Ted Leonsis told reporters this week that Washington’s new general manager, Brian MacLellan, began his interview by telling Leonsis how he needs to improve:
“He led off with some of the the things that I have to do to be a better owner,” Leonsis said. “I thought was very brave and very astute because you don’t want to hear things like that. I thought that was very, very straightforward and honest and authentic to him. I was very appreciative of that, because I obviously need to be a better owner.”
That was an interesting nugget. And so is this: local analyst and generally astute hockey man Alan May reported on ESPN 980 this week that one of the things MacLellan counseled Leonsis about was his blog.
“Here’s one of the things,” May told Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro on The Sports Fix. “I’m not being critical of [Leonsis], but he does have his blog. He’s the only owner in the league that really reaches out to people the way he does and communicates with his fan base. And sometimes, I thought during the season, some of the things he articulated in those blogs created some problems around here. It was fodder for the press, and you don’t need to have that. It’s hard enough with the 24-hour news cycle now — the mainstream media guys have to work harder than they’ve ever worked to create content for their online presence, their social media following.
“So you’ve got to kind of end that, and everyone’s got to be on the same page,” May continued. “And silence would be better than just trying to explain yourself sometimes. So I felt that was a positive for Brian MacLellan to say that. And then obviously the general manager and the coach last year were not working in concert, and you could see that all season long. And the coach and the general manager, first and foremost, have to be the tightest duo on the team. They’ve got to work and do everything possible to show a united front, and that’s got to trickle down to the players.”
This was all interesting to me, so I asked Leonsis about it. In an e-mail, the owner wrote that MacLellan “suggested that I blog about team; not about individual players. That I celebrate team success way more than individual success, and that that culture needs to start at the top. I agreed.”
Asked about fan skepticism about MacLellan, May further explained how different the new GM would be from his predecessor. This is lengthy, but it’s the strongest and most specific explanation of MacLellan’s differences from George McPhee I’ve seen, so I’m using it all.
“We have mutual friends, and I heard about him going through the interview process before, and it was incredible what he was able to articulate to Ted Leonsis and Dick Patrick,” May said. “You know, I was a little skeptical at first, because I know how tight he and George have been their entire lives, but he was able to go in there and say how he would do it different. Now it’s just a matter of putting those words to work, and hopefully he does, and I believe that he will. A lot of times [as] an assistant, you have to agree with your boss. You have to be loyal, you have be willing to take a bullet for him, and obviously [MacLellan] did that for years. But he has way different views on how you should do things….
“I look at a guy that was 15th on the depth chart in the interview process and was the only guy that went against the grain,” May said later. “Brian MacLellan knows the organization inside and out. As an assistant general manager, you report directly to your boss, and then the guys that are under you in the field. There wasn’t a lot of contact with Dick Patrick. It was all small talk I’m sure, with Ted Leonsis.
“So for him to come out and say what he did….It’s long been talked about around the National Hockey League that George didn’t talk to agents. And you get to know the temperature of your team by having that communication process. And whether they’re full of it or not, you’ve got to treat those guys [well]. They may have a player you really want that could be that [piece] to get your team there. But if you’re not treating them well, you’re not conversing with them, you’re passing them off to people, that agent is going to sway his player to maybe go play for the Penguins instead of the Capitals.
“So you’ve got to open up and reach out to those people, mend those relationships. I’ve been critical of George on that as well, and I knew that had been going on, but Brian has to take care of that. And I don’t know how many other people knew that that was going on here. He brought that up himself, and that’s something that has to be changed.
“And I can understand why you’re skeptical, but obviously he went in there and did an incredible job of selling his vision, and not saying ‘We’re close’ and ‘We’re all right here’ or ‘We’re all right there.’ He’s not going to do it the same as George. As great of friends as they are, it probably was hard for him to go in there and go against the grain of what George had done for so long. But he did do it. And kudos to Dick Patrick and Ted Leonsis. They knew they were going to just get hammered for making this decision and they still did it, because it wasn’t the popular choice.”