When both Capitals head coach Barry Trotz and General Manager Brian MacLellan were hired in the spring of 2014 after the Capitals failed to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in seven seasons, there was uncertainty surrounding both.
MacLellan had been an assistant GM with the team, making many fans feel as though he would be just like his predecessor George McPhee. Trotz had been known as primarily a defense-first coach in his 15 seasons with the Nashville Predators and some fans were worried that his system might bring down the Capitals’ offensive stars. But nearly two years into their tenure together, both Trotz and MacLellan have turned the fortunes of the Caps around in a big way.
Unlike McPhee, who rarely made impact signings in free agency, MacLellan went out and addressed the team’s biggest weakness: the defensive corps. He signed a much-needed shutdown, stay-at-home blueliner in former Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik (five-years, $27.5 million) and also signed the top free agent blueliner in former Penguin Matt Niskanen (seven-years, $40.25). MacLellan was heavily criticized for handing out such large contracts to both, specifically Orpik. But despite his recent injury, Orpik has proven to be well worth it. When he’s played, the 35-year old has provided the Caps with a physical, no-nonsense defender who keeps opponents away from the Washington net. Niskanen has brought a steady, two-way game and is an adequate replacement for fellow offensive-minded defenseman Mike Green.
Trotz quickly disproved the notion that his system would hamper the offensive talent of the Capitals, as he preaches a system that emphasizes a strong forecheck and tight defensive coverage. His guidance has rejuvenated captain Alex Ovechkin, who has played the best hockey of his career since Trotz took over. In his first season (and MacLellan’s first as GM) the Capitals finished with a 45-26-11 record and 101 points, better than the 38-30-14 record and 90 points the year prior. Niskanen recorded 31 points (four goals, 27 assists) and Orpik played in more games than he had in any of the previous six seasons.
This season, the Capitals are entrenched the top of the NHL standings. Two of the reasons for that success are the additions of veteran right wingers TJ Oshie and Justin Williams. MacLellan traded fan favorite Troy Brouwer, a third-round draft pick, and goalie prospect Pheonix Copley to the St. Louis Blues to get Oshie and he has fit well on a top-line with Ovechkin and number one center Nickals Backstrom. Williams, a winner of three Stanley Cups, has brought experience and tenacity to the team and has been a mentor for younger players such as Andre Burakovsky. The Capitals are considered by many to be the top contender for the Stanley Cup, and it’s all thanks to the masterminds in MacLellan and Trotz. They are on the same page, something McPhee was not on with former head coach Adam Oates. As long as they remain in their positions, the Capitals’ future looks bright under the guidance of Trotz and MacLellan.