Katie Carrera of The Washington Post captured that sentiment when she tweeted out a rather damning observation on the very same day:
A month ago, when #Caps fired McPhee, Leonsis said he wanted a “fresh set of eyes and new voice”. MacLellan has been w/ the team since 2000.— Katie Carrera (@kcarrera) May 26, 2014
Carrera had first pointed out MacLellan's longtime association with the Capitals (and by extension, with departed GM George McPhee) on April 26. I included that information in my column about the remaining GM candidates published on May 13, even singling out MacLellan as the weakest candidate among the eight whom I detailed.
But Leonsis didn't listen to Carrera. Or myself. Or a large portion of his fanbase.
Torches and pitchforks were at the ready.
Even the national media joined the mob. Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy cast doubt on the Capitals' hire, saying that although "the external audit is one way to overhaul a struggling organization," the Caps instead chose the internal audit by "putting the evaluation in the hands of someone that knows the personnel, the culture and the challenges."
Wyshynski added that by doing so, "the Capitals now give the undeniable impression that they're unwilling to turn the keys over to some outsider that's going to scrap the car" even though they are "riddled with problems."
Despite the well-earned criticism, Capitals fans need not storm the castle and make Leonsis pay for going back on his word.
MacLellan already stormed the castle for us.
When Brian had his interview with us, he was very, very straightforward. It really wasn't an interview where he was trying to impress us or impress me, it was pretty straightforward. He led off with some of the the things that I have to do to be a better owner. I thought was [sic] very brave and very astute because you don't want to hear things like that.
This show of intestinal fortitude on MacLellan's part was particularly impressive. Not only was he interviewing for his first GM post, but he was also calling out his current employer.
It went deeper still. Two days later, Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post referenced an email he had received from the Capitals owner detailing how MacLellan had spoken to Leonsis about his blog—Ted's Take—during his interview.
In the email, Leonsis explained how MacLellan "suggested that I blog about team; not about individual players. That I celebrate team success way more than individual success, and that that culture needs to start at the top. I agreed."
In these two instances, MacLellan has already established a different pattern than that of his predecessor.
But there's more.
Rebecca Henschel of Japer's Rink pointed out what MacLellan was doing behind the scenes before he was ever promoted:
With the departure of McPhee last month, it has been MacLellan pulling the strings on some small but key transactions for the team, including making the trade that sent soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Jaroslav Halak to the Islanders for a fourth-round pick, and signing prospect and 2012 draftee Christian Djoos to an entry-level contract.
Wary Caps fans can at least take comfort in knowing that MacLellan was able to successfully complete the first two moves he attempted as general manager, even if in an unofficial capacity at the time. And they weren't minor.
How will Brian MacLellan's tenure compare to that of George McPhee?
MacLellan dumped Halak for a ham sandwich—which is quite a feat, considering MacLellan was only trading the rights to sign the player as a free agent, according to the press release.
The signing of Djoos is equally noteworthy. The 19-year-old Swedish-born defenseman was rated 14th among the Capitals' top 20 prospects by Hockey's Future as recently as April 7. He now becomes the "fourth member of the Capitals' 2012 NHL Draft class to sign with the team, joining Connor Carrick, Chandler Stephenson and Tom Wilson," according to the team's website.
Finally, MacLellan received a ringing endorsement from a respected voice within the Capitals community.
Alan May, a former Capitals player and current CSN Washington analyst, spoke at length during an appearance on ESPN 980's The Sports Fix with Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro about the MacLellan hire shortly after it was consummated (transcript via Dan Steinberg):
You know, I was a little skeptical at first, because I know how tight he and George have been their entire lives, but he was able to go in there and say how he would do it different. Now it's just a matter of putting those words to work, and hopefully he does, and I believe that he will. A lot of times [as] an assistant, you have to agree with your boss. You have to be loyal, you have be willing to take a bullet for him, and obviously [MacLellan] did that for years. But he has way different views on how you should do things. ... He went in there and did an incredible job of selling his vision, and not saying 'We're close' and 'We're all right here' or 'We're all right there.' He's not going to do it the same as George.
With all this new information coming to light, should Capitals fans suddenly be campaigning for MacLellan to be named NHL General Manager of The Year?
But they should at least allow these positive expectations to offset the negative expectations that instantly formed in their minds as soon as they heard of the hiring. From this neutral position, the Washington faithful can carefully watch as MacLellan's tenure begins to take shape, therefore judging it from a more reasonable and objective viewpoint.
If MacLellan makes mistakes, Capitals fans have every right to burn him in effigy.
Hell, I'll be the one holding the torch.
But Caps fans also have the responsibility to judge this man based on what he is able to accomplish on the job instead of basing that judgment on preconceived notions and unfair expectations. MacLellan earned this right by standing out among several more qualified candidates. As May astutely observed, MacLellan "was 15th on the depth chart in the interview process and was the only guy that went against the grain."
Brian MacLellan impressed the Capitals owner and ultimately won him over.
If given a chance, he may just do the same with the team's skeptical fanbase.