In his first meeting with reporters since committing nearly $70 million to three free agents this month, Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said the new regime under General Manager Brian MacLellan and Coach Barry Trotz addressed exactly what they targeted this offseason.
“As an owner, you set strategy and vision and budget,” he said. “Then you have to enable your people to do things. I green-lit that we could spend every dollar we could for goaltending and defense. That was my input.”
Now just $1.1 million shy of the salary cap, the Capitals gave a combined $69.65 million to defenseman Matt Niskanen, defenseman Brooks Orpik and goaltender Justin Peters on July 1, the first day of free agency. And while MacLellan, that day, described a busy scene inside the team offices, hustling between rooms for contractual approval, Leonsis seems to have taken a more hands-off approach, trusting in his two hires to make the ultimate calls.
“In fact, I think it was more that Mac would inform us in what he was going to do,” Leonsis said. We told him when we hired him, as we did, you and the coaches make the decisions. You need to be totally in sync. With the players that we signed, the players that we draft, you have to be in total sync. So far, so good on that. I think that’s a good move in a positive direction to have the organization all signing from the same songbook.”
Leonsis spoke Saturday on the final day of Capitals development camp, before Niskanen took the podium and Trotz followed soon after. Washington’s most dire need this offseason came on the blue line. Leonsis said that Niskanen and Orpik – both former Penguins – give the Capitals an unfamiliar but welcome situation on the blue line.
“Right now, I think this is the deepest defensive corps that we’ve had since I’ve owned the team,” Leonsis said. “We have a lot of depth and we needed that just to settle things down in the back. We certainly needed help on our penalty kill. And I think the better, more experienced the defense is, the better the goaltending is. I think they go hand in hand. Free agency, the upside on free agency is that you get to add players to the team without giving up an asset.”
As for his first impressions of the relationship between MacLellan, a rookie general manager promoted from within, and Trotz, a veteran who spent 15 seasons as the only coach in Nashville Predators history, Leonsis said the distance he’s kept from internal discussions has prevented him from identifying a culture change under the new staff, but he’s nonetheless been impressed with the workings thus far.
“Bluntly, I’m not with any of the coaches all the time to see what they’re doing behind the scenes,” Leonsis said. “The few times that he’s communicated to me, he’s been very, very organized and formal. As I said, he has a big body of work and it’s been successful and he knows how he wants to do it, he knows the people he wants. I think the tonality is going to be very fast and he wants you to work really, really hard when you’re on the ice. He wants our best players to be the first ones here and the last ones off the ice. He’s going to be very diligent in that.”
As for the staff assembled by Trotz, a blend of right-hand men (Lane Lambert and Mitch Korn), in-house retentions (Blaine Forsythe) and outside voices (Todd Reirden), Leonsis returned to the offseason signings as proof of the building relationship.
“It’s wonderful to have people join us, coaches join us who have experience in the league,” Leonsis said. “And that’s a little different than what we had previously in that the assistant coaches or the coaches behind the bench have worked in the League and know the players. They have a high level of regard for the head coach and they wanted to be here. Defensively, bringing in these two free agents, there was total alignment from the assistant coaches and the head coach and the general manager. They’re all excited that we were able to execute that.”