June 19, 2018

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.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP


  1. I heard MacLennan is lazy. Like Ovie playing defense lazy. So much for a fresh start. He’ll be gone in 3 years. Maybe two.

  2. AlbertHall says:

    Choosing MacLellan is certainly NOT the safe, comfortable decision. As Leonsis said, he had never even spoken with him before. This could be fantastic choice or a dud. Time will tell.

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