December 4, 2021

Washington Capitals draft strategy underwhelming

The Washington Capitals entered the 2014 offseason with glaring deficiencies on their roster at center and defense. One big opportunity to address those deficiencies — for the long-term — is the NHL Draft, concluded over the weekend.

Unfortunately, and somewhat head-scratchingly, the Caps failed to address either position in the draft, opting once again to draft smallish wingers and trade away picks to move up five spots to draft an unheralded European goalie, who — not coincidentally — played with their first round pick on the Czech national team.

Considering new GM Brian MacLellan’s recent comments about “drafting your centers” and free agent Mikhail Grabovski’s contract demands being “prohibitive,” it’s puzzling that the new boss didn’t select a single true center in the draft.

Granted, players drafted over the weekend won’t contribute to NHL rosters for several seasons — if at all — it’s still hard to imagine the team not picking any true centermen or defensemen.

The Capitals new boss has made several public statements that have segments of the Caps fan base edgy. At his introductory press conference, he said he felt the organization needed a “refresh”, not a rebuild, comments echoed by the owner, Ted Leonsis.

He intimated that the current roster underperformed last season and that new coach Barry Trotz would most certainly be able to get more out of the players on hand than former coach Adam Oates.

Leading up to the draft, he revealed the team has no plans to buyout either Brooks Laich ($4.5 million) or Mike Green ($6.083 million) for the upcoming season. Then just prior to the draft, he made his remarks concerning Grabovski.

MacLellan then followed all that up with drafting six wingers (none bigger than 6’1″ or weighing more than 190 lbs.) and trading away a pick to move up five spots to select the eighth-ranked European goalie available (not eighth overall available) in the middle of the second round.

Later in the draft, they traded up again to select Nathan Walker, a winger that played in Hershey last season with middling statistics (5 g, 6 a) in 43 games. Granted, Walker’s story is great, as he tries to become the first Australian to play in the NHL, but his story is better than his prospect status.

But really, what says status quo more than drafting a player that played in your organization last season?

For a team that missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years last season, so far there doesn’t seem to be much change in the air.

MacLellan certainly has plenty of time, and over $12 million in cap space, this offseason to address needs of the big league club. With the start of free agency opening July 1, we may get a better handle on how he’s leaning.

But from everything he’s said and what’s transpired thus far, Caps fans might want to prepare themselves for being underwhelmed.

MacLellan’s first decision not enough to judge him on

With the NHL offseason now officially underway, the window for compliance buyouts has opened and Brian MacLellan faces his first question as general manager of the Washington Capitals. He answered that question resolutely on Tuesday and closed the door on the possibility that the team would choose to use its second compliance buy out.

“I don’t think it would make sense for any of our players that we pursue that path,” he said. [Read more…]

Caps Weekly–Capitals name MacLellan and Trotz as GM and Coach

In the first half of today’s show, Dave Nichols of District Sports Page talks with Katie Brown and J.J. Regan, DSP’s Caps writers, about the Washington Capitals hiring of Brian MacLellan as GM and Barry Trotz as head coach.

In the second half of the show, Dave is joined by Sky Kerstein of 106.7 The Fan and Adam Vingan of NHL.com to discuss the Caps new front office and the changes in the organization.

Listen To Hockey Internet Radio Stations with DistrictSportsPage Caps Weekly on BlogTalkRadio

In Trotz, Caps get best coach on the market

On Tuesday, the Washington Capitals introduced Brian MacLellan as their new general manager. Also introduced was…some other guy with some kind of bench role with the team. Finally when a reporter asked who the individual sitting next to MacLellan was, we learned it was actually the team’s new coach, Barry Trotz.

At least, that’s what it felt like.

With all the talk and scrutiny surrounding MacLellan, Trotz taking over as the Caps’ new bench boss has been pushed below the fold (that’s a newspaper reference from back when there was such a thing). Yet, MacLellan’s ability to build the team back into a contender will matter little if the Caps cannot play like one on the ice.

While MacLellan’s hire has left many scratching their heads, there is no such confusion over why the Caps pursued Trotz. Here’s a list of reasons Caps’ fans should be happy with the new coach:

Comes in with a successful track record

In his 15 seasons as the head coach for the Nashville Predators, Trotz compiled an impressive 557 regular season wins and made the playoffs seven times. These numbers may not jump off the page, but given the financial constraints of a team like Nashville, it is extremely impressive.

Trotz made an expansion team into a hardworking, successful franchise and he did it without major financial support.

The Caps have tried repeatedly to find the new up-and-coming coach and it was successful to a point, but with the team still trying to keep their championship window open, the time for experimenting is over.

The last coach the team hired who had prior NHL head coaching experience was Ron Wilson and he brought the team to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Caps have had five coaches since then with Trotz being the sixth.

They needed someone who has already proven himself and they got the best coach on the market.

His strengths are an antithesis to the last coaches’ major weaknesses

Trotz has been described as the type of coach who will hold all of his players accountable (unlike Bruce Boudreau) and as a great communicator (unlike Dale Hunter).

Though he has been described as a defensive minded coach and is taking over a team full of offensive talent, he made it clear in Tuesday’s press conference that he intends to mold his philosophy around the team and its strengths.

That is music to the ears of Caps fans who watched last season as Adam Oates made a myriad of bizarre and foolhardy decisions all in the name of his philosophy.

Whatever his strategy may have been in the past, he emphasized he would is not here to drastically change the team’s philosophy.

“You play to your strengths,” Trotz said to reporters.

It sounds simple, but let’s not forget that Hunter had Ovechkin riding the bench and Oates allowed his philosophy to trump common sense. Trotz will not be so hard-headed.

He is a very likeable person

You don’t have to listen to Trotz for very long to realize he’s an affable guy. If you’re still not sold, read the story of him talking hockey with a Caps fan in the Nashville airport or watch the video of him answering questions at a postgame press conference with his son who has Down’s syndrome because “he needs some dad time.”

Why does that matter?

Dan Bylsma is likely on his way out in Pittsburgh for losing the team even though he won a Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh. Bourdeau lost the locker room after four seasons; Trotz lasted in Nashville for 15.

In his time in Nashville, the players rarely if ever had a negative thing to say about their coach. Having a coach the players want to play for is important, especially as we ponder what to do with Ovechkin.

Ovechkin and the rest of the team are going to love playing for Trotz and that is not something I think the majority of the team could say of any coach since the early Boudreau years. The players are going to buy what Trotz is selling and they will be successful for it.

Capitals looking to refresh, not rebuild, with MacLellan & Trotz hires

“I didn’t think I had anything to lose,” Caps GM Brian MacLellan,
on his interviews with Caps braintrust.

“Refresh.”

That’s how Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis referred to the current reorganization of his franchise. During his almost 20 minutes of opening remarks at the introductory press conference for new general manager Brian MacLellan and head coach Barry Trotz, Mr. Leonsis did everything he could to convey to the fans of the Caps that this wasn’t going to be a dismantling; the team is closer to contending than they appeared last season.

Now, we can debate that all we like. Astute hockey fans know that the Capitals had a lot of problems last season, including — first and foremost — the proclivity to give up many more shots than they took.

Trotz’ coaching style and systems should help in that regard. But the bottom line is that he needs the players to make those systems work.

MacLellan’s laundry list is long. This team needs at least two dependable, veteran defensive-minded defensemen to pair with their credible puck-moving defensemen. They need a talented scorer, one preferably that does his work in the goal crease, to put on the first line with Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom. They need to re-sign Mikhail Grabovski and let him center the second line, like what should have been the plan all along last season. They need to sign a veteran goalie to backup, not challenge, Braden Holtby.

And there’s more. But that’s fodder for another post.

Seriously though, the primary directive should be getting the entire organization on the same page.

We heard all four men that spoke Tuesday (Leonsis, MacLellan, Trotz and team president Dick Patrick) allude to the fact that communications in the organization had become fractured. There was no clear message from top to bottom. Hell, Leonsis admitted to the fact that he’d never spoken with MacLellan, his employee of over 13 years, for more than a handshake at a draft or two.

But Leonsis liked what he heard during MacLellan’s two interview sessions.

“I’ll tell you, his was the most negative of the interviews,” Leonsis said. “There’s a great quote, ‘With familiarity comes contempt.’ I liked that brutal honesty that he brought.

“When you have confidence in yourself to tell people what they don’t want to hear. … I thought that was a very strong, brave voice. I had never heard that before.

“To me, Brian was a new voice and frankly, he had the most aggressive viewpoint on what we had to do to move forward.”

MacLellan, for his part, responded to those comments with self-deprecation.

“I didn’t think I had anything to lose,” he said. “The important point I was trying to make is that the team feels it when there’s a disconnect and not a unified philosophy from ownership to manager to coach. I thought all three of us have to have a team approach moving forward.”

And what about that unified philosophy? Again, the four men on the dais agreed there were certain tenets they wanted the Capitals going forward to be about.

Consistency. Responsibility. Accountability.

All three are great hockey buzzwords. But you didn’t have to spend 82 games watching the Caps last season to know that they were missing at various times during the year. Long-time Caps scholars will note that the team hasn’t had a singular philosophy since the President’s Trophy Caps of 2010 were dumped by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of that season’s playoffs.

Since then, we’ve seen this organization and team all over the map. Then-coach Bruce Boudreau and GM George McPhee abandoned Boudreau’s balls-to-the-wall outlook for some sort of hybrid system. They essentially allowed the Canadian media to dictate how this team was to be run, because there’s no way Boudreau’s offense-all-the-time system would ever win in the playoffs, despite its obvious success in the regular season.

Anyway, since then we’ve seen coaches and players come and go, searching on the fly for a combination that would unlock the talent that the players on the team are seemingly in possession of. Meanwhile, things on the ice just kept getting worse.

Dale Hunter’s coin-flip hockey got them one game away from the Eastern Conference finals, but his “plows-on-thoroughbreds” system didn’t make the best use of the assembled talent, and he wanted to get back to the family farm anyway. Adam Oates’ success on the power play masked deficiencies in almost every single other phase of the game. And meanwhile, McPhee kept trading assets for spare parts, akin to putting bubble gum on leaks in the dike.

Now, according to all involved, those types of communications blunders aren’t going to happen.

“It has to be a relationship that works,” MacLellan said. “Any move we make, Barry has to be in line with it or we don’t make the call. If I want to see a guy come up [from the minors] and evaluate him, Barry has to be in line with that.

“He can’t say, ‘No, I’m not going to play him.’ And I need to know what Barry wants, too.”

For Trotz, the emphasis is going to be getting the players on the ice to buy into the team’s philosophies, as much as it is the X’s and O’s.

“Every good team, players, they’ll tell you they want accountability,” Trotz said. “Any foundation, you look at the four teams who are playing in the [Stanley Cup] final, they’re hard-working, hard-to-play-against teams. We want to get to that level.

“And the foundation is going to be hard work. There’s enough skill here. The accountability, not only to the coach but to each other. I think that’s more important. The core, the answer to us going really far is in the group. If you want to go fast, you go by yourself. If you want to go far, you go with the group. And this group has a lot of capabilities to go forward.”

Some form of these words have been said over and over as long as NHL franchises have been hiring coaches and executives. Will this combination — MacLellan and Trotz — be the group that gets this collection of talented but erratic players to believe in the mantra of hard work and team? And will MacLellan be able to supply Trotz with the correct pieces to fill out that talented but erratic roster?

Caps Promote MacLellan: Inspired or status quo?

[ed. The original version of the post misspelled Brian MacLellan’s name in several places (including the headline!). We apologize for the poor copy editing.]

During the press conference announcing that George McPhee would not be retained as general manager of the Washington Capitals, owner Ted Leonsis and team president Dick Patrick both spoke of the organization needing a “new direction” with the general manager position.

From the press release, attributed to Mr. Leonsis: “This is an important time for our organization, and I feel a change is needed in order to get us back to being a top echelon team that competes for the Stanley Cup.”

Mr. Leonsis then went on the radio and told 106.7 The Fan the following:

“And so you come to that realization that our upside is being capped now, and we’re probably better served at bringing in a fresh set of eyes and a fresh set of voices, and empowering a new team, a new group of executives, and listening to them, and listening to what they would do, because all we want to do is win a Stanley Cup.”

Monday, we found out who will be that “fresh set of eyes.” We got a name for the “new group of executives.” It’s someone who isn’t fresh or new at all.

The Capitals promoted assistant general manager Brian MacLellan — a college teammate of George McPhee’s and a Caps’ employee for 13 years — to senior vice-president and general manager. They also hired Barry Trotz, a long-time coach in the Caps’ system, as the new head coach.

Trotz has 15 years of experience as a head coach in the NHL and has a reputation that says he will bring intensity, structure and discipline to the ice. All of those things are good. Trotz will demand a commitment to a two-way system, stressing responsibility to team – and teammates.

MacLellan has no history other than first filling multiple roles in the Caps developmental system, then as George McPhee’s protégé.

I don’t want to be critical without acknowledging that the hiring of MacLellan might be an inspired choice. He is said to be well-versed in analytics and “fancy stats” and he owns an MBA and worked at an investment consulting firm before beginning his career as an executive in the NHL. Those things are good.

But we don’t have any idea because he’s never had that opportunity to be the decision-maker. He has no track record.

What we do know is that when given the opportunity to make the most important hire in the history of his franchise, Mr. Leonsis played it safe, hiring the in-house candidate.

There are several GM jobs available around the NHL. Did anyone see MacLellan’s name on the list of interviewees? Was he considered a “hot commodity” assistant, like Brad Treliving (now GM in Calgary), Jim Benning in Boston, Jason Botterill in Pittsburgh, among others?

Much less, did anyone see MacLellan’s name among veteran GMs looking for work, like Ray Shero and Craig Button.

“After conducting an extensive search for a general manager, we determined that Brian was the best candidate to help us reach our ultimate goal, winning the Stanley Cup,” Leonsis said via press release Monday. “

“We have witnessed his abilities firsthand, and we have tremendous respect for how he manages people and situations. We feel he has relevant, in-depth knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of our franchise and will be forceful in addressing them. Brian always has displayed tremendous professionalism, passion and commitment to the Capitals. He has his own unique approach, and we are confident in his abilities to lead this organization to new heights.”

MacLellan, as assistant GM, was in charge of pro scouting. Isn’t that one of the places most folks would look on this team as say, ‘Aren’t they overestimating their own guys?’ One would have to assume MacLellan played an instrumental part in evaluating players for returns on trades. Isn’t that another area where the Caps have had a red flag during the McPhee administration?

I get that we don’t have the best idea of what MacLellan brings to the table. He might have had his ideas shot down by McPhee… or Leonsis. But that’s sort of the point.

The Capitals organization had the opportunity to show all of hockey, and the fans in this market, just how serious it was to compete for a Stanley Cup. By staying in-house and hiring an assistant GM that wasn’t on anyone else’s radar, they certainly made a statement.

Mr. Leonsis and Mr. Patrick made the safe, comfortable decision. They chose to promote from within rather than bring in a truly outside voice, one that might question decisions and offer counter opinions to the group-think at Kettler.

For those that wanted true change, they will be sorely disappointed with this hire. Only time will tell if it was the right decision.

D.C has only been waiting for 40 years.

Capitals promote Brian MacLellan to GM, hire Barry Trotz as head coach

The search for a new general manager and coach in Washington has come to an end. Monday afternoon, the Capitals announced that they were promoting current assistant general manager, Brian MacLellan, to general manager, and hiring Barry Trotz as head coach, confirming reports that surfaced Saturday evening that said Trotz was headed to Washington.

It was not anticipated that the Capitals would hire a coach before a general manager, so when speculation arose that Trotz was expected to be hired, but the Capitals, it seemed logical that the organization would promote from within.

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Washington Capitals have promoted Brian MacLellan to senior vice president and general manager and named Barry Trotz as the team’s coach, majority owner Ted Leonsis and president Dick Patrick announced today.

Ted Leonsis:
“We are extremely pleased to name Brian MacLellan the team’s general manager and welcome Barry Trotz to Washington as the Capitals coach,” said Leonsis. “After conducting an extensive search for a general manager, we determined that Brian was the best candidate to help us reach our ultimate goal, winning the Stanley Cup. We have witnessed his abilities firsthand, and we have tremendous respect for how he manages people and situations. We feel he has relevant, in-depth knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of our franchise and will be forceful in addressing them. Brian always has displayed tremendous professionalism, passion and commitment to the Capitals. He has his own unique approach, and we are confident in his abilities to lead this organization to new heights.

“We are also excited to welcome Barry back to the Capitals organization. Barry is a highly respected and accomplished coach who brings us a wealth of experience. He possesses high character and the exact leadership qualities we look for in the head coach. He was the only coach we coveted, and we feel he is an ideal fit to help lead our club.”

Dick Patrick:
“After interviewing a number of extremely well qualified and capable candidates outside of the organization, we became even more confident that Brian is the best person to lead our hockey club,” said Patrick. “He possesses the necessary skill set that is required for this position and has the vision that we believe will give us a realistic chance of consistently competing for the Stanley Cup. In Barry, we are getting an experienced and well-respected coach whose presence and tutelage will benefit our players. With these moves we believe we took a big step forward in assembling a great leadership group that will be in synch and in alignment for our hockey team.”

Brian MacLellan:
“I am extremely honored and excited about the opportunity I have been given with the Capitals,” said MacLellan. “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. Also, it is a great pleasure to welcome Barry to Washington as the new head coach of the Capitals. 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.”

Barry Trotz:
“I am very excited to join the Washington Capitals and want to thank Ted Leonsis, Dick Patrick and Brian MacLellan for this opportunity,” said Trotz. “This is a great organization with a strong foundation and a tremendous fan base. I look forward to working with this group of talented players and the quality front office staff this team has assembled.”

MacLellan, 55, becomes the sixth general manager in the Capitals history after spending the past 13 seasons with Washington, seven as the team’s assistant general manager, player personnel. In his previous role MacLellan oversaw the club’s professional scouting staff and worked closely with the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Hershey Bears, who won the Calder Cup in 2006, 2009 and 2010. MacLellan, who served as a pro scout for the Capitals from 2000-03 and then was promoted to director of player personnel, assisted and advised the general manager in all player-related matters.

MacLellan, who won a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989, had a 10-year NHL career in which he skated for the Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, Minnesota North Stars, Calgary Flames and Detroit Red Wings. A forward who played 606 NHL games, MacLellan recorded 172 goals, 241 assists and 413 points. MacLellan also won a silver medal with Team Canada at the 1985 World Championship in Prague.

The Guelph, Ontario, native played hockey at Bowling Green State University from 1978-82, where he graduated with a bachelor of science in business administration. In 1982 he was named an All-America defenseman and First-Team All-CCHA. MacLellan earned his MBA in finance from the University of St. Thomas in 1995 and went on to work for an investment consulting firm in Minneapolis before joining the Capitals as a pro scout.

Trotz, 51, becomes the 17th coach in Capitals history and joins Washington after spending 15 seasons as coach of the Nashville Predators. Trotz was previously the longest tenured coach in the NHL and only coach in the Predators history. Trotz has put himself among some legendary names, ranking third all-time in both games coached (1,196) and wins (557) with a single franchise. He also ranks 15th on the NHL’s coaching victories list and fourth among active coaches behind only Joel Quenneville (Chicago), Ken Hitchcock (St. Louis) and Lindy Ruff (Dallas).

Trotz is one of just six coaches in all four major North American sports leagues to have coached or managed each of a team’s first 15 seasons of existence (MLB: Connie Mack – 50, Oakland; NFL Curly Lambeau – 29, Green Bay, Tom Landry -29, Dallas, Hank Stram – 15, Kansas City, Paul Brown – 15, Cleveland). Trotz has also been the finalist for the Jack Adams Award, awarded annually to the NHL’s top head coach, twice in the last five seasons (2010 and 2011) while finishing in the top 5 on four other occasions since 2006.

Prior to joining the Predators, Trotz spent five seasons (1992-97) as the coach of the Capitals’ primary developmental affiliate in the American Hockey League. He was named coach of the Baltimore Skipjacks in 1992 after one season as an assistant coach. Following the franchise’s relocation to Portland, Maine, in 1993, he led the Portland Pirates to two Calder Cup finals appearances during the next four seasons. In 1994-95, Trotz coached Portland to a Calder Cup championship and a league-best 43-27-10 record and captured AHL Coach of the Year honors. In 2006 he was honored with election to the Pirates’ Hall of Fame.

Trotz earned the first of his back-to-back Jack Adams nominations in 2009-10 when he was runner-up for the award after leading his club to a 100-point season (47-29-6) despite the NHL’s 28th-highest payroll. Trotz was again nominated for the award in 2011-12 after guiding the Predators to the fifth seed in the Western Conference (44-27-11 record) despite losing 348 man-games due to injury, a number that ranked among the top three in the league, and being the fifth youngest roster down the stretch and the youngest among playoff teams. That success continued in 2011-12 when he finished fifth in Adams voting after steering the team to their third-best record in franchise history and to top 10 rankings in goals for (eighth), goals against (eighth), power-play percentage (first) and penalty-kill percentage (10th). On Nov. 12, 2011, against the Montreal Canadiens, he hit the 1,000-game milestone, and on March 30, 2012, reached the 500-win mark.

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