- The Washington Times - Monday, June 24, 2002

TORONTO The mystery is almost over.
Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee says the team will hire a new coach this week, a move that probably will be announced Thursday.
The Capitals fired coach Ron Wilson on May 10, and that day McPhee said he had a candidate singular, mind you selected but was not ready to identify him.
There's no place hockey rumors fly faster than at the annual entry draft, and the Caps coaching situation has been a prime topic of speculation. All McPhee will say is that he will solve the riddle this week, filling the last vacancy in the league.
With his lips pressed firmly together, McPhee shook his head side-to-side every time a new name was broached, just as he has for weeks. Some names have come up numerous times, and the reaction has always been the same.
On Thursday, the hot rumor was Ted Nolan, the former Buffalo coach who was dumped when he couldn't get along with his general manager. By Friday it was Ron Smith, the former Vancouver assistant. On Saturday Herb Brooks' name was back in the spotlight. Yesterday the possibilities of former Montreal coach Alain Vigneault were revisited, and he would appear to be the favorite this morning.
Still, McPhee wouldn't tip his hand.
Dale Hunter? Kelly Miller? Doug Jarvis? Zilch. Pat Burns? Ken Hitchcock? Dave Tippett? Brian Trottier? They have jobs. Barry Smith? Dave Lewis? Barry Melrose? Nada. Dave Poulin? Larry Robinson? Mike Johnson? Glen Hanlon? Noncommittal.
Some of McPhee's responses are phrased in such a way that it is impossible to determine whether he is confirming, denying or not answering.
McPhee even hedged on interviews. He said he "interviewed" about a dozen individuals for the job but then said none had been brought to Washington and that he might have met some when their paths crossed on the road. "I don't know that it was ever formal, but [the process] was fun."
"A lot of people don't want their names out there," McPhee said yesterday, trying to explain why he was keeping the secret. "Some people don't want it known they've been interviewed and then rejected."
Brooks' name has been mentioned several times, even when his name was being floated for the New York Rangers job. But Pittsburgh general manager Craig Patrick said yesterday the Caps had not asked permission to talk with the Miracle on Ice architect, who is a scout for the Penguins.
Vigneault, however, has permission from St. Louis to talk to anybody about a job, and he is believed to be among the dozen McPhee has talked to. It is believed Vigneault will join Burns, the New Jersey Devils' latest coach, as an assistant if he doesn't land the Washington job.
Vigneault seems like an excellent prospect. He coached the Canadiens for more than three seasons (1997-98 to November 2000) with a record of 109-118-35-4, outstanding considering there were times he didn't have enough healthy players to conduct a practice. He pushed Montreal into the playoffs during seasons when it probably shouldn't have been there and is described by those who knew him when he was with Montreal as an excellent motivator who is defensive-minded and a decent individual.
But he had a fault, which can be fatal in his line of work considering where he was employed. While he is French-Canadian and speaks both languages perfectly, he was not born in the Province of Quebec. He was born in Ontario, anglo Canada, and that in itself left him the target of criticism when things went wrong, whether he was at fault or not.
The fact he was a good coach was not disputed; his place of birth was the issue.
Is it Vigneault?
"You're never going to guess this one," McPhee said to a reporter the other day.
We'll find out Thursday, maybe.
In other news, the Caps selected six 18-year-olds on the second day of the entry draft yesterday: Jevon Desautels, a left wing from Spokane of the Western Hockey League, taken 109th overall; Robert Gherson, a goalie from Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League, taken 145th; Marian Havel, a center/left wing from Vancouver of the WHL, taken 179th; Joni Lindof, a wing from Tappara of the Finnish junior league, taken 209th; Igor Ignatushkin, a wing from Elektrostal of the Russian League, taken 242nd; and Patric Blomdahl, a wing from AIK of the Swedish junior league, taken 272nd.


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