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Brian MacLellan’s Impact on Capitals’ Stanley Cup Team – Hockey Writers – Capitals Management

The Washington Capitals have had some great general managers. Before building the Nashville Predators from scratch and being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2024, David Poile was the Capitals’ GM for 15 seasons. He brought the best that ever played for the organization, like Rod Langway and Peter Bondra. Following Poile was George McPhee, who drafted Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, and Braden Holtby, among others, who were a big part of the franchise winning their first Stanley Cup championship in 2018.

Then there’s Brian MacLellan, who took over from McPhee in 2014. Although the team has been successful under McPhee, the Capitals still have trouble getting over the hump in the playoffs. The organization needed a new face to put his stamp on an already talented roster. MacLellan, along with Barry Trotz, who was hired as head coach, fit the bill.

Related: Trotz Isn’t A Problem With Capitals, What Is?

MacLellan is now stepping down from the role of GM but remains as the team’s president. Here’s a look back at some of the decisions he made to help Washington win its first championship.

MacLellan Houses Essential Free Agent Addons

A good portion of the 2018 trophy-winning team included free agents signed by MacLellan. He signed veteran blueliners Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen, both of whom played for the Pittsburgh Penguins before coming to DC Orpik went to two consecutive Cup Finals in 2008 and 2009 and won the Cup in his second appearance. He was brought in to be a guide to his allies in Washington. Niskanen, on the other hand, could provide consistent goals from the back. When Niskanen was in charge of the Penguins, he posted the following numbers:

  • 2010-11: one goal and three assists for four points in 18 games
  • 2011-12: four goals and 17 assists for 21 points in 75 games
  • 2012-13: four goals and 10 assists for 14 points in 40 games
  • 2013-14: 10 goals and 36 assists for 46 points in 81 games

Niskanen provided the full amount of Capital aid. He was at DC for parts of five campaigns and produced the following numbers:

  • 2014-15: four goals and 27 assists for 31 points in 82 games
  • 2015-16: five goals and 27 assists for 32 points in 82 games
  • 2016-17: five goals and 34 assists for 39 points in 78 games
  • 2017-18: seven goals and 22 assists for 29 points in 68 games
  • 2018-19: eight goals and 17 assists for 25 points in 80 games

In the 2018 postseason, Niskanen scored one goal and nine points, holding down the fort on the blue line and making a significant impact.

MacLellan also brought in fan favorite Devante Smith-Pelly during 2017 free agency. He signed a one-year contract with the Capitals after spending last season with the New Jersey Devils. In 2017-18, Smith-Pelly had seven goals and nine assists in 79 games, but he shined in the 2018 Playoffs. In 24 contests, he posted eight points (seven goals and one assist). He stood up and presented an important case when the team needed it. Smith-Pelly played for the Capitals for one season, in 2018-19, before officially ending his NHL career as a player.

MacLellan Houses Important Trade

Free agent signings weren’t the only way MacLellan shaped the Capitals into a Cup contender. One of the most important players that Washington acquired during the MacLellan era was TJ Oshie, one of the Blues’ best players for years, who was acquired from St. choose. He also gained fame across the United States for his performance in shooting at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Oshie fits in well with his new teammates at DC and has become one of the most reliable players. Since arriving in Washington, Oshie has accumulated the following:

  • 2015-16: 26 goals and 25 assists for 51 points in 80 games
  • 2016-17: 33 goals and 23 assists for 56 points in 68 games
  • 2017-18: 18 goals and 29 assists for 47 points in 74 games
  • 2018-19: 25 goals and 29 assists for 54 points in 69 games
  • 2019-20: 26 goals and 23 assists for 49 points in 69 games
  • 2020-21: 22 goals and 21 assists for 43 points in 53 games
  • 2021-22: 11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points in 44 games
  • 2022-23: 19 goals and 16 assists for 35 points in 58 games
  • 2023-24: 12 goals and 13 assists for 25 points in 52 games

Ovechkin and Backstrom were the heart and soul of the Capitals, but Oshie added another weapon to take the scoring pressure off the duo.

TJ Oshie, Washington Capitals (Amy Irvin / Hockey Writers)

Then, during the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, MacLellan traded two second-round picks (2017 and 2018) for forward Lars Eller of the Montreal Canadiens. Since he had been in Montreal, Eller’s leading statistical campaigns were in Washington. As a member of the Capitals, he noted the following:

  • 2016-17: 12 goals and 13 assists for 25 points in 81 games
  • 2017-18: 18 goals and 20 assists for 38 points in 81 games
  • 2018-19: 13 goals and 23 assists for 36 points in 81 games
  • 2019-20: 16 goals and 23 assists for 39 points in 69 games
  • 2020-21: eight goals and 15 assists for 23 points in 44 games
  • 2021-22: 13 goals and 18 assists for 31 points in 72 games
  • 2022-23: seven goals and nine assists for 16 points in 60 games

During the 2018 run, Eller also contributed seven goals and 11 assists in 24 games. He may not get as much attention as Oshie, but he has helped solidify the forward depth as the team fights its way to the Cup.

MacLellan Finished What McPhee Started

Much of the talent on that 2018 Capitals Cup winning team was thanks to McPhee who was GM before MacLellan. Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Tom Wilson were all draft picks for McPhee. However, MacLellan deserves credit for knowing what other players can add to complement that core group. The Oshie trade worked, the Eller trade worked, and bringing in free agents like Orpik and Smith-Pelly worked. McPhee began building a trophy-winning team, but MacLellan got them to the finish line.

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