For the first time in 17 years and just the third time in their 40-year history, the Washington Capitals had concurrent openings at the general manager and head coach positions. The Capitals have filled both positions, promoting assistant general manager Brian MacLellan to senior vice president and general manager and hiring longtime Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz as the team’s next head coach.
MacLellan becomes the sixth GM in franchise history while Trotz is the 17th man to run the Washington bench.
Having missed the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in the last seven seasons, the Washington braintrust of majority owner Ted Leonsis and team president Dick Patrick spent nearly two weeks at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season conducting a post-mortem on a disappointing season in which the Capitals – by their own admission – underachieved by about 10 standings points.
On April 26, the Caps announced that they would not renew the contract of vice president and general manager George McPhee after 17 years on the job. The Caps also announced that they had relieved coach Adam Oates of his duties behind the Washington bench. Oates had one year remaining on a three-year contract he signed in the summer of 2012.
Leonsis and Patrick spent the last month interviewing several candidates for the GM vacancy, eventually identifying MacLellan as the man for the job. MacLellan was then instrumental in reaching out to Trotz and getting him to Washington for an interview. Leonsis and Patrick were impressed by the way that MacLellan and Trotz quickly bonded together and shared a similar vision for both the short- and long-term future of the franchise, and ownership had the cohesive duo it was seeking for the relatively rare twin openings.
Washington’s 2013-14 team was good enough to make the playoffs for a seventh straight season, and the nucleus of the team is still in its prime years. Blowing up the 2013-14 edition of the Caps and starting from scratch makes no sense. Clearly, a team that makes the playoffs in six of seven seasons and has a strong core of talented players, but also a team that can’t seem to get over the hump in the playoffs could use a different direction and a different voice.
In promoting MacLellan and hiring Trotz, the Caps believe they’ve identified that direction and that voice.
MacLellan has spent the last 13 seasons in the Capitals’ organization, serving as the team’s assistant general manager for the last seven of those seasons. MacLellan has also served the Capitals as a pro scout and as the team’s director of player personnel.
As the Capitals’ assistant GM, MacLellan advised McPhee on player-related matters, oversaw the team’s professional scouting staff and worked closely with the team’s AHL Hershey affiliate club.
Washington interviewed several potential GM candidates, including many who have held that post with other NHL clubs and several others who aspire to reach that level in the league. MacLellan ‘s time in the organization gives him an excellent feel for what’s right and what’s wrong with the team, and how to best proceed moving forward. That perspective and vision is what set him apart from the remaining candidates.
MacLellan played collegiate hockey at Bowling Green from 1978-82, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. MacLellan broke into the NHL as a player in 1982-83, and went on to play 606 NHL games in a 10-year career with Los Angeles, the New York Rangers, the Minnesota North Stars, Calgary and Detroit. He had two 30-goal seasons in the league and was a member of the 1989 Stanley Cup champion Calgary Flames.
After retiring as a player, MacLellan earned an MBA and later worked for an investment consulting firm in Minneapolis. The 55-year-old native of Guelph, Ont. was a left wing throughout his pro playing career but also played defense during his days at Bowling Green.
With MacLellan in the GM’s chair, the Caps have a man in that position who has a Stanley Cup championship on his résumé for the first time since Milt Schmidt ran the show for a season and a half at the very start of Washington’s NHL life in the mid-1970s.
Until last month, Trotz was the longest continually tenured coach in the NHL and the only coach the Predators had ever known. He spent 15 seasons behind the Nashville bench before Nashville elected not to renew his contract for the 2014-15 season. Trotz led the Predators to the Stanley Cup playoffs in eight of his last 10 seasons on the job.
In 1,196 games behind the Nashville bench, Trotz compiled a record of 557-479-60-100 for a points percentage of .533. He was 19-31 (.380) in 50 Stanley Cup playoff contests with the Preds.
Trotz is just the fifth of the 17 men who have coached the Capitals to arrive on the scene with prior NHL coaching experience. He joins Red Sullivan (346 games), Milt Schmidt (726 games), Jim Schoenfeld (167 games) and Ron Wilson (296 games) on that short list.
Trotz currently ranks 13th on the NHL’s all-time list in games coached, and he trails only Chicago’s Joel Quenneville, Dallas’ Lindy Ruff and St. Louis’ Ken Hitchcock among active NHL coaches in that category. Trotz is also 13th on the league’s all-time coaching wins ledger. Along with Ruff, Al Arbour and Toe Blake, Trotz is one of only four men in NHL history to win as many as 500 regular season games with the same franchise.
In a span of eight seasons from 2003-12, Trotz’s Nashville teams made the playoffs seven times and averaged 45 wins and 99 points per campaign.
The 51-year-old native of Winnipeg got his start in the coaching game at an early age. He was a 22-year-old assistant coach with the University of Manitoba in 1984-85. He spent the next two seasons serving as head coach and general manager of the Dauphin Kings of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
Next, Trotz returned to U. of Manitoba, this time as a head coach. In that position, he also served as a part-time scout for the WHL Spokane Chiefs and the Washington Capitals. The Caps hired Trotz as a western scout in 1988, and he became the team’s chief western scout the following season. Trotz served as an assistant coach for the AHL Baltimore Skipjacks for two seasons, starting in 1990-91.
Beginning in 1992, Trotz spent five seasons as the head coach of the Capitals’ AHL affiliate, first in Baltimore and then in Portland. He piloted the Portland Pirates to a Calder Cup championship in 1994, and he helped guide the Pirates back to the Calder Cup final once again two years later.
Weeks after he was named Nashville’s first general manager in the summer of 1997, ex-Caps GM David Poile named Trotz the first coach in the franchise’s history on Aug. 6, 1997. Poile and Trotz spent the next year scouting talent all over the globe in preparation for the Predators’ inaugural season of 1998-99.
Trotz spent about a third of his life in Nashville, and he put his stamp on that team and that city on and off the ice over the years. Regardless of who was wearing the Nashville uniform on a given night, the Predators were always a hard-working team and one that was hard to play against, and those were qualities that Trotz helped weave into the very fabric of the organization before the team even took the ice for the first time.
Off the ice, Trotz and his family were active in a number of local charitable causes over his tenure in Nashville, most notably Best Buddies of Tennessee and My Friend’s House.
Upon being relieved of his duties last month, Trotz spoke graciously and eloquently for more than 22 minutes at a farewell press conference. Shortly thereafter, he purchased a full-page ad in the local Sunday paper (The Tennessean) to thank ownership, management, staff and the fans for their hospitality and friendship to him and his family over the years.
MacLellan and Trotz spent some time together earlier this week getting acquainted with one another during the latter’s trip into town to discuss Washington’s head coaching vacancy. The two men discovered that they are of a similar mind in their vision of what is best for the Capitals going forward. With the announcement of their appointments to the crucial posts of general manager and head coach, respectively, on Tuesday, the team and its fans will look to them to usher forth a new era in Capitals hockey going forward.