After a month-long search, the Washington Capitals have decided who will be the next to lead them behind the bench and in the front office.
Washington named Brian MacLellan general manager and Barry Trotz coach Monday, giving the organization familiarity and experience, respectively, as it aims to usher in a new era.
MacLellan, 55, has been a fixture in Washington for the past 13 seasons, serving first as a pro scout, then director of player personnel and, for the past seven seasons, assistant general manager under George McPhee. Promoting MacLellan doesn’t fulfill what owner Ted Leonsis explained in April as a need for a “fresh set of eyes and new voice” to assess the team, given that the Guelph, Ontario native has been involved with Washington since 2000.
“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,” Leonsis wrote on his blog “Ted’s Take” Monday evening. “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.”
But even with his close ties to McPhee – they were teammates at Bowling Green University from 1978 to ’82 long before they worked together in Washington – MacLellan has a player-development background, and it’s unclear how much their approaches to building a team will overlap. In the weeks since McPhee was fired after 17 years at the helm, MacLellan served as interim general manager and made a few moves including trading pending unrestricted free agent Jaroslav Halak to the Islanders and renewing Washington’s AHL affiliation with the Hershey Bears.
There is uncertainty with all first-time general managers, because they’ve never held the top job before and there’s no track record to evaluate. But in selecting MacLellan, the Capitals opted for an unknown they’re familiar with rather than bringing in someone new from the outside. As a player, MacLellan appeared in 606 NHL games during a 10-year career that included winning the Stanley Cup with Calgary in 1989.
“Over the course of my career I have worked in acquiring the necessary skills to excel in this position. We have built a solid foundation, and I look forward to implementing my ideas to get us back to competing for the Stanley Cup,” MacLellan said in a news release in which he also welcomed Trotz to Washington. “Barry’s teams have always played with structure, discipline and intensity, and I look forward to him leading us to success for many years to come.”
Trotz, 51, spent the past 15 seasons as coach in Nashville. When he was fired in April after the Predators failed to reach the playoffs for a second consecutive season, the Manitoba native quickly became a highly-sought-after candidate for every team with a vacancy behind the bench.
“This is a great organization with a strong foundation and a tremendous fan base,” Trotz said in a news release. Both he and MacLellan are scheduled to speak with reporters on Tuesday. “I look forward to working with this group of talented players and the quality front office staff this team has assembled.”
Well-respected around the league, Trotz couples a no-nonsense style with demanding expectations, but is viewed as an approachable coach by players. But while Trotz guided the Predators through various stages, from expansion team to postseason threat, in the seven years they qualified for the playoffs, they never advanced beyond the second round. It’s a dubious distinction that is shared by the Alex Ovechkin-era Capitals he is joining.
That’s really all these Capitals and those Predators share, though, bringing us to the biggest question facing Trotz as he moves forward in Washington.
He never worked with offensive thoroughbreds like Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in Nashville, where they groomed defensemen and goaltenders and played a stingy blue-collar style with unquestioned defensive commitment. How he adapts to handle Washington’s top players, and how he builds a relationship with Ovechkin, will be crucial.
Even with his defensive reputation, Trotz explained in a recent interview with The Post that he “like[s] the personnel to dictate the strength” of a team’s strategy. So while Trotz will likely implement a responsible system that makes defense a priority, he’s believed to be more open to a blended style that will work in conjunction with the Capitals’ stars, rather than use them as situation specialists like Dale Hunter did when he benched Ovechkin every time the team was protecting a lead.
However Trotz tackles the Capitals, expect a more structured team that functions as a cohesive unit. During Adam Oates’s two-year tenure, especially last season, Washington often showed a lack of clear direction on the ice, where players didn’t work together within a greater scheme consistently.
It’s also important to note Trotz’s ties to the Capitals and the Washington area. He has a long history with team president Dick Patrick, dating from 1987, when he was a part-time scout with the organization. He went on to spend seven years with Washington’s AHL affiliate, which included both the Baltimore Skipjacks and Portland (Maine) Pirates during his tenure, as an assistant coach (1990-92) and then head coach (1992-97). He led Portland to a Calder Cup Championship in 1994.