy.

About J.J. Regan

J.J. Regan is a Contributor to District Sports Page. He is currently earning his master’s degree in interactive journalism from American University and is a college football and Washington Capitals blogger for CSNwashington.com and CSNbaltimore.com. J.J. follows all DC sports but focuses mainly on the the Caps and college football. You can view his online portfolio at regansports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheDC_Sportsguy.

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