The season is over, but the direction that the Capitals’ offseason takes is still in limbo after players packed up their equipment at Kettler Iceplex on Monday morning.
Washington general manager George McPhee, who has held his position for 17 years, met with owner Ted Leonsis and team president Dick Patrick on Monday, but declined to speak with reporters. McPhee’s contract ends this year and his club finished 38-30-14 with 90 points and missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.
According to a team spokesman, McPhee, Leonsis and Patrick will meet again “later this week or next” before McPhee is available to the media. He declined comment when seen talking with defenseman Connor Carrick during Monday’s breakdown day.
“I’m not going to…I’ll talk in a couple days,” McPhee said. “Thank you. Sorry.”
For his part, second-year coach Adam Oates took a business-as-usual approach to the beginning of the offseason. He was not told by management to hold off on exit interviews with players, conducting a few with those who had flights out of town on Monday. Still, he also wasn’t explicitly told he’ll be back, either. Oates has one year left on his contract.
“George - that’s his decision on what he wants to do,” Oates said when asked if McPhee had plans to sit in on or conduct his own exit interviews as he has in the past. “I would like to talk to the players, for sure.”
McPhee, 55, has been the team’s general manager since 1997. He presided over a Stanley Cup finalist that first year, endured a painful rebuild in the middle of his tenure and eventually made Washington a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. The Caps won the Presidents’ Trophy for the NHL’s best record in 2009-10.
In the NHL, only New Jersey’s Lou Lamoriello (1987) and Carolina’s Jim Rutherford (1994) have been at their post longer than McPhee, who was hired June 9, 1997. Rutherford is reportedly expected to resign from his job after the Hurricanes failed to make the playoffs.
The Miami Heat’s Pat Riley (1995) in the NBA and the San Francisco Giants’ Brian Sabean (1996) in Major League Baseball are the only other men in North American pro sports who have served as general managers longer than McPhee.
“You obviously hear all the stuff going on so you’re not gonna miss anything,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “But as players we have nothing to do with that, really, other than the fact that we might have had a hand in getting those rumors started because of our play. And that’s something we’re not proud of.”
The Caps won Southeast Division titles seven times under McPhee and seven times won 40 games or more. But playoff failures have defined his tenure, too.
After being swept by the Detroit Red Wings in 1998, Washington has lost in the first round six times (2000, 2001, 2003, 2008, 2010 and 2013) and reached the second round three times (2009, 2011 and 2012). It has never appeared in a conference final series again, losing Game 7s at home twice when in position to do so.
The Caps have also missed the postseason six times (1999, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2014) under McPhee, including this season.
“I don’t think anyone in that room was expecting this,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “I didn’t feel we were trending in that direction. I felt it was the opposite. It’s tough to handle and so you’re asking yourself a ton of questions why.”
A decision on McPhee – and possibly Oates and his assistants – is just the first step in what could be an offseason of changes for the organization, who won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2009-10 for having the NHL’s best record and was the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference in 2010-11.
But since then Washington has been through three different coaches – Bruce Boudreau, Dale Hunter and now Oates. The Caps must figure a way to make themselves relevant again.
“We in hard position right now. We middle of nowhere because we not make the playoffs,” star winger Alex Ovechkin said. “If we make the playoffs we will talk about how we have to play against Boston or somebody else. Right now, we talk about what happen four years ago. Four years ago was a different team, four years was a different coaches, different system, everything was different.”