With Caps coach pick, what’s old is new again

WASHINGTON — On Tuesday the Washington Capitals embarked on a bold, new era. The team introduced Brian MacLellan as senior vice president and general manager, and Barry Trotz as their 17th head coach.

Well, maybe not “bold.” And certainly not “new.”

MacLellan probably doesn’t have to move his office very far. He’s been with the organization for 13 years (7 of which were spent as assistant GM) and has a long relationship with his predecessor, George McPhee.

Many know Trotz as the only coach of the Nashville Predators since their inception in 1999. But he was a Capitals assistant before taking that gig.

So perhaps what’s old is new again.

MacLellan did well to downplay his connection with McPhee. “I’m a different person…we’ve evolved differently, but we’re still good friends. So I think the philosophy will be a little different, the emphasis will be different going forward.”

Listening to MacLellan at the press conference, he said exactly what we needed to hear from him: a commitment to hard work and changing the culture both on and off the ice. As a player, he won a Stanley Cup with Calgary in 1989 and managed to put together a decade-long NHL career despite starting it as an undrafted free agent.

However, MacLellan’s work ethic was smeared on twitter by a guy who worked in the organization, so that’s perhaps not the best way to begin a promotion (and also knee-slappingly ironic).

It’s definitely a curious move. On the surface, it looks like the Caps wanted someone else and opted to turn to an in-house candidate to save face. Maybe MacLellan’s overwhelming candor with owner Ted Leonsis on what he should be doing to make the team better held more sway than it should have.

All we know is that Leonsis doesn’t have a reputation for making a move to simply shake things up. Thus, it’s pretty hard to believe the man you envisioned to lead the “new direction” of the franchise would be the top lieutenant to the guy you just fired. Furthermore, it’s pretty hard to sell to your paying customers.

The good news for the Capitals is that the exclamation points supporting the Trotz hire outnumber the question marks surrounding the MacLellan decision. Trotz was the team’s only target, and has the 15th most victories among coaches in NHL history, and led an expansion team to the playoffs seven out of 15 years in Nashville.

Trotz did that without the bevy of talent the Caps have. Here, he’ll have a league MVP–Alex Ovechkin–at his disposal, and the overall offense to blend well with this his brand of tough defense and discipline.

“Look at the four teams (still playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs), Trotz said. “They’re hardworking, hard to play against teams. We want to get to that level. And the foundation is going to be hard work.”

Trotz added, “There’s enough skill here…accountability to the coach, to each other–that’s more important.”

If that message gets through to the current roster, and MacLellan can add more of the right players (starting with a long-term answer at goalie), this could be change the Capitals were looking for.

Kind of.

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