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Caps’ direction remains to be seen as coach, GM hires made

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Maybe major changes will yet come for the Washington Capitals.

But after promising a "fresh set of eyes and a new voice" last month during a press conference to announce the departure of general manager George McPhee, owner Ted Leonsis decided that his best option was in the organization already.

On Monday, Leonsis and team president Dick Patrick promoted Brian MacLellan to the general manager's position and hired veteran NHL coach Barry Trotz to be the man behind the bench. The pair are charged with returning Washington to prominence after it missed the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2007.

"After conducting an extensive search for a general manager, we determined that Brian was the best candidate to help us reach our ultimate goal, winning the Stanley Cup," Leonsis said in a statement. "We have witnessed his abilities firsthand, and we have tremendous respect for how he manages people and situations. We feel he has relevant, in-depth knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of our franchise and will be forceful in addressing them."

MacLellan, 55, was a college teammate of McPhee's at Bowling Green. He later had a 10-year NHL career, scoring 172 goals as a forward in 606 games, and won a Stanley Cup in 1989 with the Calgary Flames. But he enters his 14th season with Washington, the past seven as an assistant general manager.

MacLellan began as a pro scout with Washington in 2000 before eventually becoming the director of player personnel. No one knows the Caps' roster situation better. That's either a good thing or Leonsis reneging on his promise to find a fresh outlook for a team that has grown stale in recent years. Given MacLellan's history here, it seems unlikely major changes would come to Washington's front office.

Don Fishman is the team's assistant general manager/director of legal affairs — the salary cap expert. Steve Richmond is the director of player development, and Ross Mahoney has long drawn raves for his work running the amateur scouting department. It remains to be seen if that whole crew stays with the organization.

"We have built a solid foundation, and I look forward to implementing my ideas to get us back to competing for the Stanley Cup," MacLellan said in a statement.

Regardless of what happens upstairs, the Caps have a new coach, too. Trotz is their fourth coach in 2 1/2 years. Dale Hunter took over for Bruce Boudreau early in the 2011-12 season and left at the end of that year, and Adam Oates was fired last month after two seasons.

Trotz, 51, has extensive NHL experience after spending the last 15 years as coach of the Nashville Predators, where he gained respect around the league for winning in a non-traditional hockey market with a limited budget. He is the only coach the Predators have had since joining the NHL as an expansion team in 1998.

It took six seasons, but Trotz finally led Nashville to the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2004. The organization reached the postseason seven times over the next eight years, advancing to the second round in 2010-11 and 2011-12 before missing out the past two seasons. His final record there was 557-479; he was fired April 14.

Trotz began his professional coaching career in 1990 in the Washington organization when he became an assistant with the AHL's Baltimore Skipjacks. Two years later he became the head coach in Baltimore and stayed in that role for five years, coaching the franchise's AHL affiliate even after it moved to Portland, Maine, in 1993.

"This is a great organization with a strong foundation and a tremendous fan base," Trotz said in a statement. "I look forward to working with this group of talented players and the quality front office staff this team has assembled."

Trotz, a defenseman as a player, is known for his emphasis on that aspect of the game. But he also never had star offensive players in Nashville like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

The one period of time when Trotz did have similar players, led by former All-Star Paul Kariya in 2006-07, the Predators finished fifth in goals per game (3.24) and were in the top 12 the year prior and the year after. It wasn't always a club that relied on its blueline and goalies, though that was usually its strength.

"It is a great pleasure to welcome Barry to Washington as the new head coach of the Capitals," MacLellan said. "Barry's teams have always played with structure, discipline and intensity, and I look forward to him leading us to success for many years to come."

Leonsis and Patrick conducted extensive exit interviews at all levels of the organization after the season. With McPhee's contract up, they wanted to do a thorough examination and find a consensus on what went wrong in 2013-14 and why the franchise has trended down in recent seasons. That investigation led to the dismissal of Oates and the decision to not re-sign McPhee. It also gave a hint into Leonsis' thoughts on the front office overall.

"I will also say, I was impressed with the organization. We have a lot of great people," Leonsis said last month. "We have a lot of really, really fine, high-integrity people throughout the organization. We're in good shape and that was I think a positive contributor that we could make a change like this and still feel we could function. I think we have really strong staff everywhere in the organization."

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