Trotz MacLellan (6 of 13)

Photo: Chris Gordon

“I don’t know if I could give specifics,” Brian MacLellan said when asked how he differs from his former boss George McPhee. “He’s a good friend. He’s a character guy.”

Then MacLellan broke down. After 10 years in the NHL, MacLellan retired from league in 1992. He got an MBA, becoming an investment banker. In 2000, his old college teammate McPhee brought him back to the sport, asking him to join his young administration in Washington as a part-time scout. MacLellan accepted. Thirteen years later, MacLellan was standing up against a wall at Verizon Center having just filled McPhee job. The two talked during MacLellan’s interview process.

“You know, it’s a hard thing,” MacLellan said, gathering himself. “We’re different people. We have different personalities, different way to approach things. I think any two people are different.”

“We’re good friends,” he added. “We’re really good friends, and we’ve grown up together.”

When the Capitals fired George McPhee and Adam Oates last month, owner Ted Leonsis and team president Dick Patrick talked of a new path. Instead of hiring former Caps and organizational insiders, it looked as if Washington would select proven outsiders this time around.

Announcing the hiring of Barry Trotz as the team’s new head coach on Monday night, they did just that. While Trotz’s style may not fit the Caps current personnel — he spent the last 15 years coaching a defense-first Nashville team — no one would argue that he isn’t a smart coach. It’s a question of fit versus fitness for the job, but that will be answered in time.

The managerial hire, however, is more interesting. Leonsis and Patrick went with their usual method of selection for that position, promoting Brian MacLellan from his previous job as McPhee’s assistant GM. While the hires were announced together, MacLellan was the interim GM after McPhee’s departure and actively recruited Trotz.

MacLellan is an intelligent man, but the move doesn’t seem to be an inspired break with the past, though that may not have been necessary. On its face, this looks to be a continuation of the McPhee era. The men are the same age, having gone to the same school, with MacLellan acting as McPhee’s right hand for the last seven years. The front office and scouting staff will also remain largely untouched.

“Our process might change a little bit, but I think we’re going to be good going forward,” MacLellan said. “I think they’ve done a real good job. I don’t think there’s going to be any changes there.”

While MacLellan has been with the franchise since the start of the new millennium, many fans didn’t know he existed before he took on the role of interim GM. Leonsis and Patrick praised MacLellan for his shrewdness, but he was still part of the previous regime, with blame and commendation to go around. MacLellan himself insisted he had “a lot of say” in McPhee’s moves.

With big, experienced names like Ray Shero available, the Caps seemed quick to go with their own guy, just weeks after admitting the current way was no longer acceptable. Those disparate views are hard to square, but Leonsis — calling the moves a “refresh” rather than a “rebuild” — defended the decision in his opening remarks, anticipating the question.

“I’ll tell you that when we started the process that was not the intention in any way,” the owner said. “We said we would be open minded and go talk to as many candidates as we could, which we did.”

“He led off with some of the the things I have to do to be a better owner,” Leonsis said of MacLellan’s interview, praising his intellect and honesty throughout. “I thought that was very brave and very astute because you don’t want to hear things like that.”

In the end, Leonsis said, MacLellan was chosen purely because he was the best candidate. Patrick said around 15 people were interviewed in total.

MacLellan faces a big task going forward. Alex Ovechkin is getting older and, eventually, getting worse. The team has big money hooked up in guys like Brooks Laich. Meanwhile, Washington’s defense is in disarray. While the salary cap will be going up, the Caps are a long way away from being the team they were a few years ago. It’s now up to a first-time GM to fix that.

“I think we can get more out of this roster,” MacLellan said. “I think this coach is going to bring more out of the roster and then we’ll try to add from there.”

“I think I’m ready for it,” he concluded.

  • moistGMBM

    Why was everyone so sweaty in that conference?

  • Myan

    It was over 90 degrees in DC today!

  • j

    it should be noted that Maclellan’s interview was said to be the most negative of the 15 candidates and that he was very critical of the organization

  • Shaun Phillips

    Ok, so Chris and Ian both don’t like GMac, Ian’s not a fan of Trotz and it sounds like Chris is a bit suspect as well. So now I’m wondering:

    1) With the GMs and coaches left on the market, who would you guys (Ian and Chris) have preferred? Bonus points for #fancystats or funny gifs to prove the point.
    2) What’s Peter’s take on this? He’s been oddly silent since this happened.

  • TJ
  • Luke Anthony

    After hearing B-Mac speak, it doesn’t sound like a continuation. He said Carrick wasn’t ready, Wilson needs more ice time, believes in the fancy stats, was more critical of the team than any other candidate, and didn’t just say “I like our team”.

  • Shaun Phillips

    And agents will be allowed access. I’m hoping being he witnessed GMGM first-hand, he’s more aware of all the potential pitfalls.

  • TJ

    What the Hell is this team doing?

  • Stephen

    So is it to early to start to a trend of “too hot to trotz”?

  • Fred Merc

    Was that in the press conference?
    I did not get to watch it yet. But that is interesting if true.
    In the interview with MR Leonsis after the presser Ted said GM Mac had a list of things he would change: Highlighted were “Allocation of assets, Development of players, and I will be damned if I forgot #3! Oh well. ETA: #3 was – Improved relationship with affiliate Hershey.

    I think they wanted change, but not radical change, and I kind of agree with that approach.

  • Fred Merc

    Probably the aftermath of eating tilapia and Oatmeal cookies.

  • Owen Johnson

    So George Costanza’s boss is out new GM?

  • Srsly

    The fact that he told his boss off interviewing for the job shows he has balls and will act differently than McPhee. I mean damn, who does that?

  • Freedoooom

    Critical of everyone except for Laich.

  • Fred Merc

    I gave you an up vote for the good resemblance pull there, but there is a pretty sad story about that actor.

  • Shaun Phillips

    The better question is, who does that and not only keeps his/her current job, but gets a promotion? 🙂

  • Fred Merc

    Tom is back…

  • Ben

    I really hope GMBM does not become a thing

  • Shaun Phillips

    I’m trying my best. I think GMac has a serious shot at catching on. I’ve seen it split with the other one about 50% (I think). Have also seen BMac a few.

  • Luke Anthony

    Well, it happened in Office Space.

  • yv

    Waiting for Ovi’s tweet… or at-least greetings from both sides, and what Grabo will decide? Can guess that a heavy background discussing and communication with knowledgable peoples happening right now

  • James Hare

    Yeah really — either you don’t want the job or you don’t care if you get it and want to make an impact. If j above is correct perhaps Maclellan is the right guy — a yes man is the last thing this team needs. Considering the number of wrong fit players GMGM traded for it would be nice to have someone who may be more willing to work the coach.

  • kyle boyd

    just from the presser and a few early interviews i really like the guy so far. was “tentative” about the new GM to say the least yesterday, today i’m “cautiously optimistic.”

    specifically his identifying the difference between our amateur scouts and pro scouts. just got into an argument about the subject with a habs fan from work last week. our amateur scouting is great, pro scouting has been an issue. secondly everything he said concerning the development of our young players was spot on for me. He was polite, but their was a good deal of criticism in his press conference.

    on the note of the Refresh V Reset debate, i don’t believe we have a bad team, i don’t believe we had piss-poor management. we’ve been among the most successful franchises in the post lockout era. just because theres room for improvement doesn’t mean we should be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. its because of the management team that created these competitive teams that our expectations as a fanbase are so demanding.

  • Ben

    Remember those ‘Horny for Zorny’ shirts?

  • Eddie

    The title of this article sums up my feelings about the GM choice. Well-said, y’all.

  • Myan

    I haven’t watched the press conference but it was mentioned on NBC Washington a few times tonight.

  • “Ok, so Chris and Ian both don’t like GMac”

    Uhhhh, I don’t want to speak for Chris, but I don’t think either of us feel that way. There’s not much evidence one way or another to know what we’re getting out of this hire.

    We’re just sitting back and waiting to see what he does, just like you guys, and forming a more educated opinion then.

    By the way, that trade of Halak – getting a fourth round pick out of him – was very smart. If that’s how he’s going to work – if he’s going to focus a lot on Hershey and rebuilding the club there – then there’s a lot to look forward to.

  • BenB

    So which Caps players is everyone referring to but not calling out?

    The new coach, GM, owner, management, caps video/radio, press…are constantly
    throwing out these terms as the focus going forward; Team-oriented,
    in-shape, working hard, tough to play against, accountable, etc…

    When asked directly who they are referring to it’s always “they” “the
    team”. Come on, I know who I think of based on watching 80+ games/yr,
    why doesn’t someone just say it? I know, I know. We all know it’s OV
    but they all defend him and say it’s not only him.

    So who else is it?

    Here is my thought in order of culpability:

    Mike Green–he buys in or he’s gone. Plain and simple. He may even already
    be gone. Better conditioning, intensity, smarts (prob can’t improve
    that), effort. Getting more competent defenseman who eat up minutes
    could be the key. He’s always an time eater and it may be the reason
    for his scoring slump and mental break downs.

    OV- Don’t know why he’d change when everyone defends him. If he buys in, the entire team won’t be able to blame “star” treatment for underlying issues. But, we’ve been down this road before.

    MoJo- He’s inconsistent and soft. Possible that Trotz can light a fire and he’d
    turn into a player like Flash. If not, he’s gone.

    Fehr-I like him and don’t really think he’s in this category, especially when
    he plays with Ward and Chimmer, but is an upgrade possible? Better conditioning possibly and consistent intensity maybe?

    Orlov-He’s young and inconsistent. The coaches and trainers will monitor his
    off-ice prep and make sure he maintains focus for at least 40min/game.

    Grabo–I like his play. Riddled with injuries sometimes had him tentative.
    Just a bit more conditioning could prove to upgrade his
    consistency..should they decide to bring him back–I’d vote yes, unless
    there is a worthy replacement.

    Kuzy–hasn’t had a real season in the NHL, there will be a big focus on conditioning, strength, physicality, team game. It’s to his benefit that he gets a
    fresh start with a new regime.

    Backy- Yes, even Nicky. He’s my favorite player but I think he could use more
    off season conditioning. It could help him recapture his 100pt+ year.

    Your thoughts?

  • Eric Schulz

    Trending up.

  • Eric Schulz

    Um, everybody jumped all over Oates’ shit for calling out Halak, now it’s wrong that our new management is keeping shit in house? Seriously?

  • serpent

    I like GMac. Someone is bound to come up with Big Mac sooner or later.

  • CJ

    Critical of the organization implies critical of the front office in particular.

  • Phil

    No offense to you in particular, but I dont remember everyone hating on Laich when he was healthy and scoring 20-25 goals. He’s a solid player and IF IF IF he stays healthy I believe he can help this team alot.

  • CJ

    This is basically an episode of Seignfeld where the guy gets hired by telling Mr. Stienbrenner off and how he destroyed the Yankees. What I find hilarious is we (the Caps) got mentioned today on Mike and Mike. Hockey NEVER gets mentioned by the mothership in great detaiil and IF it does its game highlihgts only. Never have I heard them not even mention a Hockey franchise’s organisational issues let alone ours.

  • John M

    I know it’s customary to refer to a GM’s tenure or coach’s tenure as an “era,” but let’s be clear: the Capitals are in the “Ovechkin era” as long as the team is built around #8.
    So, whether they brought someone else in or promoted GMBMac, it had to be a “refresh” and not a “reset,” because the team’s identity is set.

  • rotating-earth

    GMBM GMBM GMBM GMBM GMBM GMBM – who cares? those are the appropriate initials. General Manager Brian MacLellan.

  • Shaun Phillips

    My bad Ian. I remember your initial post being more negative (maybe it was my own initial reaction), just re-read it and it’s not. I still get a slight negative vibe from Chris’s article though (from the initial quote choice and title).

    Notice you didn’t take offense to my characterization of your opinion on Trotz. 😉

    That was a steal to get something for Halak who was gone regardless.

  • OlietheGoalie

    I’m hesitant at best. Yeah, he makes it seem like he knows what was wrong, but talk is just talk.

  • BenB

    Eric, I appreciate your take. Some good points.

  • Feds91

    Gm Gm Jr also fits

  • HockeyCoachBen

    The simple fact that Uncle Teddy was surprised enough by MacLellan’s negative comments during his interview to hire him for the job demonstrates how terrible of an owner Ted actually is…and how terribly delusional he is with the current state of affairs with his team.

    Likewise, the fact that the Caps would admit that Trotz was the only candidate that they ever considered for the head coaching job and only candidate that they interviewed means the GM hiring was more of a convenience than a thought-out process like we were promised. The combined press conference proves that as well. The GM wasn’t hired before the coach and probably got his job after agreeing with the newly hired coach. There was no process in deciding on the new head coach, and there was no process in deciding on the new GM. Well done, Ted. Well done.

  • Red

    Ted wasn’t surprised by the negative comments. He was surprised by the fact that they came from a GM applicant….during the job interview. I think we can all admit that was a ballsy and uncommon approach. It seems to me MacLellan tried hard to distinguish himself from GMGM and succeeded in doing so.

    Trotz is clearly the best coach currently available. Kudos to GMac for realizing that and going after him aggressively. After a slew of inexperienced rookie coaches, it was inevitable that (right or wrong) the management would pursue a proven coach with some years behind the bench. Barry is simply the best candidate for the job. So we got him.

  • HockeyCoachBen

    Trotz was the best candidate CURRENTLY available. The Caps had the opportunity to interview and/or hire another highly qualified candidate in Peter Laviolette. But they never gave him the time of day.

    Ted said at the press conference, Trotz was their singular focus from Day 1 of the off-season. If that is the case, why did it matter what GM was hired? And why make a show of saying the GM would be hired first then the GM would decide on a coach? That clearly never happened considering Ted & Dick decided from Day 1 that Trotz was the new coach. The GM has nothing to do with it!

    And for all of the negative comments that MacLellan ever made, why was the horrendous defense not on that list? Maybe because he was directly involved in the assembly of the current roster?

  • Fred Merc

    Ted also stressed GMMac’s emphasis on “selling high”.
    I have got to think Mac gave some examples to Ted that Ted approves of:

    I will just ignore the $124 elephant in the room.

    Brouwer – He had a good year and could be considered at his high compared to the future. Also would free up top 6 spot for Wilson.

    Ward – definitely at his high value wise, but he is a Trotz guy and the kind of guy we need for our team concept going forward.

    Laich – This would be selling low, unless Pierre Macguire makes an offer.

    Nobody on defense would be considered at their high value wise, except the 2 guys you would want to keep: Carlzner.

    Maybe some prospect that looks really good, but the org has determined will not live up to potential?

  • Owen Johnson

    Yikes! Yeah that sucks about him. Almost as bad as what happened to Ducky from Land Before Time (don’t look that up. It’ll ruin your day).
    So is he gonna call Barry Trots “T-Bone” or “Coco the Monkey?”

  • Dark Stranger

    MacLellan’s playing career seems to be a parallel of man known as Sasha Minor. He was considered “enigmatic” and “going through the motions” and, when fired up, could take over a game. And having a great shot, including a great wrist shot. And, like Sasha who was criticized by Troy Brouwer, Matt Bradley, and others, had his work ethic criticized by Shawn Simpson. I figure the criticism for both guys (MacLellan and Semin) is greatly overblown and points out so many times that those who don’t fit the mold in hockey, personality wise or style wise, get criticized. MacLellan sounded like a “low key” personality plus he was a big guy who didn’t play a physical style. Given the winnowing process that goes on with pro athletes, no guy with a “bad” work ethic would actually last in the NHL for any length of time. They might make it but not stay for very long since there are so many guys waiting to take their job. (Interesting, I once read “10 Things About a Player” and one time Semin was the feature and his answer to “Profession I Want to Try” was to become a GM.

  • Justin Collins

    Lavi was snatched up pretty quick and I think most would say Trotz is better anyway. And I don’t think they really “made a show of saying the GM would be hired first”, they just said that ideally that’s how it would go. Once Lavi was off the market and they knew Trotz was so interested in coming here it would have been a pretty big mistake to let him slip away don’t you think? Lastly, Mac(and Trotz as well) have definitely commented on the defense being a problem so maybe you need to go back and watch the presser and interviews again. Mac has even specifically said he doesn’t think Carrick should have been up from Hershey so much.

  • Pat Magee

    Why hasn’t he re-signed Grabo yet?

  • Jalabar

    To be fair, while not many ever were critical of Brooks Laich the player, who when healthy is one of the most versatile players in the NHL, there were quite a few naysayers when it came to Mr. Laich’s contract.

  • Jalabar

    Specifically at the presser, Ted said one of the things that most impressed him about Mac was he came in and said “Here are the vital things that need to change, starting with you guys in ownership”, and then let Ted know what HE could do to be a better owner. Mac said he had nothing to lose, figuring a new guy would probably clean house. His rooms, anyway. And certainly, while he may not have said it outright, affecting those changes would make HIS job easier if he got the promo. Bold move.

  • Jalabar

    I so want someone to ask him specifically about Grabo. We have had fill ins, between guys who were passable but too old when we got them (Arnott and Feds), and guys who were great at times, at times not so much (Ribs, Belanger, BMo, Brooks, etc). Grabo FILLS the #2 center spot with a young, dynamic, damn good-at-the-price player. If he doesn’t resign Grabo, or make every effort, they’ll need a Cup to convince me he’s competent.

  • Jalabar

    I just call him Mac.

  • Red

    The management made the right move by not hiring a coach ahead of the General Manager. That would break the chain of command and undermine the authority of the incoming GM. Keeping in mind the dysfunctionality of our previous GM/coach pairs, it was hugely important to begin the new relationship on the right foot; with a focus on communication and concurrence. Trotz also said that he would’ve never agreed to a position in a franchise without a GM in place. A savvy decision – one that denotes intelligence and underlines the fact that Barry is not desperate for the job.

    Laviolette IS highly qualified. However, he presided over a flailing team in Philly that is eerily similar to our own in terms of structure and roster. They are stacked with high-end talent up front, including a high profile superstar. They are weak in the back end and cannot roll 4 lines effectively due to a significant drop-off in skill. They’ve vaguely experimented with various systems to no avail. Why hire a coach who has failed given the exact ingredients that your team possesses?