George McPhee was told April 26 by Capitals owner Ted Leonsis and President Dick Patrick that his contract would not be renewed after 17 years as general manager. Adam Oates, the team’s third coach since late 2011, was fired with one year remaining on his contract.
Leonsis and Patrick made the shake-up after undergoing a nearly two-week examination of the team, which failed to reach the postseason for the first time in seven seasons. According to sources with knowledge of the process, Leonsis and Patrick met with people from all corners of the organization — players, scouts, medical and front office staff — for feedback on the entire operation.
Patrick said the search for a new general manager and coach will begin immediately. While he said he hopes at least the former will be in place by the 2014 NHL draft on June 27 in Philadelphia, it isn’t a steadfast deadline.
McPhee, 55, was the third-longest-tenured general manager in the NHL. Under his guidance the Capitals reached the playoffs 10 of 16 seasons, won seven Southeast Division titles and captured the Presidents’ Trophy as owners of the league’s best regular season record in 2009-10. But Washington advanced past the second round only once during that span, when they reached the Stanley Cup finals in McPhee’s first season.
Washington’s scouting staff is believed to be under contract for next season and Patrick said he didn’t anticipate any other immediate changes to the hockey operations staff, adding that the assistant coaches will also remain in their current capacities for the time being.
Oates, 51, a Hall of Fame player but first-time head coach when he took over in June 2012, was unable to produce consistent performances from his team. In his two seasons, Washington recorded a 65-48-17 record. Whomever follows Oates will be the Capitals’ fourth coach in four years.
“I’m not very proud of that; I think that’s a real issue,” Leonsis said of the turnover. “It’s very hard for players to jell going from system to system to system. It concerns me greatly.”
Oates succeeded in an attempt to spark Ovechkin, who saw a decline in offensive production each of the two seasons prior to Oates’s arrival, by switching him from left to right wing. The team captain won his third Hart trophy as league MVP and two Maurice “Rocket’” Richard trophies as the league’s leading goal scorer with Oates as coach. But those individual results didn’t translate on a larger scale.
Questions about Washington’s play at even strength that surfaced during a first-round playoff loss to the Rangers in 2013 persisted during the 2013-14 campaign. Neither were season-long trends such as the inability to win low-scoring games, preventing quick goals after scoring themselves and frequently squandering two-goal leads.
With McPhee and Oates ousted, Leonsis must now take a step he’s never had to make since buying the Capitals in 1999: Hire the man responsible for delivering his ultimate objective.
There are numerous candidates, but the majority are assistant general managers with a successful track record in a secondary role rather than those who have run a team of their own.
Jim Benning, who has spent eight years with the Boston Bruins, may be the prize of the group. A respected talent evaluator, he was a finalist for the job in Buffalo this season and is rumored to be a candidate in Vancouver. Former Vezina Trophy winning goaltender
Laurence Gilman has 18 years of front office experience between time with Vancouver and Phoenix. Other assistant general managers, such as
To meet with any candidate under contract with another team in any capacity requires the Capitals to obtain permission from that club first, adding another wrinkle to the process.
There are a few established coaches already on the market this time around. Peter Laviolette, who has 12 years of NHL head coaching experience and won a Stanley Cup in 2006 with Carolina, demands intensity from his teams. Barry Trotz, let go by Nashville after 15 years behind the bench, is a widely respected, no-nonsense coach who isn’t expected to be out of work long.
But it’s probably a safe assumption the top general manager candidates would want their say in selecting a bench boss. So the Capitals may be better served by filling the front-office spot first.
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