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Stanley Cup Final

Capitals GM ready for experience of Stanley Cup Final

MacLellan to oppose former teammate, co-worker McPhee, Golden Knights

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The photo has been making the rounds since it was posted on Twitter on May 12.

It became even more popular after the Washington Capitals advanced to play the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final.

The photo is of Washington general manager Brian MacLellan and Vegas GM George McPhee kneeling in their Bowling Green University uniforms next to the MacNaughton Cup, which was awarded to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season champion. They won it as seniors with the Falcons in 1981-82.

 

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"Looking back, it's kind of a goofy picture because you're kneeling," MacLellan said Friday. "I kind of make fun of his haircut during it. … But it's a long time ago. It's a good memory. I haven't seen that picture in forever."

The relationship between MacLellan and McPhee is one of the many intriguing storylines in the Stanley Cup Final, which begins with Game 1 at Vegas on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

McPhee was general manager of the Capitals from 1997-2014 and is responsible for constructing much of their core, including drafting captain Alex Ovechkin, centers Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, defenseman John Carlson and goaltender Braden Holtby. MacLellan was McPhee's right-hand man as his assistant GM for seven seasons, working his way up from pro scout and director of player personnel.

Video: Comparing John Carlson and William Karlsson

"It's kind of a weird experience," MacLellan said. "We kind of have been texting back and forth how strange it feels to have this line up the way it has. It's a little awkward, but it's going to be a fun experience, I hope."

MacLellan won the Stanley Cup as a player with the Calgary Flames in 1989 but this is his first Cup Final as an executive.

"It's everything you work for," he said.

MacLellan and McPhee, each 59, first played together with the Guelph Holody Platers in the Ontario Junior A Hockey League in 1977-78.

"We played junior together and then we both went to Bowling Green on scholarships, so we lived together," MacLellan said.

Tweet from @nemerson19: pic.twitter.com/qx7vUUrtGN

At that point, the normally stoic MacLellan's voice failed when he became choked up and his eyes filled with tears. He recovered enough to complete his thought by saying, "It was fun."

Although uncharacteristic for MacLellan, the show of emotion was understandable. His relationship with McPhee has changed since McPhee was fired by the Capitals after failing to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2013-14 and MacLellan succeeded him as GM.

"Not as close, I don't think," MacLellan said. "A little bit of communication here and there. But I think it just took a little time for things to evolve. I think he needed a break from the game, needed a break from how it went down for him here, and it just took time."

MacLellan said when he and McPhee spoke leading up to the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, "We kept it businesslike. He was all business. He wasn't giving in on anything."

The Capitals thought the Golden Knights might select backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer, but they chose defenseman Nate Schmidt. Schmidt would have played in Washington's top four this season. Instead, he is on Vegas' top pair with Brayden McNabb.

"I've been around him long enough where he doesn't show much," MacLellan said. "I know you're not getting what he's actually thinking underneath. I think he had a good plan and he executed it."

Since taking over, MacLellan has made some key additions to help the Capitals reach the Cup Final for first time since 1998 (McPhee's first season as GM). Signing unrestricted free agent defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik on July 1, 2014 and trading for forwards T.J. Oshie (July 2, 2015 from the St. Louis Blues) and Lars Eller (June 24, 2016 from the Montreal Canadiens) were among MacLellan's moves that pushed Washington over the hump it'd previously been unable clear under during the Ovechkin era, which began in 2005-06.

Video: Discussing the Capitals' journey to the Cup Final

McPhee tried in vain to find the right mix in Washington and it eventually cost him his job. But there's no denying the large role he played in building the Capitals.

"He did a good job here," MacLellan said. "He was here 17 years. I think the franchise, they've done a lot of history stuff on how it's transformed since Ovi got here, since Backstrom's been here, and he's a big part of how that all started. To put 17 years in an organization and have pieces that you've brought in be major contributors to where we're at now, I think it's a big deal."

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