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The Steamy Doldrums of Summer

August 7, 2014

These last 60 days or so have been busy ones around the Caps’ offices. A new general manager and a new assistant GM have been installed. Four new Caps coaches and two new – although both are familiar with the Washington organization – coaches for AHL Hershey have been hired. The team brought six new players into the organization via the 2014 NHL Draft, and it has already signed each of its three top choices in ’14 to three-year, entry level contracts.

Washington made three significant free agent signings and a number of smaller, ancillary deals designed to provide organizational depth and to replenish the Hershey team, which, like its parent club, also missed the postseason for the first time in several springs in 2014. Lastly, the Caps conducted their 2014 summer development camp. That annual summer ritual enabled the mostly new coaching staff to bond and develop some chemistry together both on and off the ice.

With August upon us, we’re in the deep into the steamy doldrums of summer now. We’re more than a month from the start of training camp and a couple of months from the start of another season. It’s been a long summer, but the Caps have needed that time and they’ve made the most of it. And now they’re enjoying some family time and down time before the start of the 2014-15 campaign.

General manager Brian MacLellan, coach Barry Trotz and some of the assistants have to move into new homes in the area. Most of the heavy lifting of the offseason has been done; there’s only the minor matter of a contract for restricted free agent defenseman Cameron Schilling to be dealt with as far as details between now and the start of training camp in September.

We haven’t spoken with MacLellan or Trotz since the conclusion of development camp in mid-July, but we can share some cutting room floor clippings of earlier conversations with them.

That’s how August is in this business.

I asked MacLellan if he believed that the success of Los Angeles and Chicago would lead to teams around the circuit seeking to mimic the construction of those rosters and/or the on-ice style of their play. Here’s how he responded.

“I think there is a lot of talk of L.A. and how that team is constructed. I think the trend – especially out west – is bigger and heavier. [The Kings] play a big, heavy game and they forecheck hard and they play their system. Their coach does a really good job of keeping them focused and playing hard.

“I think the size and strength is the way a lot of teams go when L.A. is that good. They struggled a little bit offensively during the year, but they added some guys. [Marian] Gaborik and the young guys – [Tyler] Toffoli and [Tanner] Pearson – really stepped up to give them a good second line. So I do think there will be some imitation there. Their defense is good. [Drew] Doughty is really good and they’ve got some big, heavy guys in [Willie] Mitchell and [Jake] Muzzin. I think there will be some teams trying to emulate that model, yes.”

And since this conversation occurred prior to the start of the NHL’s annual free agency period, I also asked MacLellan about his vision for how the Capitals should be put together for 2014-15 and beyond.

“I think we’re almost built like [the Kings],” he responded. We need to get a little bigger on our back end. We need a guy who is bigger and heavier, is defensive, blocks shots and plays on the PK.

“I think if we got one of those guys who could play top four minutes for us, it would go a long way toward solidifying our [defense]. [John] Carlson has been a good player, [Karl] Alzner has been a good player and [Mike] Green has been a good player. But if we could tweak our defense mix, it would go a long way.”

Soon after speaking those words, MacLellan inked defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen and goaltender Justin Peters. He clearly had at least Orpik in mind when responding to the question, and those additions should do much more than “tweak” the Caps’ defense mix. We’ll begin learning just how much in about two months.