October 19, 2021

All quiet on the Kettler front (for now)

Despite some conflicting reports the other day from two trusted sources (and both good friends), it’s been almost two weeks since the end of the Washington Capitals season, and the fates of GM George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates are still unknown.

To recap: the team announced on breakdown day that McPhee had met with owner Ted Leonsis and president Dick Patrick, and would not address the media that day. Later in the day. McPhee did poke his head out and verified that yes, he did meet with the brass and that they would meet again but he would not speak until that happened. He has not spoken to the media since.

On the same day, Oates did address the media and indicated that he had not spoken with McPhee, Leonsis or Patrick and was not scheduled to. He also informed the media that he did not have exit interviews scheduled with the players and hoped he would have the opportunity to address them before they and he left town for the summer. There has been no report of that happening and Oates has not spoken to the media since either.

It’s very possible the team is still debating about retaining McPhee and leaving Oates in limbo until a decision is made with the general manager.

Meanwhile, there have been very few rumors around the NHL about other GMs and coaches on the hot seat. Usually by this time, there are a number of coaching availabilities, but the only coach to be sacked thus far was Barry Trotz by Nashville.

Where does this leave us? Pretty much the same place as we were on breakdown day, unfortunately. Let’s take a look at the options [note: our good friends at RMNB have already discussed these scenarios. This is my take, albeit much less funny.]:

1) Blow It Up

The team could allow McPhee’s contract to expire (it reportedly runs out after the draft) and fire Oates. Leonsis has never fired a general manager in his stewardship of either the Caps or the Wizards, and the time this is taking might speak to his reluctance to do so.

In his only comments to the media (through his personal blog), Leonsis said the team would take a meticulous look at the status of the franchise and not make any rash decisions based simply on missing the playoffs this season. But the team DID miss the playoffs, where Leonsis makes a bulk of his operating revenue and missing out hurts his bottom line as much as it does the goodwill his team has built in the sporting community in DC.

The criticisms of McPhee and Oates have been well documented, in this space and throughout the Caps blogosphere — as well as the national media. The team was ill-equipped to start the season, then mismanaged throughout. The team played without an identity, functional on offense almost solely dependent on the power play and completely inept on the defensive end. They were one of the worst possession teams in the league, and the coach appeared inflexible to change and unwilling to adapt.

2) Rearrange deck chairs

The team could keep McPhee (presumably on double-secret probation) and dump Oates to hire their fourth coach in three calendar years. In my mind, this option is the favorite in this race.

There are several attractive coaching candidates available already, from the aforementioned Trotz to Peter Laviolette, and as teams are eliminated from the playoffs there would be any number of attractive assistants available. Many have decried McPhee’s proclivity to hire former Caps and first-time head coaches to helm the team. If he returns, you have to imagine he’ll be influenced to bring in an experienced coach, preferably one with a Stanley Cup resume. Those guys are few and far between, though.

3) Maintain Status Quo

The team could stay the course and keep both McPhee and Oates. They could speak to continuity, injuries (though not a valid excuse) and the power play as reasons to keep both McPhee and Oates. This could also spur a mutiny. Many (most) Caps fans are at a boiling point, having become accustomed to postseason play, if not success.

It’s hard to imagine no change to the braintrust. Missing the playoffs is simply inexcusable. There are gaps in the talent, for sure. But there is simply too much of it for this collection of athletes to miss out on the second season. The Caps have $14 million under the salary cap with which to work this offseason, and could make even more room if they can find takers for — or buy out — Brooks Laich or Mike Green’s contracts.

It’s hard to say which of the above scenarios the salary cap space affects most.

At the very least, we’ll see changes to the personnel. The Caps need to decide on Mikhail Grabovski, probably find a depth center to allow Eric Fehr to go back to wing, and 2-3 NHL caliber defensemen. It’s a long shopping list, but they have quiet a bit of cash to work with.

At this point, I would advocate for option number two. I fear the executive the team brings in if they sack McPhee. The NHL is littered with folks in evaluative positions that I would find unpalatable. Call me coward, but I’ll go with the devil I know in this case. McPhee is a shrewd negotiator, has a good (maybe not great) track record in the draft, and has proven adept at finding productive bargains, both on the free agent wire and via trade.

I think his hand might have been forced in a couple of recent moves, and it will be interesting if he is retained how he conducts his business going forward. I maintain that the moves he made at the deadline were not the moves of a man fearing for his job. The deals for Dustin Penner (who should have helped this team immensely, instead of the player getting banished to the fourth line) and Jaroslav Halak brought in veteran players for the stretch drive, yes. But they were also on expiring contracts and McPhee shed the contracts of Martin Erat (another resident of Oates’ Siberia) and Michal Neuvirth.

For now, though, we all wait.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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