It's time for change, and maybe some hope, in Washington.
It was announced this morning that the contract of Capitals vice president and general manager George McPhee would not be renewed and that head coach Adam Oates had been fired.
“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 Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis in a team release. “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.”
McPhee had been the third-longest tenured manager in the game, behind only Lou Lamoriello and David Poile. The Caps reached the playoffs in 10 of his 16 seasons but hadn't advanced beyond the second round since his first year. He'll take heat for some of his player personnel choices (swapping Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat and Michael Latta at the 2013 deadline still stings), but his insistence on hiring inexperienced head coaches may have been McPhee's greatest failing. He hitched his wagon to five first-time coaches during his tenure, including his three most recent hires: Bruce Boudreau, Dale Hunter and Oates.
Oates spent two years behind the bench in Washington, producing a 65-48-17 record. He'll be remembered for his bold efforts to light a fire under Alex Ovechkin, including switching him from left to right wing. The superstar forward bucked the change at first, but his eventual buy-in led to the Hart Trophy in 2013 and the Rocket Richard Trophy this season. But for all that success, he struggled to contribute during five-on-five play and often seemed indifferent to his responsibilities away from the puck.
That particular flaw was symptomatic of a larger defensive problem. Washington owned the worst record in the league when scoring two or fewer goals this season at 0-25-6, and they went 1-41-8 during Oates' tenure. That inability to pull points out of low-scoring games sealed his fate.
There's no timetable for choosing their successors, although some names already are being bandied about.. But whoever steps in faces a significant challenge that starts with defining the culture of this club moving forward. The elephant in the room is Ovechkin and his leadership, and it is likely that any serious candidate for the position would want full autonomy on how to handle that situation.