GM Brian MacLellan gives his take on where Capitals stand in NHL hierarchy

GM MacLellan gives his take on where Caps stand in NHL hierarchy originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

When it comes to perennial contention, few teams across the NHL can match the success the Capitals have had in the Alex Ovechkin Era.

The Capitals have reached the playoffs in eight straight seasons and 14 of their last 15. Though some of the names have changed over the years, they’ve managed to keep a competitive core intact built around large contracts for forwards Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson as well as defensemen John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov.

All seven of those players were on the Capitals’ Stanley Cup-winning team in 2018 and they’re each signed to deals of $30 million or more. It’s also a group that has several players in different stages of their fight against the age curve. Wilson, who will miss the start of the season recovering from a torn ACL, is the only one among them under the age of 30.

As much as most of those players have managed to stay productive into the latter half of their careers, injuries have kept a few of them off the ice for extended stretches. Backstrom, in particular, is working his way back from a hip resurfacing surgery that has ended the careers of professional athletes across all sports.

So as the Capitals enter the 2022-23 campaign in search of another Stanley Cup title, GM Brian MacLellan recognizes that the team isn’t atop the NHL hierarchy.

“There’s teams that have younger star players that are ahead of us and then I think we’re with Pittsburgh and aging teams that are still good that could still pull it off,” MacLellan said Thursday as training camp opened. “I think we’re one of those teams.”

The upper echelon of NHL teams isn’t clear-cut following an eventful offseason that saw a slew of blockbuster trades and free-agent signings, but there are seven teams that Odds Shark gives 15/1 odds or better to win the Cup: Colorado Avalanche, Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers.

MacLellan sees Washington (30/1 odds) fitting in somewhere among the second tier alongside the similarly structured Pittsburgh Penguins (20/1). The Penguins managed to re-sign both center Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang this offseason to keep their core together, but Pittsburgh’s roster skews just as much toward veterans as Washington’s does.

With both teams playing in a competitive Metropolitan Division that also includes the loaded Hurricanes, a New York Rangers team that just made an Eastern Conference Finals run and the Johnny Gaudreau-bolstered Columbus Blue Jackets, no playoff berth is going to come easy.

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