Max McNab wiped a tear from his right eye, scooped some papers into a briefcase and left through a side door at Capital Centre yesterday, to share his grief with his wife June.
It was genuine grief, for McNab had often worked 16-hour days and seven-day weeks, taking brief vacations only when ordered, since he became the general manager of the Washington Capitals Dec. 29, 1975.
"I have a tremendous feeling for this franchise," McNab said. "When you're this close to a franchise for this long, you develop a pretty strong love for it. It's like having 21 children. I hope for all the young guys to have their best years."
The pressure had been building on McNab through the team's losing streak and he had made every reasonable effort to stir some of the veteran players out of their apparent lethargy. Although he had no warnings, or ultimatums, before owner Abe Pollin called him with the news of his dismissal at 8:30 a.m. yesterday, it was obvious that unless there was a turnaround, his job was in jeopardy.
"It was just a win-or-lose position, I guess," McNab said. "The pressures of this business start one-half hour after you sign a contract. The game is that good; you live with it. This is a part that tears your heart out, but it's as much a part of the total picture as an overtime goal."
Although the record obviously does not show it, McNab felt that the players he had acquired since last season would provide considerable improvement.
"I'm not going to second-guess myself," he said. "I think everything was reasonably thought out. I feel sorry for Gary (Green). The pain I feel, I feel for him, too. He tried very hard. Whether in the long haul I did him a disservice as to talent and inexperience, I don't know.
"Maybe it's fitting that we go out together. We agreed on all the deals. I guess we just didn't touch the right button. We made a good try, but it's like having a man left on third."
While other clubs dealt away draft choices in quest of immediate help, McNab clung to his top picks and obtained a steady influx of good, young talent. The failure of Robert Picard to develop as a star defenseman was a key blow, however, and this season the Capitals' principal deficiency was lack of a puck-moving defenseman and power-play point man, the role envisioned for Picard.
McNab this time was willing to deal away his No. 1 choice, even should it mean rights to highly touted Brian Bellows, in exchange for that necessary puck mover. But it never happened.
"We talked about it with three clubs," McNab said. "They were all key guys that we were talking about, worthy of being first-round draft choices. There was only one, though, that we were really close on. It goes against my grain, against everything, to trade a No. 1. But we knew this was the year we wanted to acquire that very key man.
"We really did try to acquire the material and I think there is a reasonable nucleus there. I think we'll be all right."
Then he realized that it wasn't "we" anymore. That tear developed and it was time to go. McNab was heading for Boston and the home of his son Peter, the Bruins' center. Peter's wife Diana is expecting her second child today.
"It'll be nice to be there for the second grandchild," McNab said. "I wasn't around when two of my sons were born. This game can keep you from a lot of things that are important."