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Ted Leonsis tries to ‘future-proof’ the Caps with Chris Patrick hire


Ted Leonsis tries to ‘future-proof’ the Caps with Chris Patrick hire

The Washington Capitals initiated a transfer of power Monday. It can’t be deemed normal, because the Caps are not a normal franchise. Ted Leonsis has owned the NHL team since 1999. On Monday, he installed Chris Patrick as his third general manager. In an inherently unstable business, that’s remarkable stability.

The transitions, for a franchise that has made 15 postseason appearances in the past 17 years, have been seamless and in-house. George McPhee is the only top hockey executive Leonsis has fired, and when he did, he turned to Brian MacLellan, McPhee’s longtime assistant. MacLellan remains the team president, a role in which, as Leonsis said, “He’ll have final say on everything.”

But making the day-to-day phone calls to other general managers and holding the meetings with coaches and trainers, the man with his finger on the organization’s pulse, will be Patrick, the 48-year-old member of one of hockey’s royal families who, 16 years ago, left a secure and lucrative job in finance to start at the bottom level in the Capitals’ front office. His father is longtime Capitals president Dick Patrick, whose father, uncle and grandfather won the Stanley Cup as players. Chris played at Princeton. He could have been successful doing something else. He couldn’t shake the game. Now he’s running a team.

“I view it as a natural progression for the organization,” Leonsis said by phone Monday. “It kind of future-proofs us. Mac and Chris are really, really birds of a feather. I was joking with someone the other day that Chris is more like Mac than he is his dad. They think about hockey — and the economics of hockey — in a very smart and very analytical way.”

While this transition was going to come at some point — the Caps promoted MacLellan to president of hockey operations and general manager last summer, when they also extended his contract — it also seems sudden. MacLellan, 65, just finished leading the execution of an offseason plan that, at initial glance, seems to have vastly improved a roster that had to scrape into the playoffs in its last regular season game.

“This was going to happen at some point, right?” MacLellan said. “I’m good with it. And I’ll be there to help him.”

Before we get to the younger Patrick — and how he’ll approach the transition from the Alex Ovechkin era to whatever lies beyond — a moment on MacLellan. I’ll admit, when Leonsis finally parted ways with McPhee following the 2014 season — a difficult decision, for sure — and essentially turned to McPhee’s right-hand man, I had doubts. You acknowledged the need for new leadership and picked the guy who had been in the room all along?

What Leonsis discovered — what he acted on — was that MacLellan was a disarmingly honest and acutely analytical thinker who had clear plans for how to improve the roster, with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom remaining as the centerpieces. Does trading Troy Brouwer for T.J. Oshie seem like a good move all these years later? What about signing Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen as free agent defensemen? Or trading for Lars Eller?

What followed were back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies in 2015-16 and 2016-17, kick-in-the-gut losses to Pittsburgh in the playoffs each season, before the Stanley Cup in 2018. It’s easy to point to the fact that the Caps haven’t won a playoff series since their championship, and that has to change. But they have played relevant hockey for the entirety of MacLellan’s stewardship, a 10-season period in which only Boston and Tampa Bay have racked up more points in the standings. MacLellan wouldn’t know this, but among GMs with at least 500 games overseeing a franchise, only two have earned a higher percentage of available points.

“When you really think about it, we won a lot of games,” MacLellan said. “When you’re pushing through it, you’re not thinking about it. But when you look back, we’ve been competing for a long time. That consistency, that’s a big thing for me.”

There is, then, a consistency in approach. MacLellan had a 10-year career as an NHL player, but he didn’t go straight into scouting and front-office work afterward. Rather, he went back to school and got an MBA. Patrick initially resisted the pull of the family business and went to work on Wall Street, then for Constellation Energy. He got his MBA from Virginia in 2008 — but took all that background and applied it to hockey.

“I don’t think enough organizations value that kind of experience,” MacLellan said.

When Patrick joined the Capitals for the 2008-09 season — a hire made by McPhee — he did so at the bottom rung of the front office.

“He was making a lot of money in his old job,” Leonsis said. “I laughed. Like, ‘What are you doing?’ He just said, ‘Well, it’s in my blood.’”

“When I was in finance, I would go to games as a fan, and I felt like I was missing out,” Patrick said. “I mean, I’m a fan, and that’s fun. But I feel like I could offer so much more. I just didn’t want to always have that question about myself.”

Over the years, he earned more and more responsibility. When MacLellan was promoted last year, Patrick assumed the title of associate general manager. The line of succession seemed obvious.

“I really consider Mac a mentor for my whole career,” Patrick said. “He’s very organized, very thoughtful. He has a plan, and he works through a very analytical process to execute it. And everybody in our group has a voice. It’s not a democracy, and it shouldn’t be. Mac makes the final decision. But no one’s trying to be the I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong guy. It’s okay to have a different opinion, and he has created that environment.”

So, then, what’s next? The decisions for the 2024-25 season have been made, and they’re exciting. But Ovechkin needs just 42 goals to pass Wayne Gretzky for the most of all time. He will be 39 in September. His contract is up after 2025-26.

What does Chris Patrick foresee when the No. 8 is in the rafters rather than on the ice?

“When your stars are getting old, a lot of people are like, ‘Rebuild, rebuild, rebuild and just start over,’” Patrick said. “That’s a strategy, but I don’t know if that’s a strategy for everybody.”

The strategy for the Caps, going forward, will increasingly have Chris Patrick’s fingerprints on it. The challenge will be twofold: Usher the franchise into an era when it no longer has its undisputed franchise player but also maintain the consistency that a generation of fans here has come to expect.

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