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Assistant GM MacLellan Takes Stock of Caps

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
Caps assistant general manager, player personnel Brian MacLellan spends a good bit of his time as a pro scout, watching NHL and AHL games across the continent and assessing and rating players, some of which might someday find their way to Washington.

After a successful NHL playing career that spanned a decade and included a pair of 30-goal seasons, MacLellan retired. He went to school and became a stock analyst before hockey got its hooks into him again, back before the lockout.

He’s now spent a decade with the Caps, including four in his current post. When Washington went out west last week, MacLellan joined the Capitals on the trip and traveled along to the first three stops on the team’s journey, Phoenix, Anaheim and San Jose.

MacLellan’s presence on the trip gave us a chance to chat him up about his job, the team and his pending (at the time) participation in the alumni game leading up to the NHL’s Heritage Classic last week in Calgary. Here’s what MacLellan had to say.

How has job changed and how have you changed?

“I don’t know that the job has changed that much. I think we refine our process as we go, as we become a little more in-depth with our knowledge. I’ve changed in that I have a better perspective or a deeper perspective, seeing guys more and more and seeing the game evolve and seeing the different aspects and attributes that we want to incorporate in our team and our players.”

Did you know when you were still playing that you wanted to get stay involved in the game somehow?

“No, not at all. I wanted to be a stock analyst. And I went back to school, I got an MBA and actually I was working in that industry for five years. George asked me if I wanted to do it part-time, first. I said, ‘Well, I’ll try it out, see if I like it.’ And then I ended up liking it when I was doing it part-time, so I switched, just as I was getting established in my other career.”

Any regrets?

“No, no. It’s been fun. I’ve been hanging out with the assistant coaches for the last week here, and just watching how much fun they have on game days and at practice, and how enjoyable it is for them, I was just making sure they appreciated it because I worked five or six years in a corporate environment where you go into an office, and you’ve got a desk and a computer and you’re there at six and you leave at six. You’re in Saturday mornings for a little bit and you get two weeks off.

“I was just making sure they were appreciating it because I’ve had the chance to experience both.”

Is there anything with your stock background that transfers to analyzing players?

“I spent a lot of time with the firm I was with analyzing investment managers’ processes, how they find companies. They all have a definite process in what they look for in a stock and in buying a particular company. And they also have a sell process where if a stock gets valued at a certain level and it’s overpriced, they sell it. They have an automatic sell. So I think my analytical skills in that area, I can put a number on a player and know where he should be valued, and if he’s overvalued and undervalued. I think it helps give a perspective to our overall team [salary] cap-wise.”

There is nothing “typical” about a day or a year or any job in this business. But there is a rhythm and a cyclical nature to it, especially on your end of it.

“Yeah, there is a rhythm to it. Just like as a player, there is a rhythm to the season and you know how to get through the season and how to prepare yourself for the season and for the playoffs and you have your routines that you do to do that. We’ve been doing the same thing. We’ve been working toward the trade deadline for the last few months. We focus on guys, we get our rankings and our slottings, we get guys in the proper order and try to project what the market value is going to be for them.

“We’ve done a lot of work and it will be over here [on the 28th]. And then we’ll switch to free agents, trying to identify guys we’ll target in the summer and focus on those guys for the remainder of the season.”

How do you guys handle guys that you target for the deadline and for free agency? Do you have a set number of times you’d like to see players play in person and do you cross-check each other, and compare notes?

“Yeah, we’ll all take a look at guys and then if we feel comfortable that everybody agrees and we all have the same read on him, then that’ll be it. That’s what he is and we’ll have a level of interest up to a certain point.

“If we find a guy that some guys aren’t comfortable slotting or ranking, or there is a difference of opinion, we’ll re-address it. We’ll go back and see him. Everybody will have a look and we’ll have a discussion about it and we’ll go from there.”

How do you guys file reports and how often do you send them in?

“There is a data base that we have. Players get ranked on certain attributes on scales and there is a comments section. It’s interesting when you go back and read the history of a player. You can pretty much track from the amateur level through his pro career how he has developed or maybe stalled or maybe has regressed a little bit. We have a whole data base of every player in the league going back to junior days.”

Has you approach to the deadline and free agency changed at all over the years?

“It has changed. I think the philosophy of how we look at players has changed, the weightings of attributes. Obviously since the lockout, speed has become a bigger factor. It’s a higher weighting than it once was. The first year after the lockout, I don’t think too many teams were prepared for the speed of the game with the rules change. We’ve adjusted that way.

“I think as your team evolves, with free agency and trades you need to find people who complement the players that you’ve drafted. So that evolves, too. It changes yearly. We found Mike Knuble. We thought he would be a good fit, a complement to Ovi and Backstrom. We spend time doing that.”

How does being on the road and watching games and players make you better able to assess your own team?

“I think it helps. There is a league-wide perspective on evaluating our guys. We’re not here every day with a specific focus on our players where weaknesses come up and you’re hypercritical. We have a perspective of, ‘You might have a weakness, but so does everybody else in that position in this league. So how does he compare to the other guys in that spot?’ It’s more of a bigger picture, bigger perspective thing. For us, we’re not around the players all the time so the your personal relationship doesn’t affect your evaluation of our guys where it might in certain circumstances.”

How would you say that being directly involved this week and traveling with the team has changed your outlook and do you find that the players are a little on eggshells with a new face around?   

“I think it’s the time of year where it’s starting to get serious. You can feel it in the room and you can feel it on the bus. Sometimes when you’re sitting up here you’re removed from the emotion of it. The last week I’ve been with them, it’s more emotional for me. I’m caught up in the emotion of it. I’m in the coach’s room, I know what they’re feeling. I get to go down after [games] and celebrate with them and I’m there before the games. It’s a better connection for me when I do it.”

Talking about trade deadlines, you have the unique perspective of having been one of those guys who was moved at the trade deadline and was one of those pieces that helped a team to achieve its goal of winning the Cup. How was that experience for you and how can that maybe be beneficial for you now on the other end where you’re now looking for pieces like that?

“I had probably played up higher in the lineup in Minnesota and then I went to Calgary and I had to accept a role that was lesser than the one I had been playing and be willing to contribute in whatever way. They moved me around the lineup; I played third line, first line, fourth line. You’ve got to be willing to do what you need to do, accept a greater role or a lesser role to benefit the success of the team.

“They had the best team in the league, points-wise. I had to find a way to it in somehow and not complain, work and be ready to do whatever they needed me to do.”

What was the experience like?

“It was awesome. I think it’s something you appreciate more after the fact because you’re caught up in the day-to-day and shift-to-shift grind. That’s your focus. And after you’ve won it you can reflect. We’ve got a reunion this weekend (Feb. 18-20) and I think it’s going to be fun. It’s really going to be a time to appreciate what happened.”

Part of that reunion is the alumni game before the Heritage Classic in Calgary. What is it like to get the invitation to participate in something like that, lace up the blades and go out on the ice with those guys one more time?

“It’s going to be awesome. I’ve had my training camp here for three days. I haven’t skated for three days in a row since 1993, I think. But it’s going to be a lot of fun. It was so much fun just being out on the ice with the coaches this week shooting pucks. You miss it. It makes me want to be an assistant coach sometime.”

What’s with the nickname “Screwhead?”

“Actually, I broke my neck playing hockey in high school. I had to have a halo screwed into my skull. Ever seen the halo apparatus with the bars coming down? I had to have a torque screwdriver because your body rejects the screws. I had to keep the screws at level eight every morning. And the guys made fun of me, the hockey guys. They called me ‘Screwhead.’”
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