Brian MacLellan wanted to do more on the first night of the NHL draft Friday in Philadelphia. He just couldn’t find the right dance partner.
MacLellan said he tried packaging the Capitals’ first two picks in the draft [13th overall and 44th overall] to move up to take defenseman Haydn Fleury. But when Carolina selected Fleury at No. 7 overall, MacLellan turned to Plan B, which was to take center Jakub Vrana at No. 13.
“Even though we had a little bit of a plan of trying move up, when it didn’t happen we were content to make our pick where we were,” MacLellan said.
“One team thought about it, but we were too far back for them [at No. 13].”
MacLellan said the Capitals’ scouts, headed by assistant general manager Ross Mahoney, like Vrana’s speed and goal-scoring ability and that’s what led the Caps to making him.
“He can really fire the puck and they recruited him as a sniper,” MacLellan said. “These guys have been watching him all year.”
MacLellan said he was surprised there were more not more trades in the first round, which was highlighted by the Penguins trading winger James Neal to the Nashville Predators for forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.
“There were a few things we pursued and they fell through,” he said. “We didn’t get it done.”
MacLellan said he’s spoken with player agent Gary Greenstin about what it would cost to re-sign center Mikhail Grabovski and said the price “is a little bit prohibitive right now.”
Grabovski is believed to be seeking a contract in the four- to five-year range worth about $5 million a season.
“We need to adjust some areas financially,” he said. “We’re trying to get to a comfortable number we can work with.”
With the salary cap set at $69 million, lower than many general managers anticipated, the Capitals have a little less than $13 million in cap space to land the players they want though trades or free agency. He reaffirmed the Caps are targeting defensemen and goaltenders.
Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, Dan Boyle, Anton Stralman and Tom Gilbert are among the free-agent defenseman expected to become available as free agents on Tuesday, along with goalies Tomas Vokoun, Chad Johnson, Thomas Greiss. Peter Budaj, who has one year on his contract with Montreal, may also be made available through a trade.
“The next couple days are critical,” MacLellan said. “We have a couple free agents targeted and we’re going to pursue them. I’m hoping we get one, maybe two.”
MacLellan says his first priority is to land a top-four defenseman but said Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf is not on his radar. Phaneuf has seven years and $49 million remaining on his contract with the Leafs.
“I haven’t heard his name,” MacLellan said.