It’s not every day an employee walks into a meeting with the head of a company and tells his boss what he thinks he can do better.
Brian MacLellan was brave enough to do just that when he sat down with Capitals owner Ted Leonsis and team president Dick Patrick, and it wound up getting him promoted to club general manager.
At a news conference Tuesday introducing MacLellan as the Caps’ new general manager and Barry Trotz as their new head coach, Leonsis said that when he and Patrick began their search for a new general manager it was not their intention to hire from within.
But after interviewing as many as 15 different candidates, Leonsis kept coming back to the brutal honesty of MacLellan, a 55-year-old former NHL player and stock market investor.
“I’ll tell you, his was the most negative of the interviews,” Leonsis said. “There’s a great quote, ‘With familiarity comes contempt.’ I liked that brutal honesty that he brought.
“When you have confidence in yourself to tell people what they don’t want to hear. … I thought that was a very strong, brave voice. I had never heard that before.
“To me, Brian was a new voice and frankly, he had the most aggressive viewpoint on what we had to do to move forward.”
Why did MacLellan refuse to simply tell Leonsis what he thought he wanted to hear?
“I didn’t think I had anything to lose,” he said. “The important point I was trying to make is that the team feels it when there’s a disconnect and not a unified philosophy from ownership to manager to coach. I thought all three of us have to have a team approach moving forward.”
Many believe the relationship between George McPhee and Adam Oates was a fractured one last season, resulting in players like Marty Erat and Dmitry Orlov requesting trades.
Although MacLellan has known Trotz for just a week, he said he will work closely with the 51-year-old coach to turn the Capitals into a predictable and cohesive team.
“It has to be a relationship that works,” MacLellan said. “Any move we make, Barry has to be in line with it or we don’t make the call. If I want to see a guy come up [from the minors] and evaluate him, Barry has to be in line with that.
“He can’t say, ‘No, I’m not going to play him.’ And I need to know what Barry wants, too.”
Leonsis said Trotz was the only head coach interviewed by the Capitals and Trotz said he needed to be patient for the Capitals to complete their search for a general manager, a search that concluded last week.
The one question everyone wanted to know on Tuesday was how different MacLellan will be than McPhee, who happened to be the man who lassoed MacLellan back into hockey after five years in the investments profession.
In fact, when MacLellan was asked on Tuesday how he would manage the Caps differently than McPhee, MacLellan teared up and walked away from reporters for a few moments.
“He’s a good friend and he’s a character guy,” MacLellan said. “It’s a hard thing. We’re different people we have different personalities and different ways to approach things. I think any two people are different. His decision-making is going to be different than mine.”
MacLellan said he consulted with McPhee during the interview process and informed McPhee he got the job.
“I wanted to let him know I got it,” MacLellan said. “He said, ‘Great, I’m glad you got it.’ He said, ‘Go for it. Don’t hold back.’”
One of the criticisms levied against McPhee was his poor relationship with player agents, who often were told to speak with assistant general manager Don Fishman, who will remain in place as the team’s capologist. MacLellan said he will change that culture as well.
“I think it’s an important aspect,” he said. “There has to be a relationship with agents. The players need agents to communicate with management and management use agents to communicate with their player. You have to work together to get the best out of your players. And you want to have players that want to come here, and agents direct that process.”
MacLellan said he thinks Trotz can get more out of the Caps’ roster than Oates got last season but hinted that he will be active in the trade market at the upcoming NHL draft. He even challenging rival NHL general managers who feel they can take advantage of a rookie GM to take a swing.
“I hope they come in with that attitude,” he said. “I know the league, I know the players, so I think it’s going to be hard to take advantage of me.”
Leonsis said the Caps are in need of a “refresh” and not a “rebuild,” which would suggest that the Caps’ core players will remain in place.
MacLellan will be the new architect of that rebuild and he says he’s ready to roll up his sleeves.
“I think I’m ready for it,” he said. “I know the league really well. I know our team really well and I’m getting to know Barry really well. I think I’m in synch with everything. The challenge will be to stay patient and pick and choose your opportunities and try not to be too aggressive.”