Before Caps GM Brian MacLellan sat down for an informal press conference with members of the local hockey media on Friday afternoon, we had an opportunity to speak with him one-on-one, off camera, prior to the two-part on-camera interview we posted on Friday. Here's what he had to say during that sit down (with a huge primary assist to Zach Shapiro, who transcribed the entire session):
Video: Brian MacLellan | January 11
(On surprises after 43 games)
"I don't know about great surprises, but [Tom] Wilson and [Jakub] Vrana's play have been great. [Pheonix] Copley has been a big plus for us, his continued improvement. [Jonas] Siegenthaler has been a big positive. So actually quite a few."
(On Andre Burakovsky)
"Obviously he's taken a step back in his development, which could be a good thing or it could be a bad thing. I think the coaches have given him fundamental things that he needs to focus on. As a player sometimes you get thinking about certain things on the ice and it takes away from your creativity, your offense or how you react in your game. I think it's a tough point he needs to work his way through, and get back to what he does best, as a skater, shooter, offensive player."
(On guys in contract years)
"I think we're just beginning that process. Usually we wait until the new year, and then try to evaluate where everyone is at and have some discussions. I think with certain players, if it looks positive you take it to the next step. But you don't want it to become a distraction during the year, so you just pause and wait until the end of the year (to work out contracts)."
(On success drafting and developing goalies)
"Our amateur scouts do a really good job of drafting goalies, identifying guys they like and characteristics they like. I think we've been blessed with good goaltending coaching, from Dave Prior to Mitch Korn to now Scott [Murray]. Scott's done an incredible job, obviously he's learned a lot from Mitch. The organization is lucky to have had all three of those guys. I think they're a big part of what's gone on in the development process."
(On Reirden's transition to head coach)
"Todd's done a good job. A lot of positives. He's done a good job with bench management. I think he's done a good job managing lines and D pairs, finding things that work. I think part of it's a learning process for him - how he communicates with players, how they respond to him and how he reads it. But I think through the first half of the year there are a lot of positive indicators that he's done a great job."
(On developing young defensemen, now less of a need)
"Since I've been here, probably for a while, we've lacked defensive depth, so we were always trying to add guys. Not necessarily to come in and play a big role, but five, six, seven, eight defensemen. The playoffs are a grind, and if you go down a defensemen or two, you need to fill holes. This year I think we're as deep as we've ever been, with the development of Siegenthaler, we got Brooks Orpik coming back here, [Christian] Djoos should be back by the end of February, [Tyler] Lewington's play. I feel pretty comfortable with where we're at right now, barring whatever happens health-wise down the stretch."
"I think [Connor] Hobbs is coming, he's getting more consistent in his game. We like his progress. Lucas [Johansen] has taken a step back here with the injury. We'll wait and see how he does in the last part of the year. Really optimistic about the two guys we drafted last year, [Alex] Alexeyev and [Martin] Fehervary. Both had strong world junior camps, both had good training camps and good rookie camps. We're excited about those two, also."
(On Hershey Bears)
"I think we've struggled a bit and played okay for parts of the season. I think the biggest challenge for us has been scoring goals, offensive production at that level. It's going to take time for some of the young guys to be able to produce at that level. Hopefully we stay patient with them and surround them with great players to take the next step in their development."
(On Ilya Samsonov)
"I think he's had some ups and downs. I think it's a challenge. I think the American League is a hard league for goalies to figure out, historically. I think he's learning that. I would say that he might not have looked at the American League with as much respect as he does now. I think it's been a learning process for him. But I think he's adapting, both on and off the ice. Both are important for him, that he learns the culture, learns how to have a good lifestyle away from the game and I think his on-ice development will come naturally after that."
(On potentially adding some of the 2018 late birthday draftees to Hershey late in season)
"Yeah, depending on how their teams finish up in the playoffs and where they're at at the end of the year. It would be great for the players and for us to get them in at the end of the year, see where they fit and get them exposed to the American League."
(On salary cap situation for 2019-20)
"We're tentatively projecting it around $83 million. We're managing max cap numbers, so it's always a little tricky to fit everyone in at the end. We'll do our best, and hopefully we won't lose anyone who's important."
(On plan for deadline)
"Depending on injuries, obviously that affects it. We're going to be at minimal salary. We could add a lower end player. Anything we do at the deadline will probably centered on a hockey trade, player for player, salary for salary."
(On Seattle team and World Cup in 2020, CBA extension)
"I think the Seattle opportunity is exciting. A really good city. That ownership seems to be very enthusiastic and are doing a lot of things that build the game, build the system around NHL teams. I think it's a great city, a great opportunity for the league. I think anytime you add a quality franchise, just like Vegas, it benefits everyone in the league."
(On the progression of Wilson)
"I think it's been a gradual progression for him. When he came in the emphasis was on hitting, finishing checks and providing energy. I bet you four years ago, we sat down with Barry [Trotz] and him, and the idea was to develop him into a top six forward. I think it's been gradual. I mean the last 60 games last year, I think you see a continuation of progress. You have to give credit to the player here, that he's continually gotten better at a whole bunch of things. It started with penalty kill, now he's getting power play time. We could legitimately play him on the first power play line if we didn't have enough depth, which we do have on the power play. But I think you have to give him credit, that he's just evolved and developed his game. He's an above average skater, he's got good hands, he's got good strength, he's learned to work the walls. He's turned himself into a good penalty-killer, now he's turning himself into a good offensive player. It's just a player really working hard on his game."
(On Wilson's game evolving)
"I think the skating is a big part of it. The ability to pressure puck-carriers now is huge, and it's speed - that's what it is - and he possesses that. He does have his size, and he doesn't need to finish, but he needs to pressure pucks and that's what he does. That's the evolution of the game. To be a volume hitter in the league right now is just a high-risk proposition. The way they evaluate hits, you're going to get yourself in trouble if you're hitting that much."
(On face-off woes this season)
"Our face-offs are probably a little too low right now. You can debate how important face-off percentage is, but I think we have a couple of guys lately that have been getting crushed in the face-off circle. It should be a little better, you can't be 1-and-13, 1-and-12. You've got to be somewhere close to 45 to 50 percent every night, or it's going to affect you somehow because the other team gets possession all of the team. Over a season, whether you're 47 or 51 percent, I don't know if that has a huge impact. But there are certain face-offs within the course of a game that are very important, because possession matters at those critical times, a lot of times on special teams or at the end of games. We're going to have to find a way to be more competitive in those situations."
(On dearth of high-end forward talent in pipeline, and the possible need to shift assets from blueline to up front)
"I think so. If we have one hole on our prospect list, it's guys who could develop into top six forwards. And Burakovsky would be a big benefit if he did develop into that. But we have other assets that I think -- if we do our job correctly - we can bring back a forward prospect that has the ability to be a top six guy."