brian-maclellan

It’s hard to know exactly what you’re going to get out of a general manager, especially one that has never been a general manager before.

After spending the past thirteen seasons in DC, seven as assistant general manager, Brian MacLellan has been promoted by Ted Leonsis and Dick Patrick on Monday.

Does GMBM have the credentials? It’s hard to know exactly. The Caps tell us he’s won a Stanley Cup as a player, though he was a bit of a passenger on that Cup-winning Flames team in 1989. He played 606 career NHL games with the Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, Minnesota North Stars, Calgary Flames and Detroit Red Wings. MacLellan was also a teammate of McPhee’s at Bowling Green for four seasons.

The Caps tell us MacLellan oversaw the club’s professional scouting staff (the evaluation of dudes at the NHL level) and worked closely with the Hershey Bears, who won Calder Cups in 2006, 2009, and 2010. The Bears, who dominated in the early years of their affiliation– when Washington was rebuilding– have faltered since – missing the playoffs completely this season after aggressively signing minor-league free agents last summer. The Bears watched head coach Mark French leave the organization, who has since gotten rave reviews leading the KHL’s expansion Medveščak Zagreb. Medveščak made the KHL playoffs last season.

On Monday, Leonsis– as open and upfront as he can– wrote a long blog post about the hiring, hinting that MacLellan winning the job was a surprise even for him.

Ted writes (please read the whole thing if you haven’t):

We always had planned to interview our Assistant GM for player personnel, Brian MacLellan. We’ve always been impressed with Brian, but frankly our day-to-day dealings were with the team’s GM, not the Assistant GM who was traveling much of the year. So we wanted to get to know him a little better, and as we interviewed others, we found ourselves immediately comparing them with Brian.

While we felt we needed to make significant changes – and we did by moving on the GM and coach – we also didn’t feel we had to completely rebuild or start from scratch. Of course Brian has incredible knowledge regarding all the players in our system, but what impressed us was his philosophy when it came to all personnel matters – the draft, player development, minor-league affiliations and amateur and pro scouting. He was straight forward, confident and open with his ideas, and for the past six weeks has served as our interim GM, working on trades, signings and our new agreement with Hershey.

We promoted Brian to general manger because he better than anyone articulated a plan and a philosophy for all phases of our hockey operations department. While the interview process opened our eyes regarding Brian’s candidacy, it also reinforced how many talented, intelligent, high-character people are involved in guiding our sport and NHL teams. We appreciated the input and time provided by everyone in the process – we have so much respect for all of those with whom we spoke.

Since taking over for McPhee in April, MacLellan has overseen the re-signing of minor-league forward Garrett Mitchell, the signing of defensive prospect Christian Djoos, and the dealing of Jaroslav Halak’s rights for a fourth-round pick — the latter of which is an impressive haul for a player the Caps had no interest in re-signing.

Not everyone, however, is optimistic about the hire. Shawn Simpson, who served as the director of hockey operations for Washington until he was fired for one Brian MacLellan in 2004, flipped out on Twitter.

I’m going to guess this is a bit of sour grapes.

But Simpson wasn’t the only one to complain.

Former Capitals beat writer Jason LaCanfora ripped the Caps’ decision.

Then WNST’s Ed Francovic, who spent ten years (1987-1997) as a statistician for the Caps, wrote a detailed, reasonable explanation why he was troubled by the hire.

When the Capitals cleaned house just over a month ago, I blogged that the GM decision was critical and arguably the most important in team history. Caps owner Ted Leonsis also stated that the organization was looking for a fresh look at things.

Hiring MacLellan, on the surface, does not meet that criteria, at all. With names like Ray Shero and Craig Button available, men who’ve won Stanley Cups in a hockey management position, I don’t see how the Capitals came close to getting the right person to lead them to their first Stanley Cup.

As assistant GM, MacLellan was in charge of the pro scouting and that is where this organization has really fallen down the last several years. The return on the Filip Forsberg trade was abysmal and recent free agent moves have not addressed the team’s main deficiencies, which start on the blue line. When you see the attention paid to that position and moves like Roman Hamrlik and Tyson Strachan, you have to wonder what is going on in the pro scouting arena? How many times did George McPhee tell the media and the fans “We like our D?” Wasn’t MacLellan a part of the “We?”

Overall, the moves this team has made at the pro level the last few years have caused this team to go backwards, so why stick with someone in house?

Then the people who really matter: Caps fans, the people who keep the lights on at Verizon Center, are tentative about the hire.

Chris C writes:

I hate the MacLellan hiring. I will give him this offseason to prove he isn’t McPhee 2.0. Just feel like Ted and Dick took the easy way out.

Dean H. on our Facebook page writes:

I’ll reserve judgement untill I see what he can do with the draft, offseason and upcoming season, though I doubt the majority of fans will.

Finally, commenter DashingDave134 says:

I’ll be honest: I have no clue what to expect from MacLellan. I’m not going to pretend like it’s a horrible hire or good hire yet. Let’s give him a chance before we send him off to the gallows.

Hiring MacLellan, who was a best bud of McPhee’s, is a tough sell to the fan base. Words and promises won’t convince fans this time around, actions will. Wins will. Playoff success will.

With Alex Ovechkin about to turn 29, will MacLellan make the difficult decisions surrounding the team’s core to finally give the Russian machine a good supporting cast? Is his familiarity with the core players a detriment or an advantage? Will GMBM stray from GMGM’s philosophies? Are the poor trades and free agent signings that the team’s made lately a sign of what’s to come? I have so many questions.

One thing I do know: if the Capitals struggle out of the gate next season (bold moves or not), MacLellan, Patrick, and Leonsis will face heavy criticism. The fans will be vocal and they’ll wonder what– if anything– has truly changed. It’s hard to know when we’re not on the second floor of Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

I enjoy seeing the underdog win. I think it’s good to see a guy who was on no one’s radar get the nod. But until there are results, until there are changes, I will be side-eyeing suspiciously. More of the same would be unacceptable.

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  • Rob W.

    Cant wait to see how Ted tries to make this look like an excellent hire at todays presser

  • DashingDave314

    I know GMGM sounded smart in interviews as well, but I really did enjoy BM’s interview with Vogs on Monumental Network. Makes me feel slightly more confident in him. If he re-signs Grabo or signs Stastny, I’ll be sold on him.

  • Topher Gee

    Will we ever get a break from “One thing I do know: if the Capitals struggle out of the gate next season (bold moves or not), MacLellan, Patrick, and Leonsis will face heavy criticism.” I know that’s there job but it seems a little unrealistic for a new staff?

  • TheBob819

    Look, I don’t know what to think about MacLellan and I’m skeptical too, but when’s the last time Jason La Canfora paid any attention to hockey? Hasn’t he been a football guy for like a decade now?

  • Joe Fox

    I thought Grabo was the bare minimum here? Grabo should be back. He wants to be back, the team needs him back, the only question was management getting along with him.
    I’ve always felt that if the Caps do win the cup, it won’t be one of those years that we are presumed front runners, it will sneak up on us. Ergo, it’s not fair for me to judge GMBM based on whether we “win” the draft, compliance buyouts (although dropping Green or Laich will show that he means business) or the UFA frenzy in July. For better or worse, have to wait until this time next year.

  • JH

    Francovic may be a brilliant statistician, but I find his concerns unpersuasive. For one, he cites Shero as a potentially superior candidate, and RMNB already dismantled Shero. Second, I think the problems the Caps have had the past two years has been coach selection and system, not, for the most part, personnel decisions by the GM (with a couple exceptions). Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The main problem was coaching.

  • Guest

    RMNB made a great point on why we shouldn’t have hired Shero:

    All you jerks who flip their lids over McPhee trading prospects would’ve gone crazy with Shero: he’s even worse! TBH, I’m neutral on McLellan. There’s no sense in ripping him apart when he hasn’t done much yet??? Seems a little overdramatic.

  • JenniferH

    If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but I’m happy with the hire. Based on Ted’s Take and what we’ve heard so far, I think they made a good choice and I think we’ll all be happy come next season.

  • DashingDave314

    Very good points, Joe. Of course, you do realize that such logic and reason is frowned upon on the internets, yes?

  • DashingDave314

    Precisely why I didn’t want anything to do with Shero. Either he’s a horrible drafter or he consistently followed advice that he should have known was really bad. In either case, that says a lot of things about him, and none of them are good.

  • MJK

    We can call him BMGM.

  • JessHughes

    Any inside scoop on how much GMBM was involved in trades under GMGM? Not just evaluation of talent but in the details? At least for the last few years, the less involved GMBM was (i.e., the more it was GMGM carrying the day), the better I feel about the hire. But if he was the go-to guy on trading decisions, call me extra leery of this “change.” Yay for Trotz though — good coach and good character guy by all accounts.

  • Michael Reschly

    The [person] you were looking for wasn’t a stranger in another city, but was your long-time best friend just waiting on you to discover [him]? I feel like someone could write a sappy pop song about this hiring.

  • Graham Dumas

    I’m agnostic so far (easy position to take, I know). But I’d really hesitate to base any pro-GMBM argument on anything up on Ted’s Take. Not that Ted wasn’t forthcoming in his post, but he’s just way too close to the inside (hell, he is the inside) to generate much objective info.

  • John Atchison

    Your absolutely incorrect. While Oates was a flop here, it was McPhee who hired him. It was McPhee that gave him the players. Anyone who believes Oates had input on player selection is crazy. See the number of trades for players that hardly saw the ice…

  • Graham Dumas

    Can we enforce a moratorium on the word “shocking” (especially when followed by triple exclamation points), please? As we all know from the ads on WaPo, shocking is a term best applied to car insurance tricks and acai berry diets, not high-level managerial hirings on a major sports team.

    Seriously, though, I know it was on Twitter, but the inherent hyperbole in Simpson’s remark makes it very difficult for me to led it any credence whatsoever.

  • jgray94

    Can’t wait for the press conf in a couple hours. Maybe Ted is taking a page from Robert Kraft’s playbook? Hire a very strong coach and let everyone serve him. That model maybe only works in the NFL. That said, the new tandem is a stark contrast to the dominant GM – weak coach we’ve seen recently. I doubt we’ll see GMMac trading for players Coach Trotz has no interest in using.

  • tpr04

    This strikes me as Ted hiring a “yes” man. He had to remove McPhee because he was such a target for the rage of the fan base, so he’s brought in someone who will do exactly what he wants without the baggage that built up around McPhee.

    My guess is other GM candidates wanted much more decision making authority, particularly on trades. As for GMBM, what other choices did he have? No other team was interested in him and it’s doubtful a new GM would have kept him around. He’d going to probably have less control than McPhee reportedly did.

    I hope the guy works out, but I suspect he was brought in for all the wrong reasons.

  • JenniferH

    I’m basing it on more than that, but I feel more comfortable basing it on partially that than I do on the butthurt tweets from a guy who was fired and his job was taken over by Mac, and grumbling from a fanbase based on nothing but fears leftover from GMGM (albeit understandable fears). Mac has already come out and said the first priority is defense, so clearly he gets what the main issue is, that’s a huge plus.

    And frankly what Ted wrote in his “Ted’s Take” made a helluva lot of sense and didn’t read like some placating words, but actually were on par with issues many of us had with what GMGM and coaches in the past .

    So I’m choosing to be cautiously optimistic instead of shouting down doomsday before anything happens to prove me wrong. Especially since the little we have seen (ie, the trade moves mentioned above, the defense being #1 priority, and what Ted did say in his take) are all very promising.

  • JH

    Did I not say the problem was coach selection? As in, selection of the coach. Maybe I wasn’t clear – that means the selection of Oates. And we’ll never know whether the trades for Penner and Erat among others would have been the cure for what ailed the Caps since Oates never used them properly.

  • Jon Adams

    I’ve been going with GM Big Mac.

  • Trots-McLellan 2016

    Both Mac and Trotz dropped Corsi and Fenwick in their first interviews. Mcphee and Oates were never pro-fancy stats and as far as I know were actively opposed to using them.

    This alone represents a massive upgrade.

  • Matt Mendelsohn

    I’ll give McLellan some benefit, but it is hard to see why anyone would return to this well at this point. Except for precisely the reason they did: the Caps wanted Trotz and they were getting antsy that they could lose him to someone else. But they knew they didn’t want to appear like they were putting cart before horse, hiring coach before GM, so they grabbed someone who was close at hand.

  • Lawrence

    I haven’t said much about the hiring yet, because I was very unsure about how i felt. Since we haven’t seen nearly enough of Mac yet, I think its fair to say we should hold back judgement on him personally. For now, I think our questions lie in, do we trust Ted? Because ultimately that is the biggest judgement call we can make on this situation right now. I trust Ted, I think he is one of the best owners in all of sports.

    Ted truly cares about his fans, his team, and the people he works with. Sometimes caring about the people you work with can be a bad thing (GMGM), but Ted has gone through the wringer with that route and I believe he has learned from it. Lets give him some credit, he didn’t fire GMGM just to make the fans happy. He saw the issue, evaluated it and decided GMGM route was not working. From that, I think we can say 1)if he wanted the same team on the ice, he would have kept 2) he would not have made this hire if he didn’t think he was vastly different than GMGM and 3) who were the better candidates? (Because I sure as hell didn’t see any).

    The bottom line is, we know this about Mac: He will continue to be a good drafter. He has said he see’s problems with the culture of our team in the locker-room. He see’s that we need help on the back end (said it was the first thing he wants to fix). These issues, may not have been seen by outside eyes. The fact he has stated these issues, puts him in a vastly different category than Mcphee (who said we are right on track). Will he be able to make those changes to the problems he found? No one knows, which is why we have to be patient and see what he can muster up. The first step is acknowledging there is an issue, which he has done, now go do the rest Mac.

  • tpr04

    If Ted was truly evaluating McPhee and it wasn’t a reaction to the fans, why did it take him several weeks after a lost season to figure out what the problem was? The writing had been on the wall for a long team, as this team had performed progressively worse for a period of 4 years in a row.

    It should have been clear to the owner that there was a problem with his GM and his coach long before the end of this season. If that had been the case, the responses would have been far more immediate.

    I actually think Ted is a decent owner. You can do much, much worse than Ted, but I don’t think he’s handled the entire GM issue well at all.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian Oland

    Like literally all the time. He still watches games – comments on Twitter about the team frequently. He still lives in the area.

  • Lawrence

    So you are saying it was a reaction to the fans? Because GMGM would have been a very long time ago if that theory had any truth to it. Taking two weeks to fire someone that worked for him for 17 years is a bad thing? That is just Ted’s character, a sign of respect for an employee who was with him for almost two decades. He wanted a cool head without reacting emotionally, why would that be a bad thing? Anyways, I think he knew that GMGM was going to be let go, I would guess he had probably been considering it the last few years.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian Oland

    “TBH, I’m neutral on McLellan. There’s no sense in ripping him apart when he hasn’t done much yet??? Seems a little overdramatic.”

    I’m confused – are you talking about my article? Am I ripping him apart? If I did, that was not at all my intention because I’m neutral on him too. My intention was to show there are two sides of the coin here and since he has little experience as the head man, it’s hard to know what we exactly have here.

    If things start off rocky next season, and you can tell me if I’m wrong, the criticism from fans could potentially be very heavy. Ted could be perceived as not being aggressive enough, not getting a new perspective on the team (i.e. someone from outside the organization). I just don’t think there’s going to be a lot of optimism from fans if not much changes this off-season, if results don’t happen almost immediately next season.

  • j

    I have no problem with a hire that is a hard sell to fans who have nothing to go off of. Ted and Dick actually interviewed with a bunch of candidates, including Craig Button, and this guy was the best. That’s enough to at least be a little positive right?

  • deej

    McLellan: “Over the course of my career I have worked in acquiring the necessary skills to excel in this position.”

    Tywin: “Any man who must say, ‘I am the king’ is no true king.”

  • CJ

    I believe it was more a reaction to the fanbase as a whole judging from the “all you jerks” comment. I think it’s more rage at the fans on twitter who are making an ill-informed judgement (as we do).

  • Adam Schwager

    Straight from GMGM’s wikipedia page, “When McPhee joined the Capitals in 1997, the team was looking to turn around its long storied history of being a regular season juggernaut, only to fold in the playoffs.”

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    I don’t think we have the means to enforce such a moratorium.

  • Graham Dumas
  • THEOLDROT

    How many of McPhee’s bad decisions were actually McLellan’s?

  • MJK

    I am hoping you all picked up on BM meaning bowel movement and that we can call him that if and when he really f’s up.

  • CJ

    Just wanted to Chime in and say that I agree with you points here Lawrence. I haven’t always in the past but here I think you are spot on. For any fan its both easy and callous to throw away another man’s livelihood, a man that in this situation had a close working relationship with Ted for nigh 2 decades and knew very well personally. Fans state he should have been fired immediately after the season and on that I agree; however I am not the man walking in those shoes and I think well of Ted for following the process he did.

  • CJ

    A follow up I forgot to mention. Ted taking some time prior to the firing is also explained by the Wizard’s success into the early postseason. Mr. Leonsis was rather busy with all of his regular work that made him rich enough to hold his position and the surprise national story line that the Wizards became for that exact period of time after throttling the Bulls.

  • tpr04

    It’s not actually a bad thing, but it did look as though he was caught off guard. Remember that he said in October that this is the most complete team he ever had? He didn’t see it coming. I think what happened was he had the embarrassment of not making the playoffs the season before he has the Winter Classic. Also, the media was able to finally turn on McPhee. The WP ran an article (Katie C.) pointing out all that is wrong with McPhee. I think he knew that, once they didn’t make the playoffs, he knew he couldn’t keep the noise down unless he jettisoned McPhee.

    I didn’t like McPhee, but he was a far more competent GM than Oates was a coach. In the end, Oates inability to get this team in the playoffs forced Ted’s hand on McPhee.

  • RH

    I don’t know about all this just yet, but one thing is for sure: Brian MacLellan seems to be a good fit in replacing Adam Oates for the orgination’s position for “prominent brow line”

  • Sarah

    I freaking promise to do this if he turns out to be any good.

  • Sarah

    Judging from the way he’s taken every opportunity he’s had (in the less than twenty-four hours he’s had the job) to distance himself from those decisions, maybe not many. If he has an insider’s in-depth knowledge of the problems, and the resolve to depart with the hide-bound thinking that created them, this guy could be fantastic. That’s why I’m optimistic. Well, that and the fact that since the decision is already made, I might as well be.

  • Rhino40

    shocking is a term best applied to car insurance tricks and acai berry diets, not high-level managerial hirings on a major sports team.
    …and other forms of Click-bait, I might add.
    Yet another reason I love this site: Great minds

  • Sarah

    But GRAHAM!!!1! I heard about a lady who cured her wrinkles for $5!!!! And she lives near me!!!! AND NEAR WHERE I JUST MOVED FROM!!!! And GMBM must be poopy, because his last name and George McPhee’s both start with Mc, sort of!!!!

  • Rob Young

    You know, GMGM was his boss. Decisions he made had to go through GMGM first. It’s not like he had the final say. That being said, there had better be some changes…

  • Jonah

    yes here on the inter webs we don’t want to wait long before judging people…
    its been 24 hours and we must know how to judge him NOWWWW!!!!!

  • Sarah

    Actually, what the hell, you drink enough caffeine and s–t just happens by itself. To the tune of “Save the Best for Last,” by Vanessa Williams

    Sometimes the Caps play golf in June
    Sometimes our lines out of tune
    Hiring Shero seemed unwise,
    But you were one hell of a surprise

    ‘Cause there was a time when all I did was wish
    That Ted and Dick would poach
    Someone to draft and trade the Boston Way,
    And he would pick the coach

    But they went and got us Barry Trotz,
    He wanted you to call the shots
    Some people thought it was a blast
    Some guy named Simpson was aghast

    So many nights I thought we’d need
    Somebody else to fix our D
    You wondered how to make us see
    You wouldn’t be just a new McPhee

    But how can we give our love to someone else
    Who’d long served with the Pens?
    The only team in Pennsylvania that
    You’ve hung with is our friends.

    Now you and Trotz stand face to face
    Only your heights are out of place
    And you acknowledge that the past
    Means that you’ve saved the best for last

    la da da da da da

    Sometimes the very thing you’re looking for
    Is the one thing you can’t see

    Now that the draft is coming soon
    We hope your choice will be a boon
    Cause even when we’re on the outs
    We’ve always had the league’s best scouts

    And you and Trotz stand face to face
    Only your heights are out of place
    Just when we thought our chance had passed
    You might have saved the best for last

  • JenniferH

    Beautiful! :D

  • Graham Dumas

    Local Mom finds one weird trick… to completely revitalize the Capitals’ management and coaching.

  • Graham Dumas

    Don’t you mean, if he really sh*ts the bed?

  • RESmith

    Totally fair and on point.

  • Michael Reschly

    Excellent. Now we just need Peter to do a cover version.

  • Danny Lioudkevitch

    He sounds like less of a bullshitter than McPhee. George often answered tough, and even basic, questions with lots of filler and empty hockey clichés. Mac seems a lot simpler, more openly critical and not there to just put on a show, but actually get things done.