Just under a month after firing GM George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates, the Caps have announced their replacements: Brian MacLellan, longtime assistant GM under McPhee, and Barry Trotz, whose 15-season tenure with the Predators came to an end back in April.
It's a fresh start for all involved - and yet there is a familiarity for both MacLellan and Trotz with the Washington Capitals, an organization that has played a significant role in their careers both past and present.
A teammate of George McPhee's at Bowling Green University, MacLellan played ten seasons in the NHL, dressing for the Kings, Rangers, North Stars, Flames (with whom he won a Cup in 1989) and the Red Wings before retiring at the end of the 1991-92 season. Upon completion of his playing career, MacLellan went back to school and earned his MBA, working in the private sector until 2000 when he joined the Caps as a pro scout. He would fill that role for the next four years before being promoted to Assistant GM and Director of Player Personnel.
"Brian is an excellent judge of talent and knows what a winning team needs. He played hockey at many levels, including junior, college, European, minor league and spent 10 seasons in the NHL where he played for a Stanley Cup winning team. Brian is smart, trustworthy and experienced."
With the departure of McPhee last month, it has been MacLellan pulling the strings on some small but key transactions for the team, including making the trade that sent soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Jaroslav Halak to the Islanders for a fourth-round pick, and signing prospect and 2012 draftee Christian Djoos to an entry-level contract.
As for Barry Trotz, he is most known for his work behind the Nashville bench, where he's been since the franchise's inaugural season back in 1997-98 - but Trotz's coaching roots are with the Caps' organization.
Trotz relationship with the Caps began back in 1987, when he worked as a part-time scout for the team while coaching at the University of Manitoba. Three years later he was hired as an assistant with the Caps' former AHL affiliate, the Baltimore Skipjacks, becoming the head coach two years after that. In 1993, he moved with the team from Baltimore to Portland, where he earned Coach of the Year honors while leading the Pirates - including playoff MVP Olie Kolzig - to their first Calder Cup Championship.
With the addition of Trotz, the Caps get a coach with almost 1200 NHL games under his belt - the first time they've hired a coach with any experience as a head coach in the League since Ron Wilson was brought in back in 1997. Trotz's record over that span is fairly impressive (especially considering the budget-conscious environment in which he worked more often than not), compiling 557 wins and making the playoffs seven of the last ten seasons... although he has yet to coach a team past the second round.
While it's hard to argue with their qualifications, there could be a concern (and a legitimate one) that in going what appears to be the safe, low-risk route, the Caps have done very little to change the direction of the team, particularly where the new GM is concerned. MacLellan has been McPhee's right-hand man for over a decade, so whether he will provide enough of a change from McPhee is a valid question the Caps will have to answer. After all, this was a chance for sweeping change and a new vision - will it end up being that?
But safe and low-risk might actually turn out to be a smart move for the Caps; they simply cannot afford to get this one wrong, for any number of reasons. The highly-talented and highly-paid core isn't getting any younger, the fanbase is getting increasingly impatient, and this is not an area where they can swing for the fences... and miss.
In this case, safe does not necessarily equal bad - because while other options for the GM and coach may have had more of an upside, they almost certainly had lower floors, as well. This is not a team that necessarily needs a huge shakeup - at least not yet - and the fact that MacLellan has played a role in crafting that roster could be beneficial, providing a bit of stability and consistency to a team that has radiated anything but in recent years. Meanwhile Trotz, despite his lackluster postseason record, is an incredibly well-respected coach who has developed a reputation for getting a lot out of a little, a coach with a ton of experience yet one who is open to adapting his system to his players rather than the other way around. What a concept.
Whether they are the right men for the job remains to be seen, of course. There are a ton of questions surrounding this team and many of them aren't close to being answered. But in the days, weeks and months to come, we'll start to get a better picture of what each of these men intends to do to right the ship - and whether the safe road was the right road.
Per the team:
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.
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."