Less than 48 hours ahead of the NHL trade deadline, the Caps have made a major move. They've acquired defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and goaltender Pheonix Copley from the St. Louis Blues for forwards Zach Sanford and Brad Malone, Washington's first-round choice in the 2017 NHL Draft and conditional pick(s).
In poker parlance, the Caps are all in.
When MacLellan met with local media at Kettler Capitals Iceplex last week, he sounded like a guy who was extremely happy with his hockey team, and a guy who seemed much more likely to tweak his roster than to make a multi-player blockbuster.
MacLellan admitted to enduring a bit of a scare the night before when Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen left the game with a lower body injury, that turned out to be a minor, day-to-day ailment. But a day later, MacLellan learned that blue liner Brooks Orpik would also be sidelined on a day-to-day basis with a lower body injury.
Two games might not seem like a lot right now, but it is once you get to the playoffs. The Caps played - and split - a set of weekend back-to-back games without the two former Penguins, perhaps making MacLellan think twice about whether his team had enough blueliners in the cupboard to make what he hopes will be a lengthy postseason run.
"Defensemen are the big commodity at the deadline," MacLellan told me last week in an exclusive interview. "With expansion, you can only protect three. If you're trading for a top four defenseman [who is not an impending UFA], you're going to be exposing him and you're going to lose an asset. So I think that has frozen that defense market up pretty good."
Video: Shattenkirk highlights as he comes to Washington
In the final year of his deal this season, it was no secret that the 28-year-old Shattenkirk was available. On Monday evening MacLellan put the finishing touches on the sort of big deal he seemed unlikely to make at the 2017 NHL trade deadline. To help make the math work, St. Louis is retaining 39 percent of Shattenkirk's remaining salary this season.
Shattenkirk is the key player in the deal for the Caps. He is an offensive-minded defenseman who has played top four minutes for most of his NHL career. Drafted in the first round (14th overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, he becomes the 15th former first-rounder on Washington's roster.
Thus far this season, Shattenkirk has totaled 11 goals and 42 points in 61 games; he is tied for fourth in the league in scoring among defensemen and becomes the Caps' fifth leading scorer. He is three points off his single-season career high of 45, established in 2013-14. Shattenkirk is tied for second among all NHL defensemen with seven power-play goals this season. All Washington defensemen have combined for three extra-man tallies in 2016-17.
With the lockout-abbreviated 2012-13 season being the lone exception, Shattenkirk has registered 40 or more points in six of his seven NHL seasons, including the current one. He has also recorded double-digit goal totals in three of the last four seasons, again including the current one.
This season, Shattenkirk ranks fourth among the league's defensemen in points per 60 minutes at 2.08. He trails only San Jose's Brent Burns (2.57), Pittsburgh's Justin Schultz (2.12) and Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman (2.12) and his addition gives Washington four defensemen in the top 26 in the league in that regard, along with Matt Niskanen (1.48), John Carlson (1.43) and Dmitry Orlov (1.34). The Caps are the only team in the league able to boast four of the league's top 26 in that category.
With 0.54 goals per 60 minutes this season, Shattenkirk ranks third among all NHL blueliners, trailing only Burns (1.07) and Carolina's Justin Faulk (0.57).
The addition of the right-handed Shattenkirk gives Washington balance on the blueline, too. The Caps now have John Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Shattenkirk on the right side, meaning one of those three players should be on the ice at virtually all times when Washington is at even strength.
Shattenkirk's contract is up at the end of June, so he could be strictly a rental. The conditional pick(s) heading the Blues' way partiallly hinges on how far the Caps go in the playoffs and on whether Washington retains the defenseman beyond this season.
In Copley, the Caps also get the No. 3 netminder they've admittedly been seeking. Washington originally signed Copley as a free agent out of college, then swapped him to St. Louis in the deal that brought right wing T.J. Oshie to Washington two summers ago.
Sanford is the key piece for St. Louis. He was the Caps' second-round pick (61st overall) in the 2013 NHL Draft. He made his NHL debut with Washington on opening night of the 2016-17 season and has two goals and three points in 26 games at the NHL level in his first pro campaign. The Caps signed Malone, formerly with the Carolina Hurricanes, as an unrestricted free agent last summer. He has spent the entire 2016-17 with AHL Hershey.
The addition of Shattenkirk gives the Capitals another proven top four commodity who carries a résumé of consistent production. At a point on the depth chart to be determined by the coaching staff, the Caps can insert Shattenkirk and slide everyone below him down one slot.
Earlier this month, MacLellan obtained veteran right-handed blueliner Tom Gilbert from Los Angeles for a conditional draft pick.
Video: MacLellan talks before the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline
With a flat salary cap looming for next season, and the specter of the league's June expansion draft to add Las Vegas hanging over the circuit's 30 general managers, getting a deal done at the deadline has additional challenges this year.
"My perspective is to do what's best for the team for our playoff run here," says MacLellan, "and then worry about the other things later. The environment seems to be a little different in that it's mostly just the unrestricted guys from non-playoff teams that are being talked about the most. There hasn't been that many hockey trade conversations going on, because I think the expansion draft weighs in on it."