Dean Evason is 47 years old and hasn’t been a head coach at the NHL level. So he understands that, even after seven years as an assistant with the Washington Capitals, he can’t be in too much of a hurry.
Evason this week took the job at the helm of the Milwaukee Admirals, the Nashville Predators' American Hockey League affiliate. It’s the next step for him to become an NHL coach, though he would have loved to get that chance with the Caps.
“I think there was a real good opportunity. George and I spoke at length several times, interviewed, obviously. I guess likely the thought process is possibly to go in a new direction or a fresh start from what’s happened here,” Evason said in a phone interview Thursday. “I’ve been here seven years. Certainly I thought that it would be a nice fit; I understand the group, I know what’s worked and what hasn’t worked here in the past, I know the personalities. There were certainly some very positive things that I thought on my end. But I guess it’s just a decision that they made, that management made to go in that direction.”
McPhee seemed to indicate in public comments last week that Evason and fellow assistant Jim Johnson would not return, speaking about allowing them to pursue other opportunities. It was evident then that Evason was no longer a candidate to follow Hunter, the in-season replacement for Bruce Boudreau.
Evason appears to harbor no hard feelings whatsoever despite not getting the promotion, as he was sure to thank McPhee and the Caps for letting him develop behind the bench over the past seven years and giving him a legitimate chance for the head-coaching position.
“I really believe, and I thank George, and I think he did give me a real good look and a fair opportunity,” Evason said. “At the end of the day, I think it just was a matter of whatever direction that they wanted to go was outside the organization. I’ve got nothing but praise and admiration and thank yous for George and the Capitals organization.”
This will be Evason’s first head-coaching job since 2003-04, though that was at the junior-hockey level with the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League. To get back to where he wants to be, the AHL was the natural move.
“There’s no question that the perfect scenario would’ve been to be an assistant coach for as long as I’ve been, seven years, and then to move into a head coaching position in the NHL. But unfortunately that didn’t materialize, so the best next step for coaches, head coaches, is to go down and develop in the minors,” he said. “I’ve been a head coach in junior but haven’t coached pro players as a head coach. I can develop the same as the players; go to the American League or the minors and develop and work your way back up. Hone your skills or develop your philosophies and teaching abilities and all that and then work your way back up hopefully at some point to the greatest league in the world, obviously, the NHL.”
According to national reports, Evason was considered a strong internal candidate to move up with the Caps to the head role. But when he was ruled out, his ties to Nashville GM David Poile and assistant Paul Fenton led him to Milwaukee.
“No question. The one thing is, when I first started this process, David Poile was saying, ‘We’re looking for a coach to make a commitment there.’ And obviously with the Kirk Muller situation, I think he was there for 17 games last year,” Evason said. “I mentioned to David Poile that certainly my goal as a coach is to get back to this level.
“But I’m in no rush. I understand that there’s a step to take. I think it’s a great step as far as from junior as being a head coach to the American League and then hopefully some day to the NHL. I’ve been here in the NHL; I’ve seen how everything works. So hopefully I’m prepared with the experience that I’m going to get there. When I hopefully get back to this level, I’ll be better prepared to be a better coach.”