Nations: Change close all along for Caps

Ted Leonsis must feel a little silly.

Intent on finding the perfect person to get his Washington Capitals back on track, Leonsis apparently discovered that the right guy had been with his franchise all along — for 13 years, even.

The Washington Capitals owner had waited patiently for 17 long years for his franchise to reach the promised land of a Stanley Cup championship under former general manager George McPhee’s leadership before finally pulling the plug on his longtime GM’s tenure following another disappointing finish to a season filled with expectations.

McPhee had plenty of success building the team — you don’t stick around 17 years without doing something right — but when Washington missed the playoffs this season it was all too apparent that a new voice in the front office might be the answer. McPhee, after all, had run through five coaches during his time at the Caps’ rudder.

Leonsis finally made that change at the top, and even went one better by replacing his coach as well after both McPhee and former Caps coach Adam Oates were let go following the season.

Barry Trotz, just let go after a 14-year run as the Nashville Predators’ head coach, certainly represents a significant departure from Washington’s hiring pattern under McPhee. None of McPhee’s five coaching hires had any previous NHL head coaching experience.

So that’s change, for sure.

As for that new voice, though … Brian MacLellan isn’t exactly a breath of fresh air in Washington. MacLellan, after all, has been with the franchise for 13 years, the last seven as McPhee’s assistant GM. It hardly appears to be a bold hire for a franchise thirsty for a new direction, but Leonsis is apparently convinced he’s got it right by promoting MacLellan from within rather than hiring one of the more than a dozen other candidates for the job.

“We have witnessed his abilities firsthand, and we have tremendous respect for how he manages people and situations,” Leonsis stated in a news release announcing MacLellan’s promotion. “We feel he has relevant, in-depth knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of our franchise and will be forceful in addressing them.”

So far, that sounds like McPhee-light, but the man who writes the checks gets to make those calls.

Trotz is the more interesting move, from the outside at least. With a well-earned reputation as a tough defensive-minded coach, Trotz brings the intriguing aspect of who to co-exist with Washington Capitals prolific scorer Alexander Ovechkin. Will Trotz try to mold Ovechkin and the Caps — still a high-powered offensive group with some gaping defensive holes — into a team more to his liking, or will he adapt his own coaching philosophy to make best use of the personnel he’s inheriting? In other words, can this old coach learn new tricks, and should he even try?

Trotz, 51, had a fair amount of playoff success with the budget-conscious Predators, but never hoisted the Stanley Cup in the Music City. In that way, he fits right in with the current group of Capitals.

That will have to change to consider this newest Capitals’ leadership move a success, and winning that elusive Stanley Cup would be the biggest change of all for championship-starved Washington fans.

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>