Capitals Begin Quest For New Identity With Brian MacLellan, Barry Trotz

Posted on May 27, 2014 by Elliott Smith

It might not be the best way to make a first impression on your potential boss, but Brian MacLellan figured he didn't have anything to lose when he went in to interview for the Capitals' general manager position, so he decided on a strategy of brutal honesty with owner Ted Leonsis. 

"He led off with some of the things I have to do to be a better owner," Leonsis said. "I thought that was very brave and very astute."

Barry Trotz said he had known right away that after a 15-year tenure with the Nashville Predators, joining a franchise with as much potential as the Capitals was too good to pass up, even if he could have gotten better offers. 

"You see the rabid fan base," Trotz said. "You see the quality of people they have, the talent level … and I got really excited about having the opportunity to come back to Washington and working with people, not for people. When I met this group, I was pretty well sold, and I told my representative, 'Do what you can to get me here.' "

On May 27, the Capitals introduced MacLellan as the team's senior vice president and general manager as well as Trotz as the new head coach in moves that Leonsis said were the first steps in building a new identity as a franchise and as a team.

MacLellan's hiring stunned many hockey insiders, given the fact that he was not on the radar for the position, and Leonsis had stated his desire to get a fresh set of eyes on the franchise after the 17-year reign of George McPhee as the team's general manager. MacLellan, 55, has been with Washington since 2000 and served as McPhee's top assistant for the last seven years. 

The Capitals talked to about 15 people, according to team president Dick Patrick, and MacLellan impressed with his knowledge of the cap, advanced statistics, scouting and ability to work with agents, so much so that Leonsis was willing to shift his thinking. 

"This was not the intention in any way," Leonsis said of an in-house candidate. 

MacLellan, a 10-year NHL pro, teared up later when talking about his relationship with McPhee, but insisted during the press conference that his hiring was not a case of the Capitals reinforcing the status quo. 

"I'm a different person," MacLellan said, "a different personality, have different experiences, different education, different playing experiences, and all of that stuff forms your attitude and philosophies. We're good friends, and we've grown up together, but we've evolved differently."

Trotz, 51, was considered to be one of the prime coaching candidates on the market, and the Caps moved accordingly. He was the only coach they interviewed, and Leonsis and Patrick acted to wrap him up as quickly as possible. Trotz becomes the 17th coach in franchise history, and the fourth during the past 31 months following the ouster of Adam Oates. 

Trotz is learning about his new charges, and he said he recognized that most of the pieces were in place for a quality roster. 

"I always say that you don't know until you own it, so my first priority is to reach out to all existing staff members and all the players and find out more about the group," he said. "That's where it starts. From an outsider, from 20,000 feet, there's a lot of talent, especially up front. 

"It's exciting. They're in their sort of window where they still have lots of growth. There's pretty good depth. They've drafted pretty well, and I'll get a chance to work with these young men. I knew what I was getting into."

Trotz has a reputation as a defensive-oriented coach, which would seem to be an ill fit with the Capitals' offense-first philosophy, but Trotz said there's a happy medium. 

"The team takes on the identity of their top players," he said. "When I was in Nashville, my top players were Pekka Rinne, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, so you sort of take on that identity and play to your strengths. The strengths of this hockey team are they have some really dynamic forwards. They've got size. They've got good depth and some good leadership. I don't want to take anything away from the Capitals offensively. 

"I'm going to tell the players this: When you have the puck, I want you to make good decisions, I want you to score some goals and I want you to be hard on people with the puck. If we don't have it, I want to get it back, so we can re-attack. That's good defense. Defense is about getting the puck quickly so you can do something offensively. We just need balance. They need some balance in the game."

All parties involved agree that this new regime is in charge of getting the Caps back up to lofty heights, not tearing the franchise down to begin again. 

"Both Brian and Barry have been very straightforward with us with fact-based, go-forward plans and not being in love with what you have, and being very open-minded and welcoming change," Leonsis said. "That doesn't mean rebuild. We are not rebuilding the team, but we are going to refresh the team."

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