Earlier this week, for the first time since the Washington Capitals became the Eastern Conference Champions and punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals, Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan publicly addressed the media and answered questions about the state of the team. A horde of eager media spokespersons were there to drill the affectionately dubbed “GMBM”, who appeared to be more than ready to see his team hit the ice in Las Vegas on Monday night.
As the press conference began, one reporter asked about GMBM’s relationship with the Las Vegas Golden Knights’ general manager, George McPhee.
You may recall, McPhee has a storied history with the Washington Capitals organization, as he was once our own General Manager. During his reign over the Capitals team, he lead the boys in Red to their only previous appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals. That was back in 1998 against the Detroit Red Wings, who were members of the Western Conference at the time. Not only that, but MacLellan and McPhee were both teammates in their younger years.
A photo has surfaced recently of the two of them kneeling on the ice in their Bowling Greens State University uniforms. During this time, the two General Managers were also college roommates. When asked about what it was like to know that someone he has so much history with will be leading the team opposing the Capitals in the final round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, MacLellan responded as casually as he could. He said it was a little awkward, but both men are looking forward to facing off on opposite sides of the ice. GMBM then went on to acknowledge that McPhee has played a large a part in the Washington’s long-term success, having been responsible for drafting the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom to name a few.
Speaking of our fearless leader, the next reporter inquired about him. She asked the General Manager if he had noticed any substantial changes in Ovechkin to bring him to this point. MacLellan paused for moment to quietly reflect on the Great Eight’s season, and when he began to speak, he spoke as proudly as a father. MacLellan’s noticed an air of maturity that has grown in Ovi, both on and off the ice. He believes this year he’s played more systematically than ever before, and the team as a whole has followed suit. When asked about what triggered the change in Ovechkin, GMBM stated that he believes the change started at home. Getting married to a loving and supportive wife has helped to improve Alex Ovechkin’s attitude, or so he believes.
Shortly thereafter, another reported asked about the Capitals’ “Playoff Window”. A lot people believed this proverbial window had closed when the Capitals were eliminated in last year’s Playoffs. Reason being, A lot of big names and seasoned veterans were due to hit the Free Agent Market. As our offseason began last May, nobody really knew what the Summer had in store for the Capitals. Our number one priority was to lock in T.J. Oshie to another long-term contract, which we did successfully.
Many of our other top players ended up going to other teams before the autumn, however. Defensemen Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk would go on to sign deals with the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers, respectively. Star forward Marcus “Mojo” Johansson was traded for cap relief to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Devante Smith-Pelly, and our next opponents, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, would draft Nate Schmidt from us in their expansion draft. Brain MacLellan stated the “window”, he quoted as being open for two years. What fails to get acknowledged, however, is that he believes the window was open for that time with those particular players. He never believed that our chances in the Playoffs would decrease after the 2016-17 season’s conclusion. With the start of this season, we had a large number of younger players on the team and there was no way to tell if we would sink or swim with so many rookies. Thankfully, we found our footing in November and made headway as a team for the first time.
Another reporter asked if this new team, not being a President’s Trophy caliber team had helped the team. GMBM believed it did. Having less pressure on the players did wonders for the team. For a while in the start, a lot of people didn’t believe we would make the playoffs, but eventually things clicked for us, and with the pressure off. As a side note, MacLellan also noted that there is currently no contract conversation happening behind the scenes. The entire team is focused on the task at hand.
Then came a question we all had this season, was there ever a cause for concern over Holtby’s midseason funk? Our General Manager answered the question diplomatically, stating that there was no serious, long-term concern. Since being drafted, Holtby hasn’t gone through a serious rough patch, and if he’s had even a little snag, it’s been taken erased fairy quickly. GMBM noted the likes Henrik Lundqvist when he said that top-tier goalies throughout the league have natural drips. Holtby has been fortunate enough to have no faced on of this size so far, but they knew that such a day would come. The “reset” option is one often times used in this situation, and it payed-off for #70 in spades. And thankfully, we had another top goalie in Philipp Grubauer to carry the team during the time.
One reported posed a two-sided question, for both Brian MacLellan the General Manager, and Brian MacLellan the human being. How does it feel to be headed to the Stanley Cup Finals? GMBM said it’s everything he works for. But he also enjoys seeing the players going out on the ice and just having fun. MacLellan believes the years of falling short have festered and bothers Ovi and Backstrom more than they let on, and he’s happy to see them break through and enjoy the process. He says the last few weeks have been a totally different environment. He said the same is also true for the coaching styles of Barry Trotz as of late.
MacLellan was then asked about the success of the Golden Knights in their inaugural year. He said that the team has had an amazing amount of success this year, and each time the bar was raised, they Las Vegas team continued to surpass it. They took a bunch of players and coaches with no chemistry and have pulled of the near impossible. MacLellan expected the team to do considerably well, but never expected the Knights would make it to the Cup Finals. On top of that, MacLellan also said that it was a shame that we lost Nate Schmidt to the Vegas expansion. But that we were in a position where we were going to lose somebody we liked, it was just a matter of who.
Capitals fans saw the team off Saturday afternoon as they made their way to the Las Vegas, Nevada for games one and two of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Final series begins on Memorial Day night at 8pm on NBC. Fans all around the world will be watching as the boys in Red look to end the Golden Knights’ Cinderella story. Brian MacLellan will be among those watching with a nervous excitement. To watch his whole press released, full of laughter, tears, and great love for the sport, click here.
By: Chris Laroche