George McPhee doesn’t look like a man in a hurry. The vacancy sign has been up for a Washington Capitals coach for a month now since Dale Hunter’s unsurprising departure, but the urgency to make a move before next weekend’s NHL draft isn’t there.
“We’ll get there when we get there. I don’t anticipate doing anything before the draft,” the Caps’ general manager said Thursday. “We’ll work on that, but we’re working on other things as well.”
The clock’s ticking toward the start of free agency July 1 and there’s the inevitable concern about building a team while possibly not knowing who will be in charge. But for the first time in 10 years, McPhee has time in the summer to hand-pick a new coach, and he’s using it to his full advantage.
“When you do it in the summer, it becomes a real thoughtful process, real comprehensive. You can talk to a lot of people and come up with a plan for how you’re going to do it,” McPhee said. “We’ve enjoyed it. There are some terrific people out there and some real good candidates. We like where we are in the process, we like how it’s gone so far. We’ll just keep working away until we’re comfortable making that final decision.”
Naturally, McPhee wouldn’t name any names, and reading between the lines on his answers about NHL experience “not necessarily” being a prerequisite and the Stanley Cup Final ending “not necessarily” opening up a new pool of candidates would be a fool’s errand.
What McPhee has is time on his side. As Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said in New York recently, there’s no need to have a new coach in place right away. He got his guy in Michel Therrien, but others are available.
They could include the likes of New Jersey Devils assistant and ex-Caps forward Adam Oates, Norfolk Admirals head man Jon Cooper and a host of names from Pat Quinn and Marc Crawford to Mike Haviland and Terry Murray.
What McPhee’s dead on about is that there are a lot of “terrific” coaches available. It’s not necessarily about when, but more about who fits this team and what the Caps want in the next coach.
“I think the whole league is obviously trending toward an up-tempo style of play. Everybody wants to do that,” McPhee said. “It’s not necessarily the style of play that’s most important. If you’re the coach, you’ve got to sell this to the players and have them buy in. And that’s what works: If you can get everybody to buy in. We’re going to take our time hiring that coach and nothing’s changed.”
Ten years ago, McPhee had time to make a call on a coach, the only time during his 15-year tenure he made a hire during the offseason. He wound up with Bruce Cassidy, who lasted just a season and part of a second before McPhee fired him and replaced him with the equally unaccomplished Glen Hanlon.
Including those two, Bruce Boudreau and Hunter, McPhee has never hired a coach with NHL bench experience.
For this hire, “We’re wide-open,” McPhee said.
Not being in too much of a rush opens plenty of possibilities, such as looking at Oates, Cooper or Los Angeles Kings assistant John Stevens. Those coaches just got done with significant runs, and Cooper, who captured the Calder Cup in the American Hockey League, understands the value of patience.
“I think that would be the prudent thing to do. I think teams sometimes they want to hire early and they want to have their guy in the summer, and there’s teams that they wait,” Cooper said earlier in the week. “They just do their due diligence and wait for the best fit for them.”
McPhee wasn’t letting on to who he thinks might be the best fit for the Caps, just that he wants to be sure he’s on target.
“What’s important is hiring the right person and really being able to come to your team with a terrific coach and knowing that you’ve really done a real comprehensive job in the summer talking to these people,” he said.