December 20, 2014

Comparing lineups: have the Caps gotten better?

Caps during National Anthem - Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Caps during National Anthem – Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

The Brian MacLellan and Barry Trotz era has officially begun for the Washington Capitals as the team looks to put a lackluster 2013 campaign behind them.

MacLellan began that process in the offseason with several key acquisitions. The opening night roster is about as close as you can get to seeing a general manager’s vision as there are fewer injuries and politics that dictate shifts in line combinations. To see if the teams has improved and by how much, let’s compare this season’s opening night roster to last season’s. [Read more…]

Alex Ovechkin is a lot of things, but is he a coach killer?

There is perhaps no more polarizing player in the NHL than Alex Ovechkin.

To some, he is the best scorer in the world, a dynamic playmaker not afraid to throw his body around and carry the team on his back offensively when they need it the most. To others, he is a lazy, selfish player whose style of play and large contract are more of a detriment to the Washington Capitals than anything else.

Barry Trotz is now set to be the fifth head coach of the Caps in the past seven years and fifth of Ovechkin’s career causing some to declare Ovechkin a coach killer.

When a team’s star player and the coach don’t see eye to eye, it can cause problems within a locker room. When the team starts to struggle, owners will frequently can the coach rather than ship off the superstar. These players are thus labeled “coach killers.”

If a new coach comes in and proves to be more successful than the last, everyone forgets about it. If the problems persist, however, then people start to wonder if a player is “coachable.” In terms of Ovechkin, since he has such a large contract and is the face of the franchise, if he cannot be coached then the team essentially cannot win with him.

Determining if Ovechkin is a coach killer therefore is not just a shameless attempt to pull in web traffic, but is actually important for the future of the Caps. If he can’t be coached, then at some point, the team will have to move on from him.

So let’s look at which coach firings you can lay at the feet of Ovechkin.

First, you can throw Glen Hanlon out of this discussion. He was Ovechkin’s first coach, but was fired November 22, 2007 in Ovechkin’s third season. When the fans are chanting for the head coach to be fired, that’s usually a bad sign.

Hanlon was in over his head and everyone knew it.

Bruce Boudreau took over in 2007, but was fired 22 games into the 2011-12 season. After a strong 7-0 start, things went downhill as the Caps limped to a 5-9-1 record in their next 14 games. A 5-1 loss to a struggling Buffalo team was the final straw.

“This was simply a case of the players were no longer responding to Bruce,” said George McPhee. “When you see that, as much as you don’t want to make a change, you have to make a change.”

Would Boudreau have been fired if John Erskine was tuning him out? Probably not. It would be fair to assume then that McPhee was concerned that Ovechkin and Boudreau were no longer on the same page and the numbers bear that out.

Ovechkin had only one goal in the eight games leading up to Boudreau’s dismissal and only 17 points in the season’s first 22 games. The tension between him and the coach was clearly growing as Ovechkin showed in the team’s November 1 matchup against Anaheim. After learning he was benched for the end of the game, Ovechkin appeared to voice his displeasure. 

To say Ovechkin quit on Boudreau is an easy narrative, but in many ways it does not make sense. Dale Hunter, a defense-first, no-nonsense coach was selected to replace Boudreau; not at all the sort of coach you would expect from a team trying to appease their offensive star.

Let’s not forget Boudreau’s history prior to the firing. The Caps were only one offseason removed from being swept in the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning and two seasons from a stunning upset at the hands of Montreal in the first round.

Boudreau also dismissed the rumor that there was any rift between him and Ovechkin after being fired.

Let me give you two hypotheticals and you can decide for yourself which is more plausible: a player swore in frustration in the heat of the moment in a single game and a general manager saw his team struggling and decided to make a coaching change after two years of disappointing playoff performances OR McPhee fired Boudreau and replaced him with a defensive coach all in an effort to placate his dynamic offensive playmaker.

While many people seem to be running with the latter narrative, it doesn’t really make much sense, does it?

Professional athletes are the most competitive people on the planet. When the team needs a goal, every player wants to be on the ice, especially someone as good as Ovechkin. His outburst may be regrettable, but his frustration is understandable. People are reading far too much into one specific incident.

Boudreau still has yet to make it past the second round of the playoffs even with two chances in Anaheim. That has more to do with why he was fired than a single outburst from Ovechkin.

Under Hunter, the Caps were a very different team as he stressed defense. As you would imagine, Ovechkin clashed more with Hunter than he did with any of his coaches. Hunter was not afraid to bench Ovechkin and he did, frequently.

“Sometimes I felt trapped,” said Ovechkin.

But, regardless of how much Hunter and Ovechkin struggled to coexist, you can’t blame Ovechkin for getting Hunter fired because Hunter was never fired.

After the end of the season, Hunter informed the team he was stepping down as head coach to return to the London Knights in Ontario, an OHL team he owns and coaches.

The conspiracy theorists out there will say that Hunter was forced out or that his relationship with Ovechkin made him want to leave, but Hunter did not leave for another NHL team, he’s not an assistant somewhere or the head coach of an AHL team; he’s still in Ontario coaching the London Knights.

Cleary, that is where he is the most comfortable. You can’t blame Ovechkin for that.

Hunter was followed by Adam Oates. Despite some early success in the lockout shortened season in which the Caps reached the playoffs, Oates was a complete disaster in his first full season as a head coach. His faults have been well documented by this point and frankly if you blame Ovechkin for Oates getting fired, then you just weren’t paying attention.

So let’s recap. Of Ovechkin’s four previous coaches, the first was let go because the team was awful under his tutelage, the second underachieved in the playoffs, the third left voluntarily and the fourth was a terrible coach.

Ovechkin meanwhile has won multiple MVPs, been benched, switched positions at a coach’s behest and went so far as to say he wanted Oates to return as coach even after Oates publicly called him out for his defense in the now infamous Dallas game.

That doesn’t sound like a coach killer.

Ovechkin absolutely has his faults as a player. His defense is atrocious and as the captain of the team, giving less than 100% effort in the defensive zone is inexcusable. His lack of playoff success is also something he will have to live with until he can get over the hump and make a deep run. It is absolutely fair to criticize him for that.

But if we’re being fair, it also should be pointed out that Ovechkin has never had a coach with prior NHL experience or a championship caliber defense to work with. There are several reasons why the Caps have failed to win a Stanley Cup in the past few years, Ovechkin is only a piece of the puzzle.

Giving him the label of “coach killer” is easy to do, but it ignores a lot of the facts that suggest otherwise.
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JJ Regan is a Contributor to District Sports Page. He is an aspiring sports journalist currently earning his master’s degree in interactive journalism from American University and has his own website at regansports.com. He is also a digital freelancer for Comcast SportsNet Washington and Baltimore. JJ follows all D.C. sports but specializes in the Capitals. You can follow him on Twitter @TheDC_Sportsguy.

Trotz faces tough questions in Washington

In most cases, great teams are not looking for new coaches and great coaches are not looking for new jobs. As good as Barry Trotz is, he faces some tough questions as he takes over the Washington Capitals.

How will Trotz handle Alex Ovechkin?

The biggest question by far for the new coach is how he will handle the face of the franchise in Alex Ovechkin. [Read more…]

District Sports Page presents Caps Weekly: McPhee, Oates out; where do they go from here?

Dave Nichols, Katie Brown and J.J. Regan of District Sports Page discuss the Washington Capitals dismissal of George McPhee and Adam Oates.

Check Out Hockey Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with DistrictSportsPage Caps Weekly on BlogTalkRadio

Washington Capitals Postseason Roundtable Part IV: The Coaches

As we’ve done in year’s past, District Sports Page staff and a couple friends in the industry conducted a roundtable to rate the recently completed Washington Capitals season. Obviously, with the changing of the guard over the weekend, the season was in no was satisfying of satisfactory, and our grades this season really reflect where our contributors to the roundtable sit with regards to the changes necessary to make the Caps true contenders again.

We’ll rate the offense, defense, goaltending, coaching and administration throughout the week.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page; Katie Brown, beat writer for DSP; J.J. Regan, contributor to DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan; Harry Hawkings, RockTheRed.com.

Part III: Rate the coaches (with grade an explanation):

DAVE: F. This team got progressively worse in the two years Adam Oates was in charge. It’s not even a question. The puck possession was abysmal, the systems were almost indecipherable, the rigidity was patently absurd, and the personnel mismanagement was shockingly amateurish. I’m also choosing to believe the power play’s return to the top of the chart was regression to mean with the talent available.

Ever since Bruce Boudreau was dismissed, the Caps puck possession has taken a nosedive, bottoming out at the end of this past season. You simply cannot regularly win games giving up more shots at even strength than you take. The bigger the differential, the worse of a team you are. It’s just math. And the Caps were one of the five worst teams in terms of puck possession in the league.

For long stretches of this season, it seemed the Caps preferred method of getting the puck out of their own end was to fumble it around, then bat it to center ice and hope to be able to dump it to get a line change. Preferring players skating on their strong hand is okay in theory, but when you rigiditily insist upon it and it forces you to play John Erskine in a second-pairing role (among many misaligned), you need to re-think what you’re doing.

Oates tried to make natural wingers into centers and centers into wingers. For two seasons, he ignored George McPhee’s biggest trade deadline acquisition, banishing first Martin Erat and then Dustin Penner to the Siberia of the NHL — a fourth line assignment with Jay Beagle. Then, for periods in both seasons — including down the stretch this season when fighting for their playoff lives — he moved Beagle up to center the greatest goal scorer in this generation. Surprisingly, Alex Ovechkin did not have a single point — let alone goal — while being centered by the offensively challenged Beagle.

Maybe the biggest dereliction of duty came by wasting a season of Tom Wilson’s entry-level contract so Wilson could earn more penalty minutes fighting than he was allowed to skate at even strength.

The bridge-burning Oates did in the media with Ovechkin, Holtby, Halak and Green was simply unbecoming of an NHL head coach.

Oates has a reputation as having an incredibly gifted hockey intelligence. He was one of the greatest playmakers this game has ever known. He was also known as a stubborn, selfish and petulant player, wearing out his welcome when coaches got fed up with his schtick. Hopefully the damage he did here isn’t permanent and can be overcome by the next administration.

KATIE: D-. At first, the changes Adam Oates was making seemed to make sense, even if they were a bit puzzling. It devolved into Oates needing to tinker with literally everything – including goaltending – to the team’s detriment. Do I think the Capitals would have been better off if he’d let his assistants do their jobs instead of trying to fix things that weren’t broken? Yes. Let the goalie coaches do their jobs. Let the defensive staff do theirs. That’s why you hire assistant coaches in the first place, right?  I don’t have much to comment on as far as the assistant coaches because I don’t think they hold much responsibility for many of the things that Oates wished to do during his tenure as head coach.

What Oates was able to do with the Capitals’ power play and with Alex Ovechkin was terrific, but he struggled in just about every other area. There is something to be said about sticking with things, even if they don’t work instantaneously, but even the worst coach in the NHL could realize that pairing Alex Ovechkin, an elite player, with Jay Beagle, a minimally skilled fourth line player, wasn’t a good idea. It took Oates six games to separate them. Now, maybe he was trying to get Ovechkin to be more defensively responsible, but that is not the correct way to do it.

Oates was stubborn and inflexible, and instead of modifying his system to accommodate and accentuate the skills of players in order to have the greatest possible chance of success, he tried to squeeze them into ill-fitting holes, which often backfired. Not to mention breaching the confidentiality of private conversations with players, in Halak’s case. No matter what transpired, the bottom line is that he shouldn’t have aired that dirty laundry to the public. There was dissonance between George McPhee and Oates, and it was never clearer than in the mishandling of Martin Erat and Dustin Penner. McPhee deserves the credit for acquiring quality players in an effort to help the team win, futile as it may have been, but Oates let personal bias, or perhaps just ignorance, dictate his utilization of these players.

J.J.: D-. The only things keeping this grade from an F are the power play and the third line. The Caps were tied with Pittsburgh for the best power play percentage in the league and the third line looked fantastic. Otherwise, Adam Oates laid an egg this season.

In his second season as head coach, the Caps lacked an identity and were awful at even strength. Oates was also responsible for bizarre personnel decisions, the Jay Beagle debacle, pushing a goaltending philosophy counter to the strengths of the team’s top netminder, and switching multiple players away from their natural positions. He also stubbornly refused to adapt when the team struggled under his theories.

Given that Oates had a full offseason and training camp to work with, I expected the team to get better in his second season, not worse. I’m not surprised he was let go.

SKY: D.  Defensively they were awful.  Adam Oates was stubborn in making adjustments.  Alex Ovechkin went a career high 15 games without an even strength POINT in the most important part of the season because Oates was so worried about his +/- that he put Jay Beagle with him.  Oates never even put Dustin Penner with Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin and that’s the only reason he was brought in here for!

Also Oates was neurotic with his right shot being on the right side and left shot being on the left side…many other teams are in the playoffs right now that don’t have that problem.  Also Calle Johansson might not have had the greatest players, but you can’t just blame the players for being a disaster on the defensive side.  The Caps never won a game in regulation/overtime under Oates at the helm in two seasons in the regular season when scoring two or fewer goals.

HARRY: I give the coaching an F. Coming in to this season I had tentative optimism that Adam Oates would learn from his mistakes and start to maximize the talents of his players instead of putting them in situations in which they were destined to fail and then criticizing and benching them for said failure. I was wrong.

Oates’ decision to consistently bury Martin Erat despite his status as one of the team’s top possession players made one of the worst trades of George McPhee’s tenure worse, culminating in a salary dump at the trade deadline.. His insistence on playing Aaron Volpatti, who was quite literally one of the five worst players in the NHL this year in terms of possession, for almost half the season, was inexcusable.

His role in keeping Tom Wilson up with the big club, therefore burning a year of his valuable entry-level contract, was also made worse by the fact that he buried Wilson with bad players and ice time almost every night. This forced Wilson to fight to try and make a name for himself.

His meticulous and obsessive desire to control everything on offense, defense, and in goal – detailed by Katie Carrera in a lengthy post around the end of the season – alienated players. Lastly, as the season came to a close, Oates’ line juggling became a punch line. such as Mikhail Grabovski on the wing, Jay Beagle with Alex Ovechkin, and Dustin Penner on the fourth line made no sense and didn’t put anyone in a position to succeed.

One of Oates’ deputies, Calle Johansson, was also likely directly responsible for this calamitous season as his defensive system and rules are not suited to this roster. The only coach who seemed to have a good year was Blaine Forsythe, as his primary responsibility – the power play – remained great. I’m legitimately starting to wonder if it’s him, not Oates, who deserves credit for turning Ovechkin around.

OPINION: Capitals sack McPhee, Oates; Leonsis and Patrick now on the hook

When the head coach completely disregards the main trade deadline acquisition you’ve acquired — two years in a row — you know there’s a problem.

Saturday, the Washington Capitals announced they would not renew general manager George McPhee’s contract, thus terminating a 17-year partnership. In addition, the team relieved their two-year head coach Adam Oates of his duties.

Owner Ted Leonsis and team president Dick Patrick spoke with effusive praise for both men, reassuring all in attendance at the press conference and those watching on the internet that neither men would be unemployed for very long. In McPhee’s case, it wouldn’t be shocking if he was named GM of the Canucks or Flames before he meets with the media on Monday afternoon in D.C.

Oates was a no-brainer. He misapplied assets, was inflexible and presided over a team that steadily got worse and worse possession-wise under his tutelage. Though the players — to a man — praised him on clearout day and decried that he was not the problem, in reality he was a significant portion of it this season.

As for McPhee, well…

I’ll go on record here. I think George McPhee is one of the smartest men in hockey. He keeps his business in-house, is professional under all circumstances (well, except for this), a fairly strong drafter and is a shrewd negotiator. He was responsible for the fire sale and rebuild, and has kept this team in the playoffs for the past seven years. Until this season.

McPhee has also completed some very head-scratching trades, had a couple of very notable busts in the first round of the draft, and built a team that was perennial successful but never able to get past the second round, winning just three playoff series in the Ovechkin era. He never acquired the defensive stalwart this team needed so badly.

The Caps were destined to fail this season, and it’s been coming for a while. Really, it’s been coming since they allowed their identity to be stolen following the 2010 flame-out against the Montreal Canadiens. They abandoned the high-powered, puck possession style that dominated the NHL and won a President’s Trophy and it’s been a steady decline ever since.

Bruce Boudreau was ousted, Dale Hunter fled, and now Oates is jettisoned after just two seasons.

There are a lot of executives employed across the NHL that don’t have half the acumen that McPhee has. Pray the Caps don’t end up with one of them. Change is exciting, and probably warranted in this case. But things could get worse before they get better. Will modern Caps fans — the ones that came on board as fans of the “Young Guns” — be willing to stay on through a rebuild, with a possible teardown of those players they fell in love with?

Veteran Caps fans will remember some very lean years. I’m not just talking the doldrums the team was in before they sold off Bondra, Jagr, Gonchar, Lang and Konowalchuk. I’m talking the days where there were more Red Wings fans in the arena than Caps fans in the Stanley Cup finals.   I’m talking the old days when Scott Stevens, Dino Ciccarelli and others were run out of town due to an inappropriate incident in a limousine.  I’m talking real old days, when the city almost lost the team due to complete ignorance of the District’s sporting fanbase.

You think it’s bad they missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years? You want dark days? Everything is relative, friends.

Now, let’s discuss the elephant in the room.

The Caps allowed McPhee to walk and fired Oates, under contract for another season (so they are eating that cash), yet they did not fire any of the assistant coaches. Leonsis allowed Patrick to give the news that the team does not expect to make any more changes to the staff and that they would prefer to have a manager in place before hiring a coach or conducting the NHL Draft, but don’t see that as a necessity.

Say what?

They dismissed the man that has been guiding this franchise for the past 17 seasons, yet don’t feel it’s necessary to have his replacement in place before either hiring a new coach or conducting this year’s draft? And they are retaining all the assistants, including Caps “Mt. Rushmore” members Calle Johansson and Olie Kolzig?

Really?

It’s hard not to look at this and think that Oates didn’t hire either assistant for their current position. It’s hard not to look at this — now — and think that Johansson and Kolzig were hired as public relation moves to act as a buffer to deflect criticism of the franchise out of respect for what they did as players. Neither had NHL credentials as coaches before they came here. The head coach they worked for was summarily dismissed. The GM was allowed to walk. But yet, the highly respected ex-players remain? Especially when the defense and goaltending were a source of criticism all season long, locally and nationally?

I loved Johansson and Kolzig as players as much as anyone. But their track record as coaches speaks for itself.

How can we separate Johansson and Kolzig from McPhee and Oates? How can they justify it?

The franchise is in turmoil. It’s at a crossroads. The decisions the organization — Leonsis and Patrick — make in the coming weeks and months will dictate the playing situation Alex Ovechkin will be in for the remainder of his time in D.C. Only they are responsible now. There’s no more scapegoat. There’s no more buffer or shield.

In the Ovechkin era, this organization has made promises and boasts and predictions of multiple Cups to a loyal and passionate fanbase. There’s no wonder there’s a sense of entitlement, both from the fans and the players themselves. They’ve bought in to it as much as anyone.

Make no mistake now though. Leonsis and Patrick are now directly responsible for whether or not Ovechkin takes this franchise to a Stanley Cup final that the fanbase, the team, the organization so richly think they deserve.

Here’s hoping they make the right decisions. I’m not as sure today as I was yesterday that will happen.

Capitals’ Leonsis and Patrick speak on front office changes: “New leadership at this time was needed”

Saturday morning, the Washington Capitals announced that they would not be renewing General Manager George McPhee’s contract and that they had relieved head coach Adam Oates of his duties.

McPhee was one of the longest tenured general managers in the National Hockey League, and he’d been with the Capitals organization since 1997. The Capitals made the playoffs for six straight years, and as irony would have it, the team would fail to make the postseason in the same year as his contract was rumored to be expiring.

Adam Oates coached 137 games for the Capitals, an organization that he was a part of as a player as well. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame the same day he was hired by the Capitals in 2012. His meticulous – some would say nitpicky – coaching style, coupled with a lackluster team performance in the regular season and failure to make the playoffs, outweighed the benefits of his accomplishments: constructing a juggernaut power play and moving Alex Ovechkin to right wing. (Ironically, Ovechkin scored more than half of his 52 goals this season playing the left wing on the power play).

It became less of a matter of “if” and more of a question as to when changes would be made. There was speculation on Thursday that changes were coming, but all talk was quickly extinguished, no doubt because the decision hadn’t been made, as we now know.

Capitals Majority Owner Ted Leonsis and Team President Dick Patrick formally addressed the media at Verizon Center late Saturday afternoon. Leonsis thanked both Oates and McPhee for the work they’d done for the Capitals organization, but said that the decision came down to the direction the team was heading.

“It came down, honestly, after all of the work that we did, and our due diligence, for Dick and I to sit down and say “do we think this team with this leadership can compete for or win a Stanley Cup going into next season?”, said Leonsis. “And our answer was obviously no, and that’s why we made the change.”

The ultimate goal for any NHL franchise is to win a Stanley Cup, and Leonsis and Patrick felt as though the leadership they had in place was not going to take them there. Leonsis admitted it was a tough day for him.

Leonsis said he and Patrick conducted exit interviews for Capitals players, but would not say what was discussed in the spirit of maintaining confidentiality and trust.

“I will say, and this is very important to that process, that when we spoke to all of the individuals [players], we said, “we know this is uncomfortable, and you should be able to tell us whatever you want or tell us nothing, but whatever you tell us is going to be between me and Dick”,  because we’re seeking out information, you want to respect that,” said Leonsis.

“I’m not going to tell you who we spoke to and what they said. I don’t think that’s appropriate,” he said. “But the bottom line, and the timeline, so everyone understands –we conducted a lot of interviews. And on Thursday, we spoke with Adam and with George. And yesterday, Dick and I compared all of our notes, and it was late in the day when we made the decision.”

“We were left with the overall impression that the team wasn’t trending towards being able to compete for a Stanley Cup. That was just a clear signal in why we felt it was time to make those changes,” Leonsis concluded. “I’d say there’s lots of noise, but the signal was that we need to get back to being totally focused on one goal.”

Patrick added that they’d like to have a new general manager in place prior to the NHL Draft on June 27-28, but that it’s not a hard deadline for them. He said the organization has people in place that are capable of handing the responsibilities of draft day if a new GM has not been hired by that time.

As for the matter of selecting a head coach, Patrick was similarly vague: “Generally speaking, we’d prefer to have the manager in place and his involvement in selecting a coach, but could happen otherwise.”

There are still many questions that bear asking and answering in the coming days, but one thing is certain: no matter what led up to the decision to fire McPhee and Oates, Leonsis and Patrick came to the decision that the franchise had lost sight of its ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup, and hope to set that right by starting fresh with new leadership in the Capitals’ front office.

 

 

 

 

 

Former Capitals coach Adam Oates issues statement, thanks players and organization for coaching opportunity

Former Washington Capitals head coach Adam Oates has issued a statement, released by the Capitals public relations this afternoon following a press conference held by Ted Leonsis and Dick Patrick.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – April 26, 2014

Statement from Adam Oates

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ted Leonsis, Dick Patrick, George McPhee, our coaching staff, the players and everyone involved with the Washington Capitals organization. It was a tremendous honor to coach the Capitals these past two seasons. It is a great franchise with a wonderful fan base that will always be close to my heart. I’m grateful for the opportunity they provided me and wish them nothing but the best in the future.”

Please note that this is the extent of Adam’s statement and he will not be making any additional comments at this time.

Caps clean house

After failing to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007, the Washington Capitals finally made the moves many were expecting since the end of the regular season.

The team announced Saturday that the contract of general manager George McPhee would not be renewed and that head coach Adam Oates had been relieved of his duties.

McPhee became general manager of the Caps in 1997 and in that first season the team won its only conference championship. He was never able to recreate that success, however, and the team has since won only three of 12 playoff series.

McPhee is probably best known for orchestrating the fire sale that saw the team trade away its best players through the 2003-04 season in an attempt to reboot the team’s roster. The Caps’ dropped in the standings allowing them to win the draft lottery and draft Alex Ovechkin with the first overall pick in the 2004 draft.

The Capitals were rebuilt into a winning team, but not a championship team despite their talent-laden roster. McPhee has been criticized in recent years for relying too much on those core players he brought in for the rebuild and his failure to find a coach able to bring the team over the hump.

Of the five coaches McPhee hired in his tenure, Bruce Cassidy was the only one that did not have a prior relationship with the organization. Many believed McPhee was unnecessarily limiting the team’s options at head coach thus preventing the hiring of someone with the championship pedigree the Caps so desperately needed.

Oates was McPhee’s final hire as head coach and joins his now former boss in unemployment.

Despite the team’s initial success in Oates’ first lockout-abbreviated season, his first full season was a shocking failure as the team failed to reach the postseason.

Much of the blame for that failure was laid at Oates’ feet due to the number of curious decisions he made during his tenure. From mandating  that players play only on their shooting side to promoting fourth line anchor Jay Beagle to the top line alongside Ovechkin, fans and analysts alike have watched the past season with utter confusion.

Oates was brought in after serving as assistant coach in Tampa Bay and New Jersey where he was known for his offensive acumen and running a lethal power play. He was indeed able to reignite the Caps’ power play, but did little else for a team loaded with talent.

Oates also bumped players such as Martin Erat and Dustin Penner, down to the fourth line in favor of those who better fit his ‘system.’ Moves such as those demonstrated a clear disconnect between coach and general manager as both were players acquired by trades while Oates was coach. By choosing not to fully utilize either player, Oates showed that clearly he and McPhee had very different ideas on the team’s direction.

That direction, however, brought them both to the same destination.

Though his inability to build a championship team ultimately cost him his job, it is important not to dismiss McPhee’s accomplishments while in D.C. The Caps had little history of success prior to McPhee’s tenure and he managed to build a consistent winner out or a struggling franchise.

Analysts have already brought up his name in connection to other jobs, such as the recent opening in Vancouver where McPhee previously served as vice president and director of hockey operations.

The future is much more cloudy for Oates, who lasted only two seasons in his first NHL head coaching gig.

Oates was an extremely successful assistant and I’m guessing more teams believe that is the role he is best suited for at the NHL level. His only success in Washington was for those same duties he performed as an assistant, namely the power play.

Based on what we saw in Washington, hiring Oates as a head coach would mean completely shifting the way that organization approaches and thinks about hockey. Teams would have to be willing to go through such a transformation before taking a chance on Oates. Sometimes, those coaches can change the game.

Sometimes, however, those philosophies don’t pan out. That was the case for the Caps.

As for what the next step for the Caps may be, expect owner Ted Leonsis to hire a general manager first. General managers tend to prefer their own coaching hires so to hire a coach first would be putting the cart before the horse. For that reason, predicting the next coach is nearly impossible as we don’t know what the new general manager may be looking for.

Given the state of the team and the organization’s frustration over their postseason struggles, however, Leonsis will look for a general manager with a championship pedigree and most likely demand a coach with similar success.

Those type of candidates don’t grow on trees, but it is critical that Leonsis do whatever is necessary in order to make the right hires this offseason.

Though many were expecting and advocating for the team to replace McPhee and Oates, it is important to remember that this was only the first step. Cleaning house was the right move if and only if the team makes the right hires to replace them. If not, the Caps will end up right back in this same disappointing position a lot faster than they may expect.

Capitals announce front office changes: McPhee and Oates relieved of duties

The Washington Capitals announced Saturday morning that they will not be renewing General Manager George McPhee’s contract and that head coach Adam Oates has also been let go.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – April 26, 2014

Capitals Announce Changes to Front Office and Coaching Staff

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Washington Capitals will not renew the contract of vice president and general manager George McPhee and have relieved head coach Adam Oates of his duties, majority owner Ted Leonsis and president Dick Patrick announced today.

“George has been a terrific, longtime executive for our franchise, and I’m grateful for his commitment to the Capitals organization for the past 17 years,” said Leonsis. “Under his leadership the Capitals won seven division titles, twice were the top team in the Eastern Conference, earned a Presidents’ Trophy and competed in the playoffs 10 times. He was a highly effective manager who is extremely well regarded within our organization and around the NHL. We have the utmost respect for him and his family and wish them nothing but the very best.

“We are also appreciative of Adam’s efforts and thank him for his devotion, work ethic and contributions to the Capitals the past two seasons. He is a smart, tactical coach who improved the performance of several of our players. He is a Hall of Fame player who we believe will be a longtime coach in the NHL. We will help him in whatever way we are able and wish him well.

This is an important time for our organization, and I feel a change is needed in order to get us back to being a top echelon team that competes for the Stanley Cup.”

Leonsis and Patrick will be available to the media today, April 26 at 4 p.m. in the Verizon Center media room.

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