Photo: Capitals Instagram
Yesterday, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan spoke to the media about the first half of the Caps’ season. A large chunk of the conversation revolved around Mike Green and his upcoming UFA status, which Adam Vingan documented on NBC Washington.
MacLellan was also briefly asked about the lopsided Filip Forsberg trade and what he thought of him as a player. He replied honestly.
“I think he’s played well,” MacLellan said. “Obviously he’s one of the leading candidates for the Calder Trophy.”
He continued, “If you’re asking if I would like to do a do-over [on the trade]? Yeah. Sure.” Then he nodded his head a few times and flashed a coy smile. This became a national story.
Is it even fair for MacLellan to have to answer to this deal nearly two years after it was signed off on by his then-boss George McPhee? RMNB investigates.
Let me set the stage. Way back in April 2013, Adam Oates was the head coach of the Caps and Demi Lovato was screaming her way to the top of the charts with her single “Heart Attack.” According to the Washington Capitals’ team website, MacLellan served as the team’s assistant general manager, player personnel.
Here’s more from the Caps just so we’re 100 percent clear on what MacLellan’s role actually was at the time:
MacLellan, who served as a pro scout for the Capitals from 2000-03 and then was promoted to director of player personnel, assists and advises vice president and general manager George McPhee in all player-related matters. MacLellan also oversees the club’s professional scouting staff and works closely with the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Hershey Bears, who won the Calder Cup in 2006.
The Washington Post’s Alex Prewitt did a great job explaining MacLellan’s position in this piece during early September.
MacLellan had worked in professional scouting since 2000 and always viewed his role as supporting the boss. He offered opinions at meetings, a frequent presence in war rooms and at draft tables, but ultimately decisions were made above his pay grade.
“You try to help him make the best decisions he can make,” MacLellan said. “Your role is different. It’s not to come in and set a tone for an organization.”
So MacLellan was George McPhee’s right-hand man. He oversaw the scouts that evaluated players at the NHL level while the recently promoted Ross Mahoney oversaw the amateur scouts that evaluated Filip Forsberg.
Now let’s go to Deadline Day 2013. An hour after the trade moratorium had passed, McPhee finally made his way to the podium at Kettler Capitals Iceplex to talk about the deal that sent Forsberg to the Predators for Martin Erat and Michael Latta.
McPhee explained that Forsberg was blocked at the NHL level because “the right side is pretty stacked right now with Ovechkin, Brouwer, Fehr, Ward, and Wilson. It’s a pretty thick group right there.”
He also was unwilling to go into the details on how the team viewed Forsberg’s development. “To be blunt, if there was something wrong with the player, I wouldn’t tell you anyway,” McPhee said. “I don’t believe it’s the right thing to do: beating up people when they leave.”
Now here’s the fascinating part. McPhee reported during the conversation that the team’s entire scouting department, which MacLellan and Mahoney oversaw, was unanimous in the decision.
You talk about all those things. They’re never easy decisions. It takes some guts to do deals sometime. We have a real good group of pro scouts and amateur scouts. You sift through it, ruminate over it at night, you come back in, talk about it some more, and the vote was unanimous to do it. I make them vote independently without any influence. Write it out, put it on a piece of paper, and then I read through [their responses]. It was unanimous to do it.
So while McPhee did the dealing with Predators’ GM David Poile and ultimately signed off on the trade, it was MacLellan, Mahoney, and the scouts they oversaw who told McPhee this was a good thing for the team.
A day after the deal was completed, ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun wrote a long piece speaking with authority about the Capitals’ decision making. No sources were named.
You see, I believe the Caps were going to trade Forsberg at some point no matter what, internally souring on the prospect, a player they no longer viewed as a top center in the making.
Scouts I’ve spoken with have mixed opinions. Some still view him as a top center in the making, at least a No. 2, but others are concerned by his foot speed. The latter is what concerned Washington.
We shall see who has the last word here. Forsberg may make the Caps rue the day they dealt him to Nashville. For that, we’ll have to circle back here in three to four years to rekindle this conversation.
A year and some change later, the Capitals promoted MacLellan to GM and Mahoney to Assistant GM.
So yes, MacLellan is responsible for the trade to some extent.
The next question then becomes: What went so wrong with that deal? Mahoney has been in charge of a scouting department that has been phenomenal at drafting in the last five years, finding late first-round gems like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky. During MacLellan’s tenure as Assistant GM, McPhee made many big deadline deals that helped the team.
How did two people with such an outstanding track record get a trade like this, which fans were calling “the worst trade ever in Washington Capitals history” a day after it happened, so wrong?
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