When the Capitals decided not to renew George McPhee's contract in April, it gave the Washington franchise an opportunity to really reinvent itself in the front office; the change to bring in a new, outside perspective to try and reverse the recent decline of a team that missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
They did that with the hiring of Barry Trotz as head coach. The former Nashville bench boss became famous for running strong defensive clubs in Nashville, and he comes to coach a team in Washington that has struggled in that department recently, but also thrives where Trotz's teams didn't on the offensive side of the puck. That blend and the evolution of the Caps under Trotz will certainly be a change for this team.
But despite a month-long search to replace their old general manager, and with several qualified outside candidates sitting on the market, the Caps elected to simply promote McPhee's assistant, Brian MacLellan. It's a move that left many scratching their heads on what an unknown and unproven hire from within could offer.
Let's answer some questions about the men who will lead the Capitals into the future.
Who is Brian MacLellan?
MacLellan joined the Capitals organization in 2000 as a scout and was a key part of McPhee's tenure in Wahington, helping to advise him in pro personnel matters.
And part of McPhee's dismissal can stem from some ill-advised pro personnel moves in his last 13 months of his running the Caps -- for example, acquiring Martin Erat, Dustin Penner and Jaroslav Halak.
Was he really the best candidate?
Even the timing of the announcement of the move seemed a bit off. If MacLellan was truly a top candidate, it seems the club would have been aware of that at the time of McPhee's dismissal -- well over two weeks after the season ended -- and would have just elevated him at that time instead of conducting an extensive search. It seemed like McPhee's fate was sealed when the club was eliminated from the playoff chase with under a week left in the regular season. It's not like the Capitals didn't have time to think about this.
Just adding to the strangeness, the announcement of MacLellan's promotion and the hiring of coach Barry Trotz was made via a release at 6 p.m. on Memorial Day, hardly a time when clubs promote positive news.
Washington doesn't make a general manager move often -- MacLellan is just the team's third hire since 1982 -- it goes without saying that this was an important move for a team at this juncture. The last two hires were David Poile, plucked as an assistant from the Calgary organization and McPhee, an assistant in Vancouver.
Quite simply, to elevate an assistant GM that had a hand in the ongoing decline of this team seems off.
How much autonomy will MacLellan have?
During McPhee's tenure in Washington, there were times where he did not seem to hold a ton of power, particularly in the acquisition of Jaromir Jagr in 2001 and the subsequent fire sale where the club was nearly completely dismantled. But with the success of the late 2000s, McPhee seemed to be a bit more in control again, making moves to bring the Capitals to their peak at the beginning of the decade -- a 124-point campaign in 2009-10.
But that autonomy seemed to recede back in recent years with the team starting to struggle, as the team had run through several coaches and eventually were undone by numerous issues that led to McPhee's dismissal.
There certainly were a lot of questions around this hiring, and Ted Leonsis' first as club owner -- and seemingly some question how much power Leonsis or team president Dick Patrick would yield to a new general manager. And it certainly may have played a factor in what candidates were available to Washington, or what the club ownership was comfortable with. Maybe other potential GMs simply didn't want to come?
Will Caps improve under Trotz?
Brian McLellan (left) and Barry Trotz (right) introduced during Tuesday's press conference, Photo credit: Patrick Smith
Whenever a team makes a personnel move, no matter what the reasoning for the change, it's essential for the club to make an improvement to make progress.
Trotz certainly seems to be an upgrade for Washington behind the bench, as the longtime Nashville bench boss will come back to the franchise that had him run their AHL clubs in Baltimore and Portland before becoming the Predators' first coach. After he missed out being Washington's first coach under McPhee back in 1997, Trotz was able to run former Caps GM's David Poile's defensive clubs in Nashville well despite the financial restraints put on that club.
In Washington, Trotz will have more offensive weapons to work with, as well as a team that spends closer to the cap than his former employer, and it will be a good test for an experienced coach to see how he adapts with a team that certainly has had its issues in their defensive zone in recent seasons.
One hit, one miss?
Strangely enough, while the Capitals clearly made an improvement behind the bench bringing in Trotz, it certainly seems like they haven't in a more important role in the organization.
With Alex Ovechkin still in his prime -- but a player with hard mileage thanks to his style of play -- this reset was a golden opportunity for the Caps to make another push towards the elusive Stanley Cup title they've been chasing for 40 years without any success.
Hiring Trotz seems like a good decision, a coach who can shakeup a team that's been lacking his clear strength. But in simply promoting MacLellan, a guy who has been with the organization and is partly responsible for their current struggles, the Capitals could be throwing away that prime chance to bring the Cup to the Nation's Capital.